Quick Tips on Improving Character Description

1. Whenever possible, combine a physical description with some form of action. “Sometimes,” says [Johnny] Quarles, “if the character has a mustache, I’ll have him stroke it thoughtfully. If a woman has blue eyes, I’ll have her cast a ‘blue-eyed glance’ at the hero, An ‘active’ description gives the reader a motion-picture to look at. An ‘inactive’ one gives only a still-life painting.”

Inactive: The woman had a slim frame.
Active: The woman’s slim frame shook with laughter as she bent down and tossed an oilskin bag of tea over her shoulder. (Christina Skye, The Black Rose)

Inactive: He had rotten teeth.
Active: Inside, he looked toward the bed, then turned his head to grin at the other two, showing a mouthful of broken, rotting teeth. (Johnny Quarles, Varro)

2. Be specific, not general. Specific words and phrases give the reader a sharply defined picture; general words give the reader a vague picture.

General: The old witch had an ugly nose.
Specific: The old witch had a nose like a gourd.
The old witch had a bulbous nose.

Combined with an “active” description: The old witch peered down her gourdlike nose and cackled at us.

3. Avoid weighing down descriptions with too many adjectives. Think noun and verb foremost, adjectives second.

Adjective overload: She had beautiful, sensual, ruby red, Cupid’s bow lips that men found irresistible.
Less is more: She ran her tongue over moist, Cupid’s bow lips.

4. When appropriate, try to reveal some form of emotion behind your description. The goal is to stimulate the reader in as many ways as possible.

Emotionless: Both men were squat and muscular and carried long blowguns.
Emotional: Both men were squat and muscular, both carried long and lethal-looking blowguns, and both looked extremely glum–bored or homicidal or maybe both.

This article was taken from the course Creating Dynamic Characters. Click here to register for the course now!

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