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: slender, slim, thin, willowy, lean, lithe, lanky…
Slender bodies are lean but not so skinny as to be considered unhealthy or underweight. Muscle tone may be evident due to a lack of body fat, but without deliberate attention, the muscles won’t be pronounced or…
- Kate Middleton
- Julia Roberts
- Colin Farrell…
Simile and Metaphor Help:
- What I loved best about Eve was the way she fit against my side when I pulled her to me—like a baby on its mother’s hip. She matched me perfectly.
Twists on the Slender Cliché:
- With the prevalence of body image issues in today’s world, much emphasis is placed on the slender body type being the preferred one, particularly in children’s and YA books. People with other builds can be just as healthy and well-adjusted; it would be nice to see these body types better represented in literature…
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 pretended interest in What’s-His-Name’s mind-numbing party chatter, but I couldn’t stop looking at Sydney’s brother. Describing him didn’t do him justice—slim build, average height, brown hair. But there was something about the way he crossed the room, like he was the tallest person in it. His eyes always looked ready to laugh as he touched this person’s shoulder, that one’s back. Smothering a sigh, I dragged my attention back to What’s-His-Name.
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.
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Maris McKay says
Thanks for this helpful post. I was just trying to come up with a description for my new MC’s love interest that wasn’t the stereotypical muscle-bound man. This will work perfectly.
Jemi Fraser says
Great points! It’s always fun to twist up what’s expected 🙂
Thanks for another useful post. These always help me to look at my characters with fresh eyes.
Donna K. Weaver says
Great examples. It’s funny that I have so many body types right in my family. Two of my boys are bigger boned. There’s not way they can look slender even when they are thin. Two of the boys (one especially) is very slender, even what I’ve always called wiry. Nearly 6’6 and about 200 lbs. Very long bones. 😀
Michael Frickstad says
Your trait entries are SO helpful. One trait I’m looking for help on…just a spark…is voice. I can picture so many voices in my head, but am having difficulty describing them without naming celebrities like Angie Harmon, Truman Capote, and James Earl Jones. Any ideas?
Lori Schafer says
How did you know? I’m writing a romance in which one of the men is “slender” and I don’t want that to imply skinny or unmasculine somehow. Thanks for the tips!