Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight.
One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.
|Courtesy of Lynn Kelley Author, WANA Commons|
Descriptors: slender, slim, thin, willowy, lean, lithe, lanky, skinny, svelte
Slender bodies are lean but not so skinny as to be considered unhealthy or underweight. Muscle tone may be evident due to a lack of body fat, but without deliberate attention, the muscles won't be pronounced or well-defined. Because of the long, thin nature of the limbs, fingers, and body, slender people often appear taller than they really are.
- Kate Middleton
- Julia Roberts
- Colin Farrell
- Orlando Bloom
- Gwyneth Paltrow
- What I loved best about Eve was the way she fit against my side when I pulled her to me—like a baby on its mother's hip. She matched me perfectly.
- With the prevalence of body image issues in today's world, much emphasis is placed on the slender body type being the preferred one, particularly in children's and YA books. People with other builds can be just as healthy and well-adjusted; it would be nice to see these body types better represented in literature.
- When it comes to men, those who less than athletic or muscular or often portrayed as unhealthy in some way. Men's bodies come in a variety of shapes, too. Twist the cliché by including the slender man who is confident and happy in his body.
- Because slender bodies are neither large nor small, big or little, they can be easily forgotten or overlooked. This is where individual quirks and preferences come in. Clothing choices, skin color, birthmarks, freckles, piercings, tattoos, mannerisms, and other defining layers can turn a forgettable build into a memorable one.
HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: I pretended interest in What's-His-Name's mind-numbing party chatter, but I couldn't stop looking at Sydney's brother. Describing him didn't do him justice—slim build, average height, brown hair. But there was something about the way he crossed the room, like he was the tallest person in it. His eyes always looked ready to laugh as he touched this person's shoulder, that one's back. Smothering a sigh, I dragged my attention back to What's-His-Name.
BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above!