POTW: All in the Image

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Diana, May 18, 2013.


How important is it for YOU to have a physical description of characters in a roleplay?

  1. VERY important. I need to know what characters look like or it drives me bananas.

  2. Important, but not vital. I like to know, but I can deal without it.

  3. It doesn't matter much to me!

  4. I have never thought about it before!

    0 vote(s)
  5. I don't give a flying monkey's butt about physical appearance of characters!

    0 vote(s)

Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Today we're talking about CHARACTER APPEARANCE!

    When we post in the roleplays or write up a character bio, some of us rely on pictures and some of us use words. Some of us do both. Some of us never think about the physical appearance at all!

    How important is it for YOU to have a physical description of characters in a roleplay? WHY do you like or not like having these physical appearance descriptions?

    While you're at it, maybe you'd like to try a little physical appearance exercise!
  2. I need to have at least a general idea so that characters aren't just amorphous blobs. As much as people say looks don't matter, people's behavior is GREATLY affected by what they're looking at. If my character has a thing for redheads and yours is a redhead, they're going to act a lot differently around them than with a blonde or brunette. If your character is a soldier, mine will judge their competency in part on whether they look fresh-faced and boyish versus grizzled and scarred. If your character is a really pretty, feminine-featured man, mine might either be blinded by his good looks or questioning his sexuality. If your character is a lot shorter than mine, mine might find them cute/endearing, and if they're trying to be intimidating, they're going to be a lot less threatened than if yours is 6'5" and bulging with muscles. If your character is a bit pudgy, mine might pick on them, be protective of them, or even think they're more attractive depending on their personality and preferences. If your character is wearing a full leather bodysuit, that also might color my character's opinions. I could go on and on about the different ways appearance can make a huge difference.

    That said, I *do* hate it when people info-dump entire character descriptions into the first few sentences of a roleplay, or when they mention a particular physical feature (e.g. constantly referring to their "brilliant green eyes") ad nauseum. Be descriptive, but don't be heavy-handed.
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  3. I tend to play and write for perceptive characters. When two people meet each other, see each other or whatever it's actually surprising how little words come into play in human communication. First impressions and lasting impressions are very often invoked through visual stimulus. As a result, I tend to find a hearty portion of depth to my posts in how character's view the people and places around them. As a result of that, I like to understand the visual aspects of the people I'm playing with. If I can't imagine a scene, I get bored quick.

    Personally? I find a written description of a character to be much more important than a Picture. Both are nice, but the later does not replace the former.
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  4. I agree with Cosmic about text versus pictures. When I'm GMing a roleplay, I usually leave pictures optional, but I ALWAYS require text descriptions in character sheets.
  5. I love details. It gives me a lot more to work with and I like it when I can imagine how a person looks. I'm one of those annoying people who will sometimes waste space on describing how a character looks. ><; It's nothing I do so much anymore because of real life sucking away at my creative juices, but man I used to always feel this need to make poetic descriptions on my charries.
  6. I at least have to know what a character's face/body type looks like. Clothes are optional to describe unless they play a major part in setting up the character's personality or behaviour.
  7. Appearances are important yes, but what I find most intriguing is the body language conveyed with the character. Not saying that clothes/scars/tattoos aren't awesome, but seeing if a character has a posture that conveys confidence, or someone who is animated when talking versus someone who is timid makes the roleplay much more enjoyable.

    And like Ozzie, I hate people who dump info about what their characters look like in a few sentences, or hell an entire paragraph. I ran into that bullshit on Gaia so often it drove me insane.
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  8. Body language is definitely important, too. Body language, in some ways, is to physical features as adverbs are to verbs. It expands on the picture you're getting and sometimes gives it a completely different tone.

    E.g., you get a different image of a big, burly guy who is shuffling his feet and looking down at the ground than you would his identical twin brother who is standing with his feet shoulder-width apart, hands on his hips, and chin held high.
  9. I think that's the reason why a well-written and comprehensive sheet is so important, so you're not wasting time in the RP explaining what the character looks like; you can spend more time establishing the character's body language and personality. You can show the character using the details you've already provided.
  10. I have mixed feelings on that score, Cammy. On the one hand, like I said, I hate it when people go on and on and on and on about appearance when it has little impact on the story or is going into unnecessary detail (doesn't help set the tone, goes beyond painting a vivid picture into bogging down the story with words, etc.) and so I agree that showing personality and characterization (body language being one tool to do so) should be more of a focus. On the other hand, I also feel that stories (and to me, RPs are just like any other stories) should be able to stand alone without people having to refer to character sheets or OOC. The OOC and character bios are a cheat sheet for us to refer to as writers, not a way to get around having to write things out.
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  11. Actually, the best way someone can actually describe their character, is with the progression of the story. Little by little, more detail is thrown in, especially with the actions having been partaken in currency. Type shit.

