If you would, please read the following:
The woman in red approached the dancing couple and delivered a slap to her husband that almost rattled the high crystal chandeliers.
~ and ~
The short, buxom woman walked into the room. She had curly blonde hair, a plump face and cold eyes that sparkled like diamonds. Her dress was red and matched her ruby heels. She approached the dancing couple and delivered a slap to her husband that almost rattled the high crystal chandeliers.
So…what do we have with both of these samples?
It’s okay. You can say it: Totally boring description (with a cliché thrown in, too).
Describing a character’s appearance is a tightrope act. Too little, and they walk the wire from one end to the other, nebulous and unremarkable, forgotten the moment they step to safety. Too much, and they become a giant, colorful blob trapped on the line, unable to move forward. Pace is stalled, and nothing is left to the reader’s imagination because it’s all right there in the spotlight.
Why do the above excerpts not work? In addition to them having too little or too much description, what’s shown isn’t compelling. It doesn’t pull us in, help to shape the character, or give us clues as to who this woman in red is or what makes her unique.
The right detail or two will characterize and help paint a picture of who a person is. Hands rubbed raw from washing dishes all afternoon in scalding water. (hardworking, a provider.) Skin, doll-smooth, layered in foundation so thick it leaves a ring at the jawline (vanity, superficial, self-absorbed). A workman’s lurching walk, his faded overalls threadbare at the knees (sacrifice, poverty, pain). These details tell a story. They characterize. And most importantly, they are memorable.
The Physical Feature Thesaurus will look at the bodies of our characters part by part and provide micro details that will help writers brainstorm ways to create memorable imagery for the reader to connect with. We’ll provide a descriptive word list to help you convey character movement and communication, and offer ideas to get you thinking about how a particular attribute might be used to show your character’s unique personality and emotions.
All of the entries for this collection can be found here. And more good news! This entire thesaurus has been augmented and integrated into our online library at One Stop For Writers. There, you can find help with metaphors and similes, as well as the best ways to describe your character using movement. The entire Physical Feature collection is cross-referenced and linked for easy navigation. If you’re interested in seeing a free sampling of the updated Physical Feature Thesaurus and our other descriptive collections, head on over and register at One Stop!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.