Your characters guide your readers through your writing. They’re who they like, love, hate, or puzzle over. So you need to dedicate a bit of your book to describing them. But your character descriptions shouldn’t just be a list of attributes – you’re not a witness to a crime! So how do you effectively and memorably describe your characters? Read on for some suggestions.
1) Pick strong defining features
Rather than describing all of a characters features like a laundry list (hair colour, eye colour, etc), pick a few things that are more unusual, or would make them memorable to people they meet. They could have a unique tattoo, unusually small hands for their size, or a shaved head. Think about what features you’d mention to help someone pick them out of a crowd.
2) Talk about what’s around them
People surround themselves with things that define them. The clearest and most identifiable of these is of course what they wear. Perhaps you have a character who always wear the same colour, or maybe there’s an historical era they love to mimic. They could be a designer clothes horse or only get their garb from charity shops. Outside of clothes, you could also think about accessories like jewellery, glasses, hats, and belts. And if you ever show a character in their home, or car, or even where they work, this too will be full of “them”, so make use of that.
3) Use imaginative words
It’s difficult to describe a character and avoid cliches. But you’ll need to stretch those writing muscles to come up with new ways of talking about how someone looks. So for example instead of “as pale as a ghost”, perhaps try “looked like they’d burst into flames in direct sunlight”. It can actually be quite fun to dig through all those lovely words you rarely use and use them in new ways. Just don’t go over the top.
4) Think about how they move
It’s not just how a person looks that defines them. Sometimes how they move or how they talk can also be a memorable characteristic. Someone might move very quickly, or wave their hands around when talking. Or perhaps they’re very still or good at sneaking up on people.
5) Go beyond how they look
Don’t just think about what they look like, think about the other senses too. Perhaps your character has a certain smell or perfume they always wear. Maybe they make a sound when they talk or (if someone gets close enough) you can describe how their hands feel. Your descriptions can even go beyond the regular five senses. It might be that your character exudes something that makes people feel calm – or afraid.
These are just a few ways your can describe your characters. Do you have any other suggestions? Please share in the comments.