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Do you have any tips, pointers and hints on writing a good description?

AsyruAsyru Member Posts: 10
Earlier today someone suggested I needed a makeover - specifically a better description. So I came onto the forums in search of help (in game its slightly harder to ask with out sounding insane) and couldn't find anything that helped much. So, with my hat held before me I ask, what kind of things should be included in the description, what order, what makes a description interesting and memorable? Perhaps you can post an example or two or give me a few pointers on what I should be doing to flesh out my description.
 
This is not a plea for someone to write out a description for me - I wish to create her myself. 

  Someone has already suggested that this might be slightly insane.
My current two-line basic description is thus:                                          \/
Asyru is some what short of stature. Her waif-like body supports a small elfin head. Flowing auburn ringlets that are not caught in her simple platted braid tumble down over 
owlish eyes.

Also in regards to where characters came from - Where DO they come from and what did the fire do? Do they still have memories?
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Comments

  • SybillaSybilla LondonMember Posts: 503 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    I'll try to answer your last questions first, just for ease. As far as it was explained to me, you decide, according to what roleplay you like, where your character has been until age 18. From what I understand, everyone leads their own lives as denizens, but every so often some people decide they're bored of their daily existence, or have something prove, and enter the Trial of Rebirth at around age 18. Only those who prove themselves are able to pass the Trial and be reborn as adventurers (and not denizens). 

    Personally, since I didn't know anything about Achaea when I joined, I decided not to set anything in stone when it comes to my character's background. A few people suggested that the Trial is a disorienting experience which often clouds your mind, your memories might be lost, or not quite accessible, and some people don't even recognise their own parents (you can be bloodlined into a family by another adventurer for instance).

    It's up to you whether you decide you were a baker's daughter, learning the trade from your family, then decided to run away, or whether you were an orphan who heard about a certain House or City and decided to join them when you were old enough... I had some wonderful replies in a similar thread I made, called "Finding your story", there's been some really good suggestions and new points of view which might be of use to you.

    As for the description, I heard Romeo/Juliet mention CLHELP ADP for their guidelines on what makes a good description (or rather, what makes a bad one, and what to avoid):

    CLHELP ADP
    Is your biggest peeve looking at a fellow adventurer when suddenly you feel foreign thoughts - thoughts you did not think? Do you hate it when you look at someone and they always smile the same way, their tail twitches in the exact same manner, and by Sarapis, they are ALWAYS staring placidly at you!? The Achaean Description Police is a unified front against the descriptions that can drive the sanity from the sane.

    Ten rules for a good description:

    1. There shall be no specific emotions that I am to feel when I look at you other than those -I- decide upon.

    2. There shall be no specific things that I do when I look at you other than those -I- decide upon.

    3. There shall be no specific emotions or actions that -you- display when I look at you. Were I to glance at you every few seconds, what with you staring deep into my eyes and glaring menacingly, you would not watch where you were going, you would trip, impale yourself terribly upon a sharp stick, and bring your menacing existance to an end.

    4. Breasts must be smaller than Shallam. Breasts may not be 'perfect and round and full', nor may they 'fit perfectly in the palm of one's hand.' One will be of a different size to t'other, and one will rest higher than t'other. Those with large breasts will suffer back problems.

    5. -I- will decide whether or not I think you are beautiful, I do not need your description to tell me so. I may or may not be instantly attracted to you, tell me I am in your description and I may be forced to punch you to prove otherwise.

    6. Men/women may fall over each other and drown in their own drool at the sight of you, but I do not give a toss, nor would I know it from looking at you.

    7. You are not 'unusually' tall, or of 'average' height. Dwarves are not seven feet tall. If you insist upon being tall, reincarnate into a race that is not vertically challenged as a rule.

    8. Xorans/Grooks/Horkvals do not have mammary glands, therefore, they do not have breasts. If you must have breasts, reincarnate into a race -capable- of them.

