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 caring 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: groomed, clean, trimmed, wiry, patchy, sleek, oiled, bristle, stubble, scruffy, scraggly, neat, shaped, bushy, narrow, thin, thick, curly, long, short…
Here’s a list of different styles of facial hair!
Things Facial Hair Do:
- Tickle: in close contact, facial hair can feel ticklish!
- Rub: facial hair can also be unpleasant–rubbing, scratching and aggravating sensitive skin.
- Itch: facial hair can be quite itchy for the owner, especially in hot or humid climates. Some men grow beards during the cold months and shave during the summer.
Key Emotions and How Related Facial Hair Relates:
- Adoration & Love: Some find facial hair extremely attractive, and like a man who can grow a good beard or mustache. Stubble is a trend that has gain a lot of traction. However, with that growth comes some sensibility and good grooming expectations. Gone are the days of waxed and curled mustaches, and no one likes to see one’s lunch hangout out of one’s beard.
- Pride & Satisfaction…
Clichés to Avoid: Five o’clock shadow (it’s been done to death); the Pornstashe, comparing a beard to Santa’s beard or a biker’s beard…
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: Mom strutted past the security checkpoint, her perfectly made up face surly and grim. As soon as she reached us, she began complaining in Italian about the flight–the food was cold, the seat too small, someone had gas and the man next to her grumbled every time she got up to use the washroom. As she blamed us for picking the flight, railing on how the air conditioning ruined her freshly cut hairdo, I took the greatest satisfaction in the wiry tangle of white sprouting out of a mole on her chin. Mom, always immaculately dressed, always primped and perfect…missed a spot.
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.