The following is an essay on writing descriptions that won an old DSL contest! -Naz

[ 71] Syndre: What do you see when you look at me?
Tue Jul 25 15:00:13 2000
To: grokle

Fairly simply there are some hard and fast rules I try to set when undertaking a description for my character. I begin with a standard set of don'ts and work from there.

Do Not:
1) Include anything besides the physical in your description. There are no thoughts, no ideas, nor cute little cartoon clouds above your character's head which are visible to anyone else.

2) Include anything in regards to the history or significance of specific items. No one save you is going to know that the tattoo on your arm with the name Utch in the middle of a heart, is in fact your pet dog's third born pup from her second litter that died in a horrible yaenni attack on your mother's brother's cousin's home village.

3) Do not tell other people how they think, feel, act, or react in regards to the sight of your character.

4) Use things which are not obvious within your description. If you at the beginning of a description inform the public that you are wearing a 'loose fitting habit which gives no clue as to your physical build from neck to knee as it touches nothing save the slight outline of your hip bones' and later inform them that you are 'the most well-endowed woman since Dolly Parton', you are contradicting yourself. Now, on to the things to include.

1) Begin with an outline. You are creating a person, and want that person to be well-detailed. Thus, break the body down into areas and work from there. A good way is start at the head and work your way down if you are short, or from the feet up if you are large. If you're right in the middle in size, go with the shorter version and start with the head.

2) Begin by considering your very general description at creation. If you are partially-bald, fragile, white-haired, and pleasant-faced these are where you begin. This means you are not a spry young elf of 26, nor a voluptuous thick haired brunette. Stick with your general desc.

3) Now, your body areas are these:
  • Waist downward.
  • Waist to neck.
  • Arms and hands.
  • Head and face.
  • Clothing, armor and weapons.
  • Possessions.

They don't necessarily have to go in any specific order, but I almost always end with possessions and clothing. Yes, they are the first you see, but they are accessories to you, they do not define you. Define yourself first, then use the clothing and possessions to enhance this.

4) In the face consider one thing above all others, the eyes. It's an old Hemingway trick that he used in almost every short-story and novel he wrote. He nailed the eyes in under two sentences and 50 words. Your eyes go further to define you than any other facial feature. Follow this with the lips and brow as their position can define normal emotional states. The nose and ears should be next to last as they are mainly base but are accessories nonetheless. Finalize the head with the hair. It is second to the eyes in importance on the head, thus you finish with it as it leaves a strong impression.

5) In the waist to neck you want to focus on two different things, girth and size, both for female and male. Make sure they match your general description again. You are not fat or muscular if you are fragile. These can go a long way to fitting stereotypes or breaking them for your character. If you are fat you would probably not be a warrior, but do you want to be the typical warrior or not? In women, breast size does and does not count, I tone them down, others tone them up, make it a quick 5-7 word mention of breast size and then don't touch it again. Also picture the style of gear you are going to be restringing to later. Can I tell your breast or chest size under a suit of full knight's plate? Under a loose fitting gown that goes from shoulder to ankle?

6) From waist to knees you can hit the height without giving away the exact size. Knobby and stumpy legs mean short, gangly and lanky mean long. In other words try to use descriptive words, both in this area and waist to neck to give away height as opposed to setting a number figure. Do not forget the feet. Your feet can give you character. A barefooted maiden is not a warrior usually, while a person wearing thigh-high, black, flashy leather boots is probably not anything but a swashbuckler or a prostitute (or both?) . Oh, and don't forget those toenails if your feet are bare.

7) Now, why arms and hands separate? Because, you can tell a lot about a person from the makeup of their arms. They can boost fragility, or enhance the hard-working blacksmith image. They can be missing fingers belying a fighting trade, or be soiled and calloused befitting a gardener's profession. Your arms again can belie your height as long armed people tend to be tall and short pudgy armed people tend to be short and pudgy themselves. Again as with feet, don't forget your fingernails and fingers as they can enhance age and cleanliness.

8) Clothing, armor, and weapons means exactly what it says. It doesn't mean you have to change your desc every time you get new eq. However, if you are a level 51 and too cheap to restring your eq to match your desc, then change your desc to match your eq. These again can give away a lot about you and what kind of person you are. Worn and soiled clothing can mean poor or it could mean very miserly. A knight wielding a rough and chipped axe may mean he cares little for his weapons and armor, or it might mean he is constantly involved in battles that he dos not have time to care for it. The best thing here is to have some idea of the restrings you will be wanting on hitting 51 as a reclass. Then, upon hitting 51, look over your desc and decide if these are still the items you wish to use to enhance your character.

9) Accessories are just what they say, they are little bits and pieces which can help to define your character. A priest who is dressed all in gold silks, wearing 10 platinum rings, and wielding a diamond mace is not someone you would readily give money to for you can see where it goes, but a simple druidess who has no accessories save for an herb pouch, two carved wooden rings, and a talisman made of malachite is one you could visibly see has no care for possessions or no need for them. Accessories can also denote status. Expensive and plentiful ones could mean a noble or a jeweler, and lack of any could mean almost anything. Accessorize carefully, as you can fill out your character too much or not enough with the wrong accessories or ones which be to plentiful.

10) Now, what to do when you have these areas broken down? Work with them, the way you would a piece of clay to shape something, that something being your character. I sometimes spend an hour on a single sentence just trying to get it right. Use a thesaurus and dictionary to find a variety of words and make each sentence as best you can. Once you have each category broken down, then build each one. The face might take 10 sentences, but the body might only take two, this is to be expected.

11) Now form them together, find ways to make each sentence flow into the next as if you begin looking at someone's head and finish at their feet or vice versa. Make it flow like you glancing at someone would flow. You don't look at a hand, then an eye, then a knee... You move across them in a linear format. Make it this way with your character.

12) Update your desc as often as necessary, and stay on top of it.