Not too long ago I read a book to review on my personal blog. This not-to-revealed book started out well enough. The writing was decent, the editing was *cough* passable, and the author was establishing the main female protagonist properly. Then within the first seven pages, there wasn’t just one mirror scene but two! I shook my head and closed the book. Two mirror scenes in the first chapter were over the top and it clued me in enough to know this could be a crutch for the writer. When I continued to read the book, I found more mirror scenes and I knew things would go downhill from there. Before you think, “What’s so wrong with a mirror scene?” let me explain the ins and outs of such a scene.
What is a mirror scene?
It’s pretty simple to explain. A mirror scene usually consists of a character looking at a mirror or makeshift mirror and explains in narrative what the characters sees in the reflection—whether it be the character’s clothing, physical looks, or expression. The author uses this type of scene to tell the reader what the character looks like or how they are acting.
This type of scene is a classic show vs. tell. The author isn’t allowing the reader to form a proper picture in their head of the character; the author is telling the reader what to think. Some would say this is weak writing or a clear sign of an amateur author. Others say mirror scenes aren’t realistic. Who analyzes themselves to that extent in real life anyway?
And if you haven’t noticed mirror scenes before, you’re going to notice them now. You’re welcome. You may find them in your favorite best-selling author’s books, too. Bummer, right? Does that make it okay to use these scenes? To each their own. Does it make these book worse than any other? Not all the time, but in my opinion, yes. But it’s a very gray area. Agents most certainly will reject a book, especially from an unknown author, if they happen to find two mirror scenes in the first seven pages. Readers will also pick up on the mirror scene as cliché and overdone.
How do authors avoid mirror scenes or realize they aren’t strong scenes to use? Really, it’s up to each author how to depict his or her characters. Experienced writers can write their book without giving the reader a multitude of descriptions. Simply saying the main character is a shapely blonde is sufficient to carry the reader through the rest of the book. In fact in another book I just read, the author only revealed that the male protagonist was broad shouldered and had light hair. It was simple enough for me to get a clear image of the man in my head. He was broad shouldered, which meant he was a muscular man, big, possibly tall. His hair was light which in turn told me he was Caucasian and maybe light skinned or tan. This was enough for me as the reader to create my perfect male protagonist in my head.
Authors can use their other characters showing what their protagonists look like. It’s as easy as one character commenting how a female character flips her long blond hair over her shoulder or explaining in the narrative how a male character had biceps that could crush cans. No mirrors involved.
Mirror scenes aren’t the strongest method to describe your characters. If you’re a fan of these scenes, try writing without the mirror and see what you come up with. Mirror scenes are a surefire way for a reader, or worse an editor or publishing house, to notice weak writing skills. Strengthen your writing by finding other ways to describe your characters and avoiding the dreaded mirror scene.