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Writers Workshop: Writing Physical Descriptions

Whether you are reading a novel or a sim, visualisation is a huge part of the experience. We allow our minds to imagine the scene we are reading, the descriptions helping to form the pictures in our head. We are fortunate to have an incredibly talented bunch of people who help create images for our characters, but what about side characters – those specific to a mission, or a background character for example? Whilst we may have an idea of how our crewmates look, we may not always know just how those around them look.

In this article, we are going to be looking at how you can improve the descriptions that you write about characters.

His eyes were as blue as the oceanHer yellow gaze was as piercing as a tigers. How many times have we heard tired and overused metaphors to describe a character? Whilst an analogy or metaphor is fine here and there, too many can become cheesy. In the above examples, “crystal blue eyes or “piercing amber gaze” work just fine. If you do want to use an analogy try to think of something unique such as “Her hair so fine she looked like an unfinished doll abandoned by her maker”. Try to remember that metaphors in large doses are a recipe for eye rolls, facepalms and makes it more likely the reader forget what the character looks like later on. A good rule of thumb is three sentences should suffice.

Focus on important features. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the reader never really learns the colour of Daisy’s hair or eyes, instead using the following description: “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.” Some of the things to potentially think about are eye colour and shape, hair colour, length and texture, lips, facial structure including jaw, chin, and cheekbones, the shape of their nose, the colour of their skin. Moving down from the head, what is their general body type? Are they tall? Are they short? Muscular? Thin? You also want to think about physical quirks, if the characters have any defining features that separate them from others. Do they have scars, tattoos, a unique hairstyle or facial hair, heterochromia, freckles, etc? Even a crooked nose is memorable. You don’t need to list all of these things, and it is generally advisable not to, but these are things you should be thinking about when describing the character. Choose a handful of descriptors that you think are the most important and memorable and go with that.

Flaws are much more interesting than perfection. For instance, if a character is described as having “long, wavy blonde hair”, the image in the readers mind changes if you add “frayed”, or “messy”. It can help to add personality and history. Find little details that are specific to the character, whether it is a birthmark, a scar or even clothing choices. These little things can help discover aspects of the character, such as their personality, their lifestyle and their habits.

Hopefully by incorporating these tips into your writing, you will breathe life into your characters.

Try these tips out in your next sim! And why not share some of your descriptions in the Writing Improvement forum.

About Jarred Thoran

Jarred Thoran is currently the Commanding Officer of the USS Atlantis. His real name is Richard, and his interests include sci-fi, cycling and taekwondo. He currently lives in Germany with his partner and young child.
View all posts by Jarred Thoran

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