One of the elements of a great book for me is being able to see the characters in my head. I can’t tell you how often a storyline falls flat because the author doesn’t take the time to tell us how characters look, or they tell us in a way that is skippable and draaaags the life right out of me. Listen, I get it. It can be difficult to find creative ways to fit in character descriptions or to find the appropriate place to add them. But you have to. You can’t leave those out. We need to know all the tea about the people you’re about to make us fall in love with. So, here’s a few tips to help you along the way!
1. A little goes a long way. You don’t have to describe what a character looks like from head to toe, nor what they are wearing in every scene. Taking the time to tell the reader what a character is wearing all the time, or every detail of their appearance can negatively impact your pace and flow. Instead, focus on providing an introductory description and then sprinkle clues throughout the book as necessary, to keep the picture in their minds. Also reduce descriptions to what is important for the reader to know. If the character has a beautiful smile that captures the attention of her crush, then it would be beneficial to tell readers the size, shape, and color of her teeth and lips. However, if her smile isn’t important or won’t come up anywhere of significance in the book, leave it out. Is it really necessary to tell readers a character is dressed from head to toe in the latest Fendi collection if her clothes don’t matter to the overall plot? Only tell us what we need to know.
2. Don’t always task the character with describing themselves. In romance genres, for example, I’ve found that some of the best descriptions come from the eyes of the love interest, rather than the character. Allowing them to describe each other also helps you build chemistry between the two, since you’ll be telling and showing readers the physical characteristics that attract the characters to one another. For instance, what was the first thing she noticed about him when he stepped in the room? If he spotted her on the dance floor, what did she do or what was she wearing that caught his attention? There is nothing more intimate or steamy than hearing love interests describe one another in romance!
3. Use action to describe characters. Action can describe the way characters look, move, carry themselves, and react. These are powerful descriptors! For example, instead of telling us a character is tall, show us a scene where he has to crouch to fit inside a door, or him towering over another character. It’s one thing for a character to tell us people were intimidated by him, but the words hold so much more weight when you write out a scene, showing us how his physical presence impacts those around him. Oh, and don’t leave out facial expressions! They are important and help us get to know who the character is while defining their features. Action beats are a great opportunity to describe the way characters speak and their unique facial expressions. For example, did he speak with a grimace on his face, or did he tilt his head and squint his eyes? Give us details like these in the action beats!
4. Use character visuals. This is kind of a hack to make writing descriptions a bit easier. If your character is based off a real person, find a picture of that person in a position similar to the one you’ll have your character in for the scene you’re writing. Use what you observe to describe your character. Avoid telling readers that your character looks just like a celebrity. That’s a bit lazy and draws comparisons you don’t want. If you’re writing a book about a character that’s larger than life, intimidating, and an alpha male, you wouldn’t want to tell readers he looks like Bow Wow. But maybe you’re using Bow Wow as your inspiration for the way the character looks or behaves. In that case, focus on his attributes: his articulation and the way he speaks, the way he enters a room with supreme confidence, the color of his eyes and the shape of his lips. You get what I mean?
There are a lot of different ways you can describe your characters! Find the tips and techniques that work best for your writing style and run with them! Here are a few resources you can purchase on Amazon to help you along the way:
Body Beats to Build On: A Fiction Writer's Resource
The Description Vault: A Writer's Guide to Describing Characters
The Description Vault - After Dark: A Writer's Guide to Describing Characters
If you have trouble describing your characters, I’d love to help! Request a consultation by emailing me at Megan@JosephEditorialServices.com or book one via my website: JosephEditorialServices.com. I’d love to help you perfect that aspect of your writing!