Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey–too much will slow the pace or feel ‘list-like’, while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or care about their plight.
One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help ‘tell the story’ about who your character is and what they’ve been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character’s physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.
Descriptors: dimpled, wrinkled, knobby, bulging, scabbed, scraped, scarred, hairy, lumpish, chapped, blotchy, freckled, knotted, dry…
Things Knees Do:
Bend: stiff; rapid; awkwardly; painfully
Stiffen: clench; tighten; support; strengthen
Give out: tremble and release, causing collapse; momentarily weakness which causes a hitch and catch
Key Emotions and Related Knee Movements:
- Fear: loosen, tremble, clench together, bring knees up to core, making oneself smaller & less noticeable
Clichés to Avoid: knees knocking together; knees giving out as a prelude to uncontrollable weeping
HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: The old man wore a faded Army cap and walked like his joints pained him. With every step, his knees strained and groaned, trying to hold their weight. Like soldiers carrying too-heavy packs, they struggled gamely on, doing the only thing they knew to do.
BONUS TIP: The Color, Texture, and Shape Thesaurus might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above!
Describe your character’s features in a way that reveals more than just a physical description. Show what he looks like while also reinforcing his personality and emotional state, thereby doing more with less.
Need concrete examples of how to describe your character in a compelling, magnetic way? Good news! This thesaurus has been 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.
Don’t forget the many (I counted twelve one time after I tried to retrieve a plastic bag from a greedy ponderosa pine) scabs and scratches that coat the knees of any adventurous teenager.
E.B. Black says
I hope you make this into a book because these lists are amazing.
Angela Ackerman says
Thank you all so much for your enthusiasm over this new thesaurus! I’ve been super busy this past week and sorry I haven’t been very vocal, but have been reading and so appreciative of all the comments!
Aimee Katherine says
I never really thought that much about putting knee related description into my writing before. I love this blog, it’s so useful!
Adventures in YA Publishing says
Another fantastic post! I am clearly going to love this thesaurus even more than the others. And that’s hard!
Have a great week!
Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work! estetik
Leslie S. Rose says
Many of my friends are having knee replacements. Ouch. It’s all that knee knocking in their youth.
The Golden Eagle says
I’ve never thought about a character’s knees so much before. Guess it just shows everything about a person can tell a story.
This rocks. Now I totally know how to describe knees! The right way. 😉
Tracy Campbell says
Ah knees. I’d never thought of focusing on knees. Love it, Angela.
Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.
Traci Kenworth says
I love this new thesaurus!! Very helpful and unique.
Kelly McWilliams says
When we’re writing we’re so in our heads we sometimes forget about the physical! Thanks for the reminder. It’s nice to muse a little on knees. They really do say a lot about a person. My husband just had knee surgery. His scar tells a long story of dangerous but exhilarating over-40 basketball games…
Debra Feldman says
Thanks for these helpful postings!
Wonderful suggestions for a body part I’d never thought of describing!
Bish Denham says
Ah yes, I’m reminded of the scarred knees of youth, my own included. 🙂
Angela Ackerman says
Oh good one, Susan…I’ll add that!
Thanks Natalie! I’m glad you like this series!
Susanne Drazic says
This was a good post. Swollen would be another good descriptor, don’t you think?
Natalie Aguirre says
Love this series Angela. I have to go back and read the first one. Great example on how to use the description well.