    9. You want everyone to know that you are a lumberjack/professional dancer/rentboy? Then walk around announcing it, make a news post, shout it, I don't care, I won't know it from looking at you.

    10. Acne does exist. Physical flaws exist. If you are an 18 year-old walking mass of scars, though, you'd better have a seriously terrible past to account for it. I sincerely doubt you are, as of yet, a hardened warrior with 100 battles under your belt, what with your shortsword and nekkidness.


    You might find the thread "Descriptions Wanted 1.0" useful for this as well.

    As a matter of personal taste, I dislike seeing numbers in descriptions. I was raised on metric measurements, most people use imperial, I've no clue how to visualise what they mean, especially since I don't really know the accurate height or weight of someone I'd meet in real life just by looking at them. I prefer using points of reference (He's a dwarf, he only comes up to half a door-frame. His hands are the size of a tankard of ale...) or vague descriptors (stocky, pudgy, muscular, slender) instead.

    Be careful to use words which fit the world you inhabit. Tsol'aa are a race within Achaea, they are not elves (arguably), so elfin wouldn't work. Likewise, you can't have coffee-coloured eyes, you'd have to have kawhe-coloured. Little things like this add to your (and others') immersion, and would help flesh out your character.

    There isn't, as far as I'm aware, a standard convention of what's allowed, in what order, and what needs to be included. Some people describe their facial features in more detail than their bodies. Others focus on their scars and muscles, and have a vague description for their face. Think of what you want people to visualise when they read your description, and write accordingly.

    If it helps, here's my description below (which likely needs tweaking):

    She is a graceful tsol'aa with skin the colour of aged parchment and eyes of striking malachite. Her stature is ordinary for one of her race: a couple of hands-breadths above the average human, but no higher than the tallest among them. Unlike many of her brethren, she is not graced by dainty or rounded features, but is a medley of angular traits. Her high cheekbones draw attention to her heavy-lidded eyes, thick-lashed and set under well-groomed but full eyebrows. Coupled with a strong jawline and proud nose, she appears of hawkish countenance. Her physique is sinewy and firm, with long, supple limbs; her waist gently tapers inwards from her hips and shoulders. Twin braids depart from her temples, circling her cranium, and meet at the back of her head in an elegant plait. She wears the rest of her rusty tresses unbound, they flow to her lower back in waves. Her gait is confident and her posture sober, and she gesticulates prominently as she speaks.

    I've also heard that it's good practice to tweak your description according to events that happen to your character. Someone said they roleplayed having singed hair and eyebrows after a failed experiment, others adjust their appearance according to what they wear (make sure that if you describe your clothing, it is coherent with what you're actually wearing), others still prepare their persons before every grand event they attend, akin to dressing up before a night out.

  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    Follow that advice.

    Then post in Descriptions Wanted.
  • IocunIocun Member Posts: 3,695 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    Sybilla said:
    7. You are not 'unusually' tall, or of 'average' height. Dwarves are not seven feet tall. If you insist upon being tall, reincarnate into a race that is not vertically challenged as a rule.
    I'm utterly confused about what they mean with this. What's wrong with being of average height? If you can't be unusually tall, nor of average height, does that mean everyone needs to be unusually small?
    SybillaAveriMelodie
  • SybillaSybilla LondonMember Posts: 503 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    Iocun said:
    Sybilla said:
    7. You are not 'unusually' tall, or of 'average' height. Dwarves are not seven feet tall. If you insist upon being tall, reincarnate into a race that is not vertically challenged as a rule.
    I'm utterly confused about what they mean with this. What's wrong with being of average height? If you can't be unusually tall, nor of average height, does that mean everyone needs to be unusually small?
    That's the bit that stumped me as well. I suppose they mean that there's no accepted 'average' described for each race. The way I see it, while there may be much disparity amongst adventurers, the invisible denizen population will have an average height. Those that differ from it will be more likely to want to become adventurers maybe...
  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    Because what *is* average height? For a human? Six foot is the norm nowadays, or so I'm lead to believe - but what about on Sapience? 