  12. That's exactly what I said in my totally cool character description exercise! >:]
  13. Hadn't even spotted that. Strange - that's all from experience, rather than spotting that post. Man, I'm just good like that.
  14. Knowing what the characters look like is important (a lot of how people react to each other is based on appearance, and it makes writing easier if you can picture the people in your head)


    A lot of people fixate way too much on what someone looks like, and not enough on their personality. I'm more interested in knowing what the character perceives as fun and why, what things and situations scare them or make them angry, what kind of people they admire, what their dreams are, what their skills are and how they practice them, why they make the choices they make; these are FAR more important to me than four pages on what their hair and makeup looks like.
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  15. This is such a good discussion about the importance of character description that I think this belongs in the Institute! *Pulls levers, turns cranks, drops the thread into the forum of choice*
  16. Wow. This is amazing. I seem to be arriving... 19 months late to the party, but this is a topic that's been on my mind recently.

    I agree, physical appearance is important. Certain details like height, weight, ethnicity and other distinguishing features will inevitably cause our characters to draw conclusions and opinions (often incorrectly) about other characters. Certain features are also telling about a character's personality - tattoos, hair style and color, piercings, artificial or natural tans, etc. It gives us the tiniest glimpse into their psyches, lifestyles and tastes. A character's appearance may be a reflection of their social status and background or it may reflect the image they want to project to the world - aloof hipster, put-together preppy co-ed, greasy slob, edgy biker guy.

    Physical appearance, mannerisms and behavior build character and affect relationships. They're important aspects of character creation. And yet many writers (role players and published authors alike) include physical descriptions to ensure that we, their partners and audience, understand that their character is attractive, desirable, hot. That's right, folks. People should want to get with their character because she's got double D's, has long brown hair, and big bluish-greenish eyes (that change with her emotion, of course). She's not too tall or too short (she's just right).

    Okay. So this author intends for her character to be perceived as attractive. Mary Sue qualities aside, attractiveness is not a bad trait. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have a beautiful character. But when the character's life and story do not influence her appearance or, conversely, when they are not influenced by her appearance, then what's the point of describing her at all? Just so we have a picture in our minds of who's talking? That's great (and necessary so we can envision the scene), but just saying that Character Z looks like X isn't enough. Let the story interact with her appearance. Show me how her looks reflect or affect her personality. Show me how the world treats her because or in spite of her appearance.

    Physical traits should be reinforced throughout the story, little by little (I forget who mentioned this above, but I wholeheartedly agree). No info-dumping. Just remind us why it's important for us to know that Character X is attractive or tall or frail. Otherwise such descriptions - all the clothes she wears, the color of her eyes, the expanse of her derriere - are meaningless fluff. I've seen characters described as being "thin but curvy" or "curvy in all the right places," and I think to myself, "that's the writer talking." That's how this writer wants me to perceive her character. And I can't help but think this is some warped, sly version of god-modding, like I'm being forced to make my character think a certain way because of some deliberately vague wording in someone's character sheet: Be attracted to my character! She's hot according to cultural standards of beauty. Submit to her allure, plebeian!


    We want people to like our characters, and an easy (obvious) way to attempt gaining favor is through appearance. Hell-o! We all went to high school. We know what a popularity contest really is. So, granted, we think the more attractive our character is, perhaps the more popular she'll be. But think about this: who is your favorite character in fiction? Your favorite TV hero or literary villain? Why do we root for these characters or care about what happens to them? It's not because of how they look. Not entirely. It's because of who they are and what they do. It's because, as Minibit point out, of their personalities. Appearance without personality is just a picture. But when the two work in tandem, we're well on the way to creating a character.

    That's my two cents.
  17. Thread revival ftw. :)

    I agree with pretty much everything that's been said so far. Character appearance definitely has an influence on character interaction, so it can be quite important to include it somewhere. What a person looks like in real life will influence your first impression of them, and the proceeding moments of conversation. So, to not expect that it should play a part in a fictional character's life is a little silly. Of course, if no one uses any physical description beyond 'human being' or 'big furry beast', it doesn't necessarily detract from the story, but it usually winds up with some people being more focused on the appearance and others not even half as much and then the balance is just weird.

