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: chubby, rosy, drawn, sunken, jowly, saggy, puffy, pocked, dimpled, scarred…
Key Emotions and Related Cheek Gestures:
- People will chew on their cheeks when they’re nervous or uncertain. Other nervous habits include tapping or rubbing the cheeks, or nervous tics in the muscle. Someone might blow out their cheeks when they’re feeling…
Famous Quotes involving Cheeks
- Prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can’t see it, you can’t find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating. –Marian Anderson
- Let age, not envy, draw wrinkles on thy cheeks. –Thomas Browne
- I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it. –Flannery O’Connor
- The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. –Salvador Dali
- There’s more to life than cheek bones. –Kate Winslet
Clichés to Avoid: chipmunk cheeks, cheeks so chubby they have to be pinched, turning the other cheek…
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: I wiped the sweat from my face, cursing the heat. Across from me, Jana sat tall and still except for her fingers, picking at the cuff of her long-sleeved shirt. Her pants were long, pooling around her sneakers, and her shirt buttoned all the way up to her chin. Her hair parted in the middle, partially obscuring her face, but the skeletal look of her was obvious. The skin drew tight across her nose and chin, the cheeks sunken like pits. The words formed in my mouth to ask what was wrong with her, but I swallowed them, respecting her desire to hide.
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!
– See more at: https://writershelpingwriters.net/2013/05/physical-attributes-entry-back/#sthash.BtGqxhTh.dpuf
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Kim Van Sickler says
Ditto what Natalie said. I do find myself spending more and more time trying to cover all the senses with my descriptions. It’s hard work!
Traci Kenworth says
I, too, don’t think about cheeks much, they just seem to be “there.” This helps me think of ways to brighten up my use of them. Thanks!!
Carrie Butler says
Haha! Oh, that photo speaks volumes. It pairs well with this entry. 🙂
C. Lee McKenzie says
Great as always. Loved Kate Winslet’s and Salvador Dali’s quotes.
Angela Ackerman says
I have a terrible habit of chewing on the inside of my cheek. I know it looks totally bizarre when I do it, and need to stop, But it might be a good quirk for one of my characters…*mulls*
Jemi Fraser says
Love the O’Connor quote and the Winslet too! 🙂
Natalie Aguirre says
I don’t use cheeks much unless it’s to describe warmth like blushing or embarrassment. I’m probably not very unique in those. Thanks for the example on how to do it differently.