Can We Please Outlaw Mirror Descriptions of Characters?

(alternate text)

I’m utterly amazed how this can actually be used by a professional writer, in a professional magazine. This is something that we all have done, so don’t act like you didn’t, but usually we outgrow this after the first few stories. So I’m just shocked to see it in an otherwise decent story I read this evening. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded self-assessment-in-a-mirror-so-the-writer-can-describe-the-character syndrome.

In this case, it’s not a mirror exactly but an airplane window. She “had left him the armrest they shared, but now she leaned her elbow on it as she looked out the tiny window. She saw her own face in the glass, superimposed on the clouds: a red-haired woman in her worried forties, with a high, lined forehead and a long, thin nose.”


I cannot express how much I hate that. Nor how amateurish that seems to me. One of the first things we all learned in workshops was to try and develop character. Make the reader visualize the character. Make the reader sympathize and understand the character. Define the character. And sure enough, next week, everyone one of us turned in a stinking mirror scene in our stories. But usually it got drummed out of us and by the end of the semester, we knew better than to do this.

At this point, I’d rather the author never give me a single detail about the character than to see this freshman writing 101 device used.

But hey, what do I know? This lady is a published author with a major house and I’m just me, sitting in my kitchen blogging, refusing to look in any mirrors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *