I hate to break this to you, but when you describe a POV character by having them look in a mirror, I can see right through you and your obviously contrived attempt to deliver information to me as a reader. Not only is this a cliché, but if you’re writing in first person or third-person limited, it creates a point of view problem. I also often see this paired with other common description faux pas such as giving too many details about a character’s physical appearance, and/or describing a character’s appearance all at once.

Example:

I made a quick detour to the bathroom, my bladder ready to explode after the unexpectedly long car ride. Glancing at myself in the mirror above the sink, I hastily scrubbed long trails of mascara from my prominent cheekbones. Funny, I didn’t remember crying on the way over. Then again, I didn’t remember much of the last hour of the drive. I quickly reapplied black eyeliner to my bright green eyes and added a coat of red gloss to my thin lips, hoping to detract from the pasty pallor of my skin. I ran my sharp black nails through my long, dark red curls in a futile attempt to tame the frizz before dashing out the door.

The Problem:

Unless the character was blind and has suddenly gained her sight, there’s probably no good reason for her to be noticing her own eye or hair color or facial features. I also don’t need or want this much detail about her physical appearance in one sitting.

The Solution:

I made a quick detour to the bathroom, my bladder ready to explode after the unexpectedly long car ride. Glancing at myself in the mirror above the sink, I hastily scrubbed the long trails of mascara from my cheeks. Funny, I didn’t remember crying on the way over. Then again, I didn’t remember much of the last hour of the drive. I quickly reapplied black eyeliner to hopefully detract from the pasty pallor of my skin, then ran a hand through my unruly curls in a futile attempt to tame the frizz before dashing out the door.

In other words, choose a few of the most interesting characteristics, sprinkle them in gradually, and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.

Alissa McGowan

Alissa McGowan

Alissa is the founder and owner of Red Pen for Rent. She is passionate about helping authors make their work fucking awesome.
Alissa McGowan

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Writing Tip: Your Craft is Showing—Mirror, Mirror

by | Jan 27, 2017