    Personally, I like knowing it for myself when I'm writing just so I can maybe offer some small physical detail that differentiates one character from another, so I don't have to always make sure I'm using proper names to identify to whom he or she refers. But there, again, I could just as easily think of a personality trait differential instead.

    To me, the physical appearance is important to have before the IC writing starts because then people don't have to resort to info dumps, and can let you learn more slowly about their character's mannerisms and body language through interaction and slow reveal. I fully approve of that, but I do think that either the info dump(in the first post, though I'd prefer the character sheet really) or the OOCly given appearance is necessary because if you are going to be writing a character with knowledge of physical appearance, and you want them to be influenced by appearance to greater or lesser degrees, then you as the writer need to know what you're working with to avoid, say, that character who likes redheads having to retroactively explain why the heck they didn't think anything of the redhead they just talked to for fifteen minutes because you, the writer, weren't aware they had red hair. Yes, this can be easily avoided just by sticking the mention of red hair into a post without info dumps or character sheets, but if you don't like repetition and people belabouring the point, you might miss that one, single mention of hair colour. And if you have a readily available sheet to refer back to, then you don't have to try skimming through all the other posts just to figure out what colour their damned eyes are. (this is mostly my argument for OOC char sheets, not info dumps)

    I also think the OOC sheets can help curtail both info dumps and others feeling it necessary to continuously emphasise certain physical characteristics over movement or voice or quirk. Just get all the info gathered up in one place, there, it's done, and now you know what they look like, others know what they look like and you can focus on the personality traits you want to bring forward and they can focus on whatever they like. ;)
  18. Woo hoo! Discussion revival!

    I love character sheets, too. I think they're a great organizational tool. And sometimes it's just awkward if we insert random physical descriptions in the middle of a scene just for the sake of making sure everyone knows our character has blonde hair (then again, there's also a time and a place for such descriptions). That way, even if traits aren't explicitly stated in the IC, our character can still refer to other characters based on info in the OOC.

    I would, however, advise against substituting narrative description for the character sheet, just as I'd agree with Cosmic and Ozzie above in saying that pictures cannot fully take the place of words. I don't want to keep referring to character sheets because my partner never gave me a description of his character. It removes me from the RP, forces me to take a peek behind the curtain. And that's not fun, not if I'm trying to immerse myself in the story. It doesn't have to be an exhaustive description. In fact, it shouldn't be. It just needs to give a glimpse or two to create an image. The character's actions, hopefully, will help fill in the rest until the next physical detail is revealed. If the information is kept brief and concise, then there should be plenty of space to set up personality, setting, the scene, etc. No one aspect of the story should have to be sacrificed for another.
  19. Oh yeah, no, I wouldn't want to only be getting the details from the character sheet. But I'm one of those people who feels silly trying to find places to insert the info about my character in case my partner(s) are in need of the knowledge, especially if I'm leaning heavily on the use of character thought patterns to get the post going. It isn't necessarily their words or internal narrative, but as it still pertains more to what they'd be paying attention to, it'd be weird(or I think it would be) to just add those particular bits and bobs someone would want to know but that the character, being readily aware and used to their own appearance, and also unable to easily observe it without a reflection, wouldn't comment on as much. I also, probably, use the sheet as a bit of a crutch because I sometimes forget to offer the information even in a situation where I could expand. But that's my own fault.

    I think it's important to have the right balance. With the character sheet acting as a ready intro to avoid early on info dumps and a referral for when you need to know something that hasn't been mentioned recently or hasn't been easily fit into the flow.

    Of course, I also often write characters that are not 'run-of-the-mill' humans, but might be a beast or a different species, in which case it would be hard to fit everything into a post context without breaking up the flow of the writing. I should still probably try it more.
  20. Considering I am ordinarily a GM, it is absolutely vital for me to know if that spear the peasant impaled you with is stopped by the armour you may or may not be wearing.

    Considering I am a genre savvy reader, I can immediately tell the difference between someone who has no idea what they're doing and someone who is at least as genre savvy as I am through their appearance and biography alone (or lack there of). For instance, the conservation of detail rule: Every element of your appearance should service a purpose. Armour is sensible, as is a weapon. Adding little details helps to give a sense of identity to your character, like a person who lost their lover might keep the necklace of said lover around. You don't even have to state "necklace of dead lover", you can leave the reasoning for it a mystery that others have to inquire about and learn.

    In essence: An appearance tells me immediately if you are good or poor with visualization skills, if you're genre savvy or genre blind, what kind of tactical aptitudes your character possesses, and so on. As a GM this is vital for me to understand the role your character will be playing, both in a story mechanics and game mechanics fashion.