Writing a facial description

Describing a face

Update: When I published this blog post and posted the link on Facebook my brother-in-law thought I was going to describe Morgan Freeman. Here is my effort:

I was caught by surprise when the face behind the black, newly purchased fedoro hat suddenly aligted. Either he expected me to react in that manner or he was used to such reaction, whatever it was, he sat there with an air of non-chalance, looking sideways through his spectacled, droopy eyes, acknowledging my presence with a slight flourish of the unlit cigar he held in his right hand that bore a ring with strange insignia, on the little finger. I was expecting someone younger, as had been the impression on the phone. When I reached the seat closest to the coup-de-sac of the restaurant street, he seemed to be sleeping. There was no extra chair so I had to drag one from the nearby empty table. I had to shoo away a dog sitting under the chair and this had made him raise his head. I sat facing him without saying a word. For a moderately cold weather he seemed a bit overdressed with an overcoat and an Armani muffler.

“You look surprised,” he said, putting a German-language thick hardcover book he held in the left hand with a thud on the table and scratching his white but sparse balbo beard.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“Weren’t expecting a black man?” his tightly defined oblong face seemed to be going through an imperceptible chewing motion.

“Was expecting a younger man,” I paused, “and yes, a black man in a laidback Indian town trying to decode an ancient Sanskrit hymn isn’t a profile you can just simply ignore.”

Update ends

For the first time in my life I wrote a facial description while working on my book. Describing a face can be a bit tricky especially when you want to mould the description into the narrative you have been following so far. You don’t want to sound too mechanical. You may like to interpret the facial characteristics according to the worldview of the person (another character in the book) looking at the face being described. I mean, if A is introduced to B and if you need to describe how B looks, you don’t just start describing, you describe it according to how A sees and interprets B.

Why do you describe the face? Why not simply introduce a person as a name and then go on with the plot? Why linger upon the details?

Describing a face achieves two things: it helps you visualize the character and hence, get more involved with the story, and it also tells you what effect the facial features are having upon the person looking at the face and absorbing the facial characteristics. Suppose A likes chubby people and B is quite skinny. Suppose B has a stubby nose but A likes sharp noses. Maybe B has tied his or her hair into a tight knot while A loves free flowing hair. You know A is not going to feel attracted towards B, and if later on A gets attracted to B and they end up being together (in whatever form) some other factors need to be introduced.

You also describe a face to paint a particular picture of the person. Many writers take an esier route. A vile person normally has unpleasant features. A good person has pleasant features. You will rarely encounter a person looking like Snow White turning out to be a witch (unless it’s a horror story).

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