Today, I want to write about what I consider one of the biggest cliches in fiction: the heroine (or possibly hero,but I'm
going to use one pronoun for the sake of consistency) catches sight of herself in a mirror, revealing her white-blonde hair,
delft-blue eyes, and large chest.
The average home does not have so many mirrors that the heroine should
be accidentally seeing herself in one. She might have one in her bedroom, and almost certainly has one in her bathroom, but
that should be it. Where are these mirrors she's catching sight of herself in?
And a place of business should have even
fewer mirrors. Some bars have them, some stores, maybe locker rooms and public bathrooms. But, frankly, there just aren't
that many opportunities to catch sight of yourself in a mirror as you go about your daily life, especially by accident, as
the commonly used phrasing of this cliche suggests.
Yes, I get it: the writer wants us to know what his heroine
looks like, and knows that it is rather awkward to interrupt the action and just shoehorn a description in, especially in
a first-person manuscript, where the heroine simply wouldn't talk about herself that way.
So, the writer falls back
on the cliche of the heroine just catching sight of herself in a conveniently placed mirror.
Your heroine can stay away
from mirrors. There are ways to deal with this issue of describing a character's looks without relying on the mirror cliche.
she can deliberately seek out the mirror, and spend some time primping and preening, admiring her eyes, hair, and figure.
This works if you want to portray her as vain, even narcisisstic, about her looks, but might not otherwise.
way to describe her is by writing a plot-relevant scene in which the heroine describes herself to someone else. For example,
suppose our heroine is a private investigator, who is trying to meet a witness so she can interview him and find out what
he knows about her case. She might be trying to arrange to meet him at a bar or a restaurant. He wants to know who to look
for. She could reply, "I'm five-seven. I have white-blonde hair, blue eyes, and, um, rather a curvy figure."
way to describe your heroine is to break her description up throughout the manuscript and make it related to the character's
For example: She put on her favorite blouse and best suit, thinking as she did about how hard it was to find
clothes that fit her big breasts and hour-glass hips without modification. She'd learned at an early age how to sew and tailor
her clothes to make them fit her figure. She just wished she didn't have to do the same thing every time she bought a blouse.
Then, later in the book, you might write: She put a hat on. She had to wear a hat more or less everywhere she went.
Her white-blonde hair could be a problem, as it was rather easily noticeable. Her blue eyes weren't such a problem, but her
hair was so distinctive that she'd given thought to dying it dark brown no more than one occasion.
Another way to get
the description into the story, one that would work especially well in first-person, but is still good in third-person,
would be to have another character describe your heroine.
For example, she meets a witness, who is a young man. He mgiht
smile or leer and say, "Do all private detectives have such wonderful hair and eyes, and such beautiful boobs?"
the heroine can tell the reader that she has blue eyes and white-blond hair and an ample chest without the information seeming
to come from out of nowhere. This also has the advantage of helping to establish some of the character traits of the witness.
Or, you could simply not worry about describing your heroine. The reader will provide his own mental image of her as
he goes, and might even be put out if your description does not agree with his.
One caveat is to not wait too long to
describe your characters, especially the main characters. I once read more than 100 pages of a horror novel before learning
that one of the main characters was a blonde. I had been imagining a brunette, and now, suddenly, I had to change my mental
image of the character. If your heroine is blonde, whether my white-blonde example or a more common strawberry blonde,
or if she is a redhead, tell us sooner rather than later. Just don't do it in an unnatural way.
There you have it: ways
to describe your character without having to rely on one of the biggest cliches there is.