    Average is very hard to pin down, and therefore extremely nondescript.
  • ValdenValden Member Posts: 544 ✭✭✭✭✭ - Grand Achaean
    So why are these guidelines not required reading during or after the trial? If it wasn't so OOC I would make every novice write them out in their journal at least three times.
    Chryenth
  • IocunIocun Member Posts: 3,695 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    edited February 2013
    But it says so much more than mentioning a precise size, really. I can have a mental image of what it means to see a man of average size, but I can't really have a mental image of the impression of a man that is six foot tall exactly because we don't really know what would be typical for Sapience. So it just remains a rather meaningless number.

    Some terms being a bit "nondescript" and blurry isn't a bad thing at all. I actually consider it the mark of a good description to set a clear focus and flesh out everything in that focus, while leaving other aspects deliberately blurred. This makes a description much better to read and creates a stronger mental image than filling pages with exact measurements and colour tones. You'll notice that in literature, a character is rarely described completely. Most literary descriptions focus on a very few key elements and deliberately avoid going into all sorts of unimportant details which may only be distracting.

    Describing an aspect of your character as "average", seems perfectly good to me.

    Valden said:
    So why are these guidelines not required reading during or after the trial? If it wasn't so OOC I would make every novice write them out in their journal at least three times.
    Because, in the end, it's just an arbitrary list written by players. I do in principle agree with most of their points, but I dislike the tone in which they are stated. While in general, it is good to keep all those points in mind, there are always exceptions. I believe some players have gone so far with embracing rulesets like these, that they now only care about whether everyone is doing it perfectly "properly", while forgetting that descriptions shouldn't just be a dry collection of facts, but something enjoyable to read as well. A description isn't only meant to convey information, it is also meant to set a certain general "mood" for your character, to create a vivid image in a reader's mind. Some Description Police Officers tend to forget this at times and start shredding apart descriptions that are perfectly good, just because they took some small liberties with one of their self-proclaimed rules here and there.
    DelphinusEldMelodie
  • DelphinusDelphinus Member Posts: 896 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    edited February 2013
    Asyru said:

      Someone has already suggested that this might be slightly insane.
    My current two-line basic description is thus:                                          \/
    Asyru is some what short of stature. Her waif-like body supports a small elfin head. Flowing auburn ringlets that are not caught in her simple platted braid tumble down over 
    owlish eyes.
    Mostly unrelated: "Insane" is sort of a lazy in-game stand-in for saying "OOC." You can just say it's OOC here! (And just let it go unmentioned IG, downplay it, try to ignore it, and so on. If someone tries to tell you "soul" is a fine substitute, knee them in the diaphragm.)

    Less unrelated: It's not OOC, but in context, it might be. Consider "fey," "otherworldly," etc. if that's the intent. If you mean elvish in terms of pointed ears and angular features, it might be better just to say so -- although Tsol'aa lack pointy ears.


    Sybilla said:
    As for the description, I heard Romeo/Juliet mention CLHELP ADP for their guidelines on what makes a good description (or rather, what makes a bad one, and what to avoid):

    The ADP has always been a few good rules mixed in with a few bad ones, and some that are just plain wrong. 1, 2, and 3 are fine, 4 is as pointless as "you must shoe and blanket and feed and groom your horse before riding it," 5 is just a repeat of the first one, 6 is fine, 7 mixes bad advice (no "average/tall height") with good advice (no giant dwarves), 8 is wrong, 9 is another repeat of the first one, and 10 is fine.

    Asyru said:
    Also in regards to where characters came from - Where DO they come from and what did the fire do? Do they still have memories?
    The wholeness of your character's memories is based on how complete you feel your IG background to be. Amnesia is basically a let-out excuse for why newbies wouldn't know their backgrounds -- having, in all reality, not actually written one yet. Prior to the Trial, they had eighteen actual years of life.
    Post edited by Delphinus on
  • SybillaSybilla LondonMember Posts: 503 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    edited February 2013
    Chryenth said:
    Because what *is* average height? For a human? Six foot is the norm nowadays, or so I'm lead to believe - but what about on Sapience? 

