Physical Feature Entry: Muscular Build

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: brawny, beefy, built, stacked, burly, hulking, robust, powerful…

Muscular individuals go beyond toned muscle structure and verge into defined, well built curves often visible through clothing. Muscles strain against fabric at the forearms, biceps and chest. Calves are bulkier than normal, the back broadened with muscle layers and a neck may appear wider at the base…

Things Muscles Do: 

  • Flex: jump, bulge, ripple, jerk, strain, swell, rise, balloon
  • Harden: tense, firm, freeze, set, strengthen, knot, bunch

Key Emotions and Related Muscle Movements: 

  • Anger: when angry or frustrated, muscles tense in aggression. The body naturally takes up more space, creating a bigger target and sending a message to opponents that one should not be messed with.
  • Fear: When experiencing fear, a person feels the desire to shrink and make oneself less of a target, aligning…

Simile and Metaphor Help:

  •  Metallica came on and Randy began flexing his bulky chest muscles to the beat. Valerie and I roared; they jittered like twin bowls of Jello left on the counter during an earthquake…

Clichés to Avoid: muscles the size of beach balls, a muscle-bound body builder with no brains…

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!


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. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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6 Responses to Physical Feature Entry: Muscular Build

  1. Your idea of “showcasing” some details was great. The picture of those brawny guys wasn’t bad either!

  2. Lori Schafer says:

    This is awesome. I love the idea of dissecting how to depict character qualities. So glad I discovered your site!

  3. Rosi says:

    Great stuff, as usual. And nice photo with my morning coffee. 😉

  4. Robin says:

    Thank you! I have a muscular love interest and have been working on describing him in non-traditional ways. The twin bowls of jello made me laugh:D

  5. A little beefcake with the morning coffee. 😀 As always, Angela, your posts are a delight.

  6. Great descriptors. Really big guys spend a lot of time maintaining it, so their gym time would almost have to play a part in any story. 😀

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