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.
MEN (CHEST): brawny, smooth, hairy, firm, curly, broad, narrow, warm, sculpted, hard, strong, well-defined, chiseled, toned, pecs, pectorals, heavy, sagging, deep, flabby, bumpy, thick, skinny, bony, concave…
WOMEN (BREASTS): busty, big-chested, full, flat, sagging, well-endowed, buxom, busty, stacked, built, curvy or curvaceous, heavy, slopes, rounded, shapely, petite, cleavage, tanned, voluptuous…
Things Breasts/Chests Do:
- Thrust: chests and breasts are a sexual area that is closely tied into a person’s self esteem and instinctive, primal response. Baring a chest or thrusting it out is either a sexual display, an action to show strength and confidence, and (especially in males) a way to show aggression if feeling threatened.
- Feed: This one’s just for the ladies of course, but breast feeding is the function of breasts.
- Desire: Touching and caressing the chest or breasts between compatible, romantic pairs is a way to show affection and amp up sexual desire. Women and men find this attribute an attractive feature in others that match their sexual preferences, and even if one is in a committed relationship with someone else, looking (without being creepy or pervy about it) and appreciating this attribute is healthy and normal.
- Surprise/Shock: If a person is surprised…
Clichés to Avoid:
- describing a woman’s breasts as beach balls, balloons, etc.
- breasts that ‘heave’
- A chest that is ‘as hard as a rock’
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.
I must admit there are a few new descriptions of the chest I haven’t heard before.
Angela Ackerman says
Haha, you guys your comments are killing me. ROTF.
@Robert, Becca and I have to try and keep our blog ‘PG or lower’ just because we have so many elementary classes that link to us for writing resources. So yes, a few body parts will be purposefully skipped!
Leslie S. Rose says
Valley cleavage made me snort laugh.
Susan Flett Swiderski says
Heaving? Beach balls? At my age, it’s more like wheezing and deflated beach balls. Oh, who am I kidding? Make that ping pong balls. HA!
Stina Lindenblatt says
Not much longer, Angela, and I see you joining me on the romance-writing side. 😀
Robert Foster says
If this was awkward, I guess that means your not going to mention that area between the hips, huh?
For a simile, maybe, “Layla shifted under her son, who used her breasts like a downy pillow.”?
Teresa Robeson says
I cracked up reading this because it did seem like I was reading a romance novel (which I don’t read and apparently you don’t write…LOL!). Like the others said, you did a great job with a difficult topic, Angela!
Yeah, that fruit basket one was awesome. 🙂
Sharon K. Mayhew says
Great job, Ang! You made me blush a little with your examples. 🙂
Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) says
Ha ha. Johanna!
Great job, Angela. (Also, I notice that when I try to stand up straight/look more acceptable–meaning THINNER–,I stand up straight which, you know, makes “them” stand out. So, “she pulled her shoulders back, and…” Yeah… Better Angela does the writing about this, I think. LOL)
Becca Puglisi says
Whew. Good job, Ange, lol. I know that was tough :).
Angela Ackerman says
Seeing as I don’t write romance at all, I was struggling to write something descriptive without feeling all pervy, haha.
If anyone has more descriptors, fire them out and I’ll add them in. This is a challenging area so the more the better! 🙂
Johanna Garth says
Great post and good reminder to wear supportive undergarments that prevent me from looking like I have oranges ready to roll out of a fruit basket.