A lot of people, the first time they try writing a description for a character, have difficulty with the task. It's a rather daunting task, trying to describe someone and even more challenging to describe someone that doesn't exist.
So, how to do it? Everyone has their own style of writing. Everyone has their own way of organizing information. But in the end, it's all the same – you're giving the viewer a laundry-list of visual features that identify the person and tell something about their personality.
What follows are a couple examples of how to do this. It's not THE way. It's not even the BEST way, if there is such a thing. But it is a way to approach writing a description that should produce decent results.
Step 1: Gathering InformationThe first thing to do is to really make a laundry-list of character features. Start with the obvious, physical ones. Hair and eye color, skin-tone. Tall or short? Heavyset or thin? Babyfat or well-toned muscle? How about obvious birthmarks or artificial limbs? Next, move to the more refined. Is there anything obvious about the shape of the nose, eyes, lips? Eyes could be large or small, narrow-set, squinty, almond-shaped, slanted, shifty or piercing or any number of adjectives.
That should have given you a good list of physical features to work with. Next, we need to pick up on the personality some. The start of that is clothing. Think in terms of generic cuts, cloth-types and colors. Being a future-setting, you can't say “he's wearing a polo-shirt” because there probably just won't be polo-shirts. Since there are so many variations that could be done, here's a list of examples to get you started:
- A soft-pink, blousy silk shirt
- A grey, sleeveless cotton shirt
- A tight, broad-collared top cut from a silvery fabric
- Tight, blue denim pants
- bright red, baggy cotton pants gathered at the waist and ankles
- A simple, navy-blue skirt hemmed just below the knee and slit to mid-thigh
- Heavy, black, military-style boots
- Royal purple, high-heeled sandals
- Plain, utilitarian, white athletic shoes
The third type of information we need to do delves even more deeply into your character's personality. These are things that will be hinted at, not said outright. If your character tends to be happy, energetic, full of life... That's going to show in the eyes, in the posture, in the way he or she walks. If the character is often surly, that will show up too. Here are a few examples again:
Her footsteps are light as she moves, her motions sure but not swift. She seems to almost lazily move through the crowds, smiling now and then at people she recognizes.
There is a certain tenseness to her motions as she walks – arms just slightly rigid, back a little too straight. Her eyes are ever so slightly narrowed.
None of those give away anything but do provide hints. The first person could be seen as tired, uncaring or depressed. The second seems happy and light, but not overly so. The third could be angry or maybe is just uptight.
Step 2: Organizing the informationNow it's time to think about how you want to order things in your description. There are a few basic methods that work well. I'll call these: General to Specific, Specific to General and Top to Bottom.
General to Specific mimics seeing someone from a distance and then moving in to see the details. This is probably the easiest method to work with when just starting out.
Specific to General tends to be more cinematic – some detail catches the eye and becomes a focal point which the rest gets built around. Be careful taking this route – remember that the 'hook', that first detail IS the focal point. It should be the thing that reveals the most about the character's personality.
Top to Bottom, or its twin, Bottom to Top, is a method of describing things by the way the eye flows. The danger here lies in the rather disjointed nature of the narrative – The description will be switching between general features, specific ones, clothing and observations constantly.
Step 3: Putting it all together
The last step is one I can't help you with directly. You'll need to take all your information, figure out which parts are important for giving this character a personality and which are important identifiers, and then you need to assemble them in some manner to create your description.
One thing to remember... You do not have to put everything in. It just doesn't do to have a three-sentance description, but you don't need to go for three, long paragraphs, either. Try to build your description out of the most important identifiers first, then move out to things that are secondary but help build an overall picture.
A good length to shoot for is two, medium-sized paragraphs.