Tumblr is many things to many people, but one thing it's always good for is ask memes. What do these memes have to do with writing, you ask? Easy: they make excellent writing exercises.
Something about her spoke of wolfishness--her grin, perhaps, or the set of her shoulders. Whatever it was, I was not surprised to see her turn an almost predatory glare on any stranger who deigned to ask whether she, an English major, wanted to teach. What did surprise me was the subtlety of her kindness: a self-deprecating joke, a sincere encouragement, a friendly word of advice when pressed. She built with this, using her creativity to string together words that made the world a bit brighter.
At first glance she might look like any other underemployed artist. Paintbrushes with colorfully splattered handles stuck out of her bun, her dungarees always had colored pencils and tubes of paint falling out of the pockets. Her smile was quiet but infectious, and her wit as dry as the desert sand. She looked like she belonged on the cliffs by the sea, with an easel at hand and laugh on her lips--or maybe in a window-laden penthouse in the middle of a bustling city, sunshine streaking her brown hair gold as she drafts letters to friends scattered with stars.
Hugo was a worrier.
Being a ghost hadn't helped matters.
Ah, you say. If this is just an exercise in excessiveness, then why bother at all?
Simple: this meme shapes your observational skills.
Creativity is a weird monster that often requires the absurd or over the top to be acknowledged before you can sink into what you actually want to write. Practicing showy descriptions gives your brain room to do this. It gives you a space to practice writing out your observations. You're not going to use the first draft of whatever you come up with. This is a starting point, a sketch of what's to come. Besides, not every character can be introduced in two lines:
One of the trees gave a giant lurch as something small and dark dropped from its branches to the grass below. The dark blob slowly unfurled and Hugo’s eyebrows shot up as he realized that the small and dark something was a girl.
The girl moved calmly down the brick path. Her long dark hair hung loose and tangled down her back, and the rest of her appearance was equally tousled: grass stains on her knees, a bright red scab on her left elbow, a smudge of dirt on her forehead and under her fingernails. As she walked down the path, she dropped wildflowers on graves and curtseyed grandly to the older tombstones. Her feet were bare and calloused, and she wore overalls, not a skirt, but her smile was bright and her air gracious as she continued through the graveyard.
So next time you're stuck trying to describe a character, try going overboard. Start with the showy phrases and heartfelt-but-somewhat-too-cheesy sentences and see what happens. You might end up with something ridiculous, but you might end up with an idea of just what your character needs.