    Average is very hard to pin down, and therefore extremely nondescript.
    You're right, but this sort of thing isn't much help either (from HELP TSOL'AA):

    Physically, the Tsol'aa are lithe beings of approximately human height. Brawny and muscular builds are uncommon due to their lean physique, but unchecked, they can become overweight like those of other races. [etc...]


    Very well, what is human height? HELP HUMAN:

    The history of mortalkind is dominated by that of humanity, for they are the most vibrant of the races. Offspring of the rape of Maya and a being of Chaos, the birth of their race sparked a war that set the very Gods against each other. Having survived this, the race has proven tenacious and enduring, and their inherent combination of chaos and order has led to their dominance in the lands.

    Oh. Well then.

    Which reminds me, @Asyru, remember to check the relevant HELP file for the race you're trying to describe. It should - on the most part - tell you what's normal and expected of that race, so that you fit with the given lore. Eventually you might find it useful to read the Histories and Mythos, so that you can tell what roles those races historically played, so you know that Tsol'aa could be a bit skeevy (probably wrong word, English's not my first language) of other races because they came first and they're the "special child"...
  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    Chryenth said:
     extremely nondescript.

    Iocun said:
     a bit "nondescript" 
    I totally agree that being a little blurry in description is fine, though personally I tend to over-specify.  Height is actually the hardest thing to describe for me, because average tells me nothing, really, and exact heights break the descriptive flow.

    We have no IC reference, so average tells us nothing.


    I am tired, leave me alone. I'll get back to you when I'm more awake.
  • IocunIocun Member Posts: 3,695 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    edited February 2013
    It's a matter of perspective. You can just as well say "six feet" tells us nothing, because we don't know how that relates to the average an Achaean person is used to, making it nothing more than an empty number, while "average" tells us exactly that it's the size our character knows to be average.

    I really don't care how tall Iocun is in feet because I don't know tall everything else surrounding Iocun is. But I want him to be "normal" in this aspect, with a size that doesn't grab anyone's attention and make them say "he's tall" or "he's short". I could make up a random number for his height, only to see at some point that in fact everyone else is much smaller and make me realize that I unwittingly had played a giant all along. I'm not sure why this would be a good thing.
  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    Which is why I hate describing heights.

    I am tired, leave me alone. I'll get back to you when I'm more awake.

  • ValdenValden Member Posts: 544 ✭✭✭✭✭ - Grand Achaean
    edited February 2013
    Iocun said:
    <snip>
    Valden said:
    So why are these guidelines not required reading during or after the trial? If it wasn't so OOC I would make every novice write them out in their journal at least three times.
    Because, in the end, it's just an arbitrary list written by players. I do in principle agree with most of their points, but I dislike the tone in which they are stated. While in general, it is good to keep all those points in mind, there are always exceptions. I believe some players have gone so far with embracing rulesets like these, that they now only care about whether everyone is doing it perfectly "properly", while forgetting that descriptions shouldn't just be a dry collection of facts, but something enjoyable to read as well. A description isn't only meant to convey information, it is also meant to set a certain general "mood" for your character, to create a vivid image in a reader's mind. Some Description Police Officers tend to forget this at times and start shredding apart descriptions that are perfectly good, just because they took some small liberties with one of their self-proclaimed rules here and there.
    I totally agree with the tone, I wouldn't seriously expect something written like that to become official in any way.

    With your latter point, if you did follow the rules to a 'T' then it would end up as no more than a set of bullet points which would ruin any description no matter how you write it. Writing a good description is quite a bit work to do well and having a thesaurus on hand helps to add flavor. In the end a description needs to convey how your character looks with just enough body language so that another player can have a "first impression" of the person.
  • DelphinusDelphinus Member Posts: 896 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    Which is why descriptors like "average" and "taller than average" are fine. Height is relative to your character's surroundings, not to you or the real world.

