Writing physical descriptions of characters are a tricky and can be hard to insert naturally into the narrative. They can easily come across as cliche or force and for first-person narrators if they’re not done well they can make the first person narrator come across as very vain. Here are some ways to take your physical descriptions from bland to interesting, make them work harder in the narrative, and make them a part of the story that’s actually interesting and important.
Avoid something that just feels necessary. Let’s address the great debate. Do I need a physical description of my character. That is a strong yes. Readers seem to fall into two camps: readers who don’t need physical descriptions and if there is one we’ll probably just ignore it and readers who really need one or they can’t picture the character.
The next thing is how to insert that description into the story. This is where a lot of writers struggle. Decide if your story is high energy or low energy. Put your descriptions and how you physically describe your character in as soon as they are introduced. Keep your descriptions short. One of the great pitfalls of character descriptions is when they go on way way too long. When in doubt, three sentences. If you are doing two characters at once then perhaps a full paragraph.
What you should avoid in a physical description of a character and what to include.
Avoid cliches. Simple descriptions often fell prey to cliches in how the description comes about.
The next thing you want to avoid is over-the-top detail. If you have too much in detail the reader won’t retain it. It would be much better to go with fewer bolder traits that are strongly described than a lot. Make your descriptions interesting. We can describe eyesin an interesting way without them being glimmering orbs of ocean.
Include voice. Voice is such a great story element and is very important to consider in your physical description. Like everything else in the story, the voice of the character and as well it should be in the tone. Tone is the view the story has towards itself introduced to the description. You can think what is the view the character has of their own appearance: insecure or confident. A side character what’s the view that the main character has towards them.
Make your language interesting or you have to make the features interesting. Both would be good. Example of making traits interesting: her face was narrow and she had hawk-like features strangely soft like she was. A broken piece of marble weathered by centuries of current curls fell ragged around her face, knotted around her ears, pale, uncombed, and grappled into an unraveling braid. She looks like an unfinished doll abandoned by her maker.
This is very important and I think it was touched on quite well in that last example. Flaws are more interesting than perfection. It’s also important to notice that the lack of description of flaws can cancel them. They’re not flaws if you describe a character to someone and you don’t mention the flaws. Even if you just describe them in kind of simple ways the reader will probably picture them as like conventionally attractive because that’s how people are.
If left to our own devices we should really just picture attractive people because people like looking at attractive people. If you don’t specifically point out the flaws and you don’t go out of your way to make sure you comment on the flaws, the reader will not picture them. I also want to note that if the word perfect or any of its synonyms or any similar word appears at any point throughout your physical description, you should delete it immediately. Anything that is perfect is not interesting. Rather than trying to convey how attractive your character is, convey how interesting and unique your character is.
Find little details specific to that character whether it’s a birthmark, a scar, or your clothing choices for that character. Next time you want to include more than appearance or the way to character looks you will discover it teaches a lot about their personality, their lifestyle, and their habits. Just describing their natural traits it’s also describing how they work with their natural traits.
Clothing is also important. You can say a lot about your character and you’re physically describing your character. Don’t make the aim that the reader can picture them, make it so that the reader can learn about them as people.
Use a physical description in the form of showing the character’s personality layers and depth to your physical description. This is what I mean about making a physical description work harder. Make it pull its weight in the story. Make it accomplish more than just physically describing the character. A physical description is a good time to more overtly include other details beyond just the basics.