How to Describe a First-Person Protagonist

When you're writing in the first person, describing your protagonist is hard.

The easiest (and the most risky) way to go about it is to have the protagonist describe themselves. For example: "I have blond hair and blue eyes and my skin is the color of almonds." This hardly ever works well. People in real life do not walk around thinking "I have blond hair and blue eyes". They know what they look like, and they have known it for their whole lives! So why would they start randomly describing their basic appearance?

Almost as bad is the dreaded mirror technique. The mirror technique consists of the protagonist stands in front of a mirror, describing themselves to the reader. Again, this is just not realistic; when you look in the mirror, you don't think "Oooh, look at my eye color!". Instead, you think, "Why won't my hair behave itself?", or something along those lines.

So how do you describe your protagonist in a way that sounds natural?

First of all, you don't need to describe everything about them all at once. Just dribble in little details one or two at a time. Keep in mind, though, that important details like age and gender should be made obvious within the first page or so.

Secondly, be subtle. Again, people don't just think, "Oh, hey, I have blond hair" out of the blue. You need to come up with an excuse to mention hair color (or eye color, or whatever).

As an example, here's a snippet from one of my works-in-progress:

I wrapped a lock of my chocolate-brown hair around my finger, round and round, until it tugged at my scalp.

This tells you two things about the character's physical description. First of all, she has chocolate-brown hair. Secondly, it's implied that she was twisting her hair around for a while before she felt the tug, so her hair must be pretty long.

Thirdly, know when to stop. You don't need to include absolutely everything about a character's description. Just start with the basics: age, gender, hair color/style, skin color, and possibly eye color.

A first-person protagonist is the hardest character you'll ever have to describe. Sometimes, the sheer struggle might tempt you to give it all up and switch to third person, but don't despair -- the three steps outlined above will help.

Real people do not do this.

For some more quick tips about describing your first-person protagonist, check out this article from BeKindRewrite

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