Mirror, mirror on the wall…

I have recently become aware of a type of cliche writing. Over used scenarios and set ups in writing.

When describing a persons appearance no writer, including myself wants to be dull, boring or give a marathon list of aesthetic traits as one would find on a manifest. So we try to get clever and look for ways to make it more real or feel more plausible to the reader.

One that I know I’m guilty of is the use of a mirror to describe a character. Whether in first person or third, this is a tired over used way to do this. Mirror descriptions are tricky because the perspective can go wrong real fast. In and out of the characters head we go. I’ve done this I’ll admit it. I wont anymore and you can bet I’ll be going back to remove this tired method.

Here is what its like in first to use a mirror.

I spat out the toothpaste into the sink and looked up at my reflection in the mirror. My dark brown eyes were lined and tired. My two day old stubble needed a shave and my bed head was out of control making my black hair disheveled.

And a better way in first without the mirror.

I spat out the toothpaste and wiped a dribble from my itchy stubble covered chin. I ran my hands through my messy black hair before splashing cold water on my face. I rubbed my tired dark brown eyes; it was going to be a long day.

Here is a short example of what using a mirror is like in third person.

Scott spit out the toothpaste and raised his head to look at his reflection in the mirror. His dark brown eyes were lined and tired. His black hair was mussed from sleep and he needed to shave his two days worth of beard growth. 

Here is a better way to describe the same features in third without a mirror.

Scott spat out the toothpaste and wiped a dribble from his itchy stubble covered chin. After running his hands through his messy black hair he splashed water over his, face and rubbed his dark brown eyes.

No matter how I look at it, removing the mirror made for better describing. As long as I work the features in with actions it’s way better than listing them off. And a lot less lazy IMO. I look to find better ways to describe anything without resorting to the classic, ‘he had black hair, as stubble covered chin and tired dark brown eyes.’  I think we can all do better than that.  After all we are offering our readers an invitation to take part in the story not read a recipe.

My advice about mirrors as a descriptive tool.
Who’s the fairest of them all? Tell me without listing what you see please. A bad writing habit we can break without the 7 years bad luck.

-Sheryl

Other descriptive posts

Paint a desperate picture

Details, details, details

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Aesthetic
Invitation
Marathon

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