Mixing Up Character Description (by H.S. Wift)

As any writer will tell you, the key to a good story is good characters. Characters need definition, because without definition, they are empty, soulless vessels, incapable of conveying emotion to our readers. If you fail to describe, you describe to fail. There. Stings doesn’t it?

There are different ways to do this, so try and change it up! Maybe describe one character by her actions; “She lashed out with a beautiful leg, digging her long, sharp heels into his fleshy waist”, and another as they’re noticed; “He emerged from the shadows, and my eyes were immediately drawn to his beaten, bloody face, betraying the downtrodden man it belonged to.”

But it’s not all just describing characters and mixing up your style, you also have to use the right words. ‘The quick brown fox’ didn’t ‘jump over the lazy dog’, instead, ‘The nimble, agile vixen leapt over the slothlike mutt, as the moonlight hit her beautiful coat of fur with its dazzling bronze sheen’. Abandon the mundane and embrace the extravagant! Red is crimson. Cut is gash. Long black hair is an ebony mane. Yes, you should mix in ‘red’ and ‘cut’ sometimes, but I encourage you to expand your vocabulary.

Secondly, a character’s appearance depends on the genre. Even if it’s just the name for a piece of clothing, genre counts. Batman has a cape, whereas the members of the Fellowship of the Ring each had cloaks. There is no real difference, except for the name, and that capes generally flow better.

Don’t forget to describe their traits, either. Maybe they’re a big, bad troll, or an undead monstrosity, or perhaps they have a robotic arm. Even their name and backstory are affected. Be true to your genre!

The most important aspect of character is a weakness. Anyone from any genre can be hindered by memories of a painful childhood, or by evil people who surround them and constantly hold them back from rising to the challenges they face. All characters must have a weakness because it reminds us of their human side.

Lastly, none of what I have said really matters unless you stick to your style. If you fail to write in your own unique voice in the process, then you have successfully defeated the purpose. Love your own brain. It’s always better than you think it is.


  • smdasilva {LoA}

    Another great post in an awesome series! I will try to be more descriptive but it is hard in the limited ficly space.

  • Stovohobo

    Some good advice, although on the same token I would warn against flowery wording or excessive verbosity. Brevity can be as powerful as a gush of words, or sometimes more so if used correctly. Elegance and timing is the key, I think.

  • ElshaHawk (LoA)

    yes, @Stovo, this is a gray area. I think we could post blogs on both sides(flowery or not). It’s really up to you and your style and genre. Wift says both (go for word variety and stay true to your style). I left it all in there. :) He has many good points, and I wish we could do a blog on all of them.. maybe one day they will be addressed. We are creatures of forgetfulness and need reminders.. :)

  • THX 0477

    Good solid reminders about character. It can definitely be hard to balance exposition, setting, character descriptions, internal dialog, external dialog, and plot action. BUT, with all of them in mind, you overlap and, as you said, describe them by their actions and statements as much as you do by simply describing them.