Peggy Bechko: A Writer’s Don’t – Mirror Gazing


by Peggy Bechko

How many of you writers are guilty of having one of your characters describe him or herself by looking in the mirror?

How many of you readers have been massively annoyed by that little trick?

Yep, today we’re talking about a major no-no in writing. It could work with a screen script – at least the guy could look at himself in a mirror though he wouldn’t be reeling off self-description – but it sure won’t work where written in a book. Really. Just don’t.

Why? Do I really have to tell you? Ask the above-mentioned readers, but well, sigh, okay, here goes

It’s boring. Really, really boring. (again, ask above-mentioned readers). Readers today aren’t so concerned with the character’s appearance as they are with the character’s character, the character’s personality and maybe a bit of what created that personality. Of course you want to throw in a few details, then let the reader fill in the blanks.

The reader really doesn’t want to read pages of, “he stared at himself in the mirror, tracing the deeply etched worry lines that furrowed between his brows and carved the deep crags in his richly tanned face…..” and on and on. Get over it. Don’t do it. Boring.

Oh, and by the way, don’t think your readers don’t realize this is nothing more than a writer’s information dump and either start reading faster, to skim past it all, or just give up and put the book, YOUR book, down and walk away – probably never to return.

If the writing isn’t advancing the plot or giving us some real insights into character then dump it. And may I add ‘mirror-gazing’ never does that.

And if that’s not enough the act of ‘mirror-gazing’ and then relating all one sees within the silvery depths combine to make that character you’re trying so hard to create with some interest and depth basically self-absorbed not to mention possibly obsessed with his/her own appearance.

Do YOU stand in front of the mirror, ever, and replay in your head your dazzling eye color, the lovely fall of your red hair, the arch of your eyebrows, the cleft of your chin, the depth of your tan and your general handsomeness? Not to mention every little detail like the twinkle in your eye, the loss of an eyelash and the quirk of your lips when you smile? Ummm, I hope not.

It’s contrived (don’t you hate that word when an editor throws it at you?) and one way to avoid hearing that word is to avoid doing things like using this kind of trick to get the info out there. There are many more creative ways. Plus some of the description information you think is so vital may not be needed at all.

Writing is constantly changing. Read; think about what you’ve written. Then think about great books you’ve read. Have you seen such a technique used in the writing of them? I doubt it.

Be creative. Be original. That’s what writing a great story is all about. And let’s just skip the look in the mirror technique.