    Personally, I just go for ballpark estimates. "Standing six feet at the tallest..."
  • ValdenValden Member Posts: 544 ✭✭✭✭✭ - Grand Achaean
    @Nim, that's some good advice.
    If you can't read your own description and get an impression of your own character without it feeling like you have put in extra time and effort, then it probably needs to be reworked into something a bit more concise.
  • AveriAveri Member Posts: 555 ✭✭✭✭✭ - Grand Achaean
    Maybe this is just my own opinion but here's what I think in addition to what people wrote above me.

    Put the most noticeable details first and the least noticeable ones last.  Some people will give up reading your description half way through. 

    Similarly, you don't need to describe every body part. Just the ones that people might be like oh that's cool/pretty/weird/whatever

    Don't limit your description to just physical things. Posture and attitude is just as important. (( This is the part I think a lot of people will disagree with me on because there's a fine line between this and like an action phrase.))

    Commission List: Aesi, Kenway, Shimi, Kythra, Trey, Sholen .... 5/5 CLOSED
    I will not draw them in the order that they are requested... rather in the order that I get inspiration/artist block.
  • TvistorTvistor Member Posts: 2,900 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    I don't mind posture and stuff like 'Keeps very still' because I have a brain and can draw exceptions like 'Unless we're fighting' or 'Not while asleep' without a description having to help me out.
    BlujixapugMelodieAveri
  • HayteHayte Member Posts: 565 @ - Epic Achaean
    All you need are coin-sized nipples and creamy thighs. No one will notice the rest.
    AveriAziik
  • BlujixapugBlujixapug Member Posts: 1,833 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    Nim said:

    Consider the length of your description, and remember that it's all one long paragraph. Some people write, like, all this flowing detail that would be great, except it's all stuffed into one super long paragraph that, in the rare occasion I actually do read it (and usually only on a need-to-know basis), feels like a chore to read, and all the beautiful detail is thus lost.

    Agreed. If it's ever a problem that you can't break up paragraphs in your description, your description is too long. Even novels usually restrain themselves to a paragraph of less for descriptions of major characters and settings.
    image
  • AsyruAsyru Member Posts: 10
    Thanks to everyone...but @hayte who was singularly unhelpful. =(
    Here is what i came up with:
    A generous estimation of her height might give you five foot nothing. Owlish blue eyes peak out between the few auburn ringlets that dance around her childlike face, having escaped from the braid that barely holds their fellows captive. A single dimple graces her left cheek, becoming more prominent when she smiles.
    Chryenth
  • TrevizeTrevize Member Posts: 1,517 @ - Epic Achaean
    edited February 2013
    I've never described Trevize's height. I tend to leave the general details up to the reader, while describing the finer points. Imagination goes a long way in a text game. ;)

    Trevize's current description:

    He is a lizard-like xoran and is arrayed in fine, diamond-shaped indigo scales that shift with each motion of his sinuous form. Well-muscled, lithe limbs move with effortless grace, while each wickedly-curved, ivory claw shimmers with a metallic aspect. Gem-like irises the colour of black star-sapphires glimmer opaquely within his wedge-shaped face, flickering like dancing silver flames. Jagged ridges of pale white bone emerge from above each of his well-defined temples before sweeping in two parallel lines over his smooth skull. Descending on either side of his spine to merge just above his narrow waist, the protrusions combine to form a single crest that extends to the tip of his oscillating tail.

    Notice how little content there actually is there. Blue scale color. Graceful arms/legs. Sharp, shiny white claws. Gem-like eyes. Bony ridge that goes from the side of his head to his spine to his tail. Tail tends to move.

    You could imagine him anywhere from highly humanoid to quite serpentine... or if the fancy takes you, that description could fit the little lizard that's my profile pic. Doesn't matter to me.
    Current scripts: GoldTracker 1.2, mData 1.1
    Site: https://github.com/trevize-achaea/scripts/releases
    Thread: http://forums.achaea.com/discussion/4064/trevizes-scripts
    Latest update: 9/26/2015 better character name handling in GoldTracker, separation of script and settings, addition of gold report and gold distribute aliases.
  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    WE HAVE A THREAD FOR THIS ALREADY. GO POST THERE.
  • TrevizeTrevize Member Posts: 1,517 @ - Epic Achaean
    You're late. Kinda did.
    Current scripts: GoldTracker 1.2, mData 1.1
    Site: https://github.com/trevize-achaea/scripts/releases
    Thread: http://forums.achaea.com/discussion/4064/trevizes-scripts
    Latest update: 9/26/2015 better character name handling in GoldTracker, separation of script and settings, addition of gold report and gold distribute aliases.
  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    I know, I was there!
  • TvistorTvistor Member Posts: 2,900 @@ - Legendary Achaean
    Caps lock Chryenth is best Chryenth.
    Chryenth
  • TaelTael Member Posts: 1,197 @ - Epic Achaean
    Disclaimer: I didn't read this entire thread, many things might have been mentioned already.

    I've never liked most of the advice in ADP - it comes from a very specific subset of the population of roleplayers (a subset that seems to have dwindled a bit thankfully) who see extraordinary descriptions as unrealistic, particularly, for some reason, descriptions that accord with OOC aesthetic preferences.

    Except adventurers are, by definition, extraordinary. Being a tall dwarf is pushing it, but even that isn't that strange - adventurers are exceptional, they explicitly aren't average members of the playable races. Hell, denizens are relatively exceptional. The nondescript masses are already there - they're just implicit or mentioned primarily in room descriptions - you don't need to bolster their ranks.

    The things I try to keep in mind:
    (1) Don't make it too long. A lot of people have descriptions that are so wordy and long that most people won't read them and, when they do, it forces a noticeable break in the RP conversation due to the time it takes to read all of it.

    (2) Don't say what people are doing when they look at you. This is probably the best of the ADP recommendations, but what it fails to mention are solutions: A good way to get around this is to use hypothetical implied actions. One of my favourites is "Close inspection reveals...". It doesn't say that someone is inspecting you closely (it also doesn't say that they aren't), it just says that if they were, that's what they would find.

    (3) Don't be too exceptional. If you're going to play a tall dwarf, don't throw in ten other big exceptional qualities. You have limited exceptionalism capital.

    (4) If you're going to be exceptional, remember that you are. Playing a tall dwarf as a means to RP a human while retaining dwarf mechanics is loathsome and should be avoided, like the ADP says. If you're a tall dwarf, you should RP a dwarf and, further, your abnormality within your race should inform your RP. Exceptionalism comes with RP responsibilities.

    (5) Personalisation at the level of styling is a good way to avoid injecting too much exceptionalism while making you unique. Making your dwarf tall is spending a lot of your exceptionalism capital, but a unique and interesting beard description makes your character compelling while spending very little of that capital.

    (6) Don't be afraid of injecting emotional responses because it's unavoidable. Instead, use some thought. You will never escape emotional responses in your description because whatever you write, it will have a tone and, if written well, most people will extract the same tone from it. If you say "his terrifying countenance frightens you", people will get all over you for writing their emotional response for them. But look at what happens when you just say "his terrifying countenance" - that emotional reaction is still there implicitly because it still suggests that you find them "terrifying" (to say nothing of the connotations of "countenance"). The key is to think about how players in multiple factions would view you. Would Mhaldorians find your visage terrifying? If it's because you look creepy, they probably wouldn't and you should aim for a different tone. If it's because your face is locked in a disciplinarian grimace that's terrifying in its stony severity, that's probably fine.
    Tvistor
  • ChryenthChryenth Member Posts: 1,323 @ - Epic Achaean
    Tvistor said:
    Caps lock Chryenth is best Chryenth.
    So noted.
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