Writing

How to Write Vivid Character Descriptions

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 27, 2019 • 3 min read

If you think about your favorite character in fiction, you probably have an immediate image that pops into your head. Though this image only exists in your imagination, it owes a lot to the way this character is described by the author. Populating a work of fiction with carefully described characters imbues a story with life.

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9 Tips for Writing Character Descriptions

Character descriptions are often the first way readers start to piece together their understanding of the characters that populate a work of fiction. As a writer, learning to write compelling and evocative character descriptions is incredibly important. Here is a list of tips that can help you write strong character descriptions in your work:

  1. Start with physical appearance. The most basic character descriptions usually center around physical details. Physical attributes are the first thing we notice about a person before we’ve had the opportunity to speak to them. Literature is a non-visual medium, so having a vivid and evocative physical description can help paint a picture of a character in the minds of your readers before you go into more detail about the character’s personality. Physical descriptions may seem surface-level, but they’re the first step toward character development.
  2. Carefully choose your adjectives. Try to spice up your character descriptions with fresh and inventive descriptive writing. A good character description will instantly conjure an image in the minds of your readers without relying on trite cliches and bland description of physical characteristics.
  3. Think about a character’s interests. Characters are much more than their physical appearances. Much can be revealed about a person by thinking about the things that interest them. “A teen girl who is obsessed with Harry Potter and K-pop” is a more evocative character description than simply “a teen girl with blond hair and brown eyes.”
  4. Choose descriptive details you’ve observed in your own life. When you meet someone for the first time, what stands out to you? Our first impressions generally center around a few details, whether they’re someone’s deep green eyes and freckles or their unique mannerisms and idiosyncrasies.
  5. Practice writing character descriptions for people in your life. It can be great practice for writing fictional characters to take some time and write character descriptions for real people in your life. You may find that it comes easier to you to talk about the specific facial expressions, body language, and hair color of your real life friends and family because you have spent so much time with them. Once you’ve written out these real life character descriptions from your own point of view, you may find it easier to create a good character description for a fictional character in your short story or novel.
  6. Make a list of possible physical traits and character traits. In addition to writing mock character descriptions, some writers find it useful to keep a running list of personality traits and physical characteristics that they can refer to when writing new character descriptions or brainstorming new stories. When you’re deciding how to describe a character in a specific piece you are working on, you can refer to this list and come up with additional examples for a specific character.
  7. Edit your list down to the most revealing descriptors. Once you have a list of possible descriptors to include in your character profile, it’s time to edit your list down to the strongest details that will help reveal character and evoke a strong image. A great character description is all about quality over quantity. Choose a few of the best details from your list and leave the rest to your reader’s imagination.
  8. Explore how a character’s surroundings reveal their inner life. There are many ways to describe a character beyond simply reciting the character’s physical appearance—saying a character has blue eyes and black hair can only get you so far. Think about a character’s home or workplace. What objects do they hold dear? What actions do they do on a daily basis that reveal something about their backstory or personality?
  9. Compile a list of your favorite character descriptions. Keeping a list of your favorite character descriptions that you come across in fiction is a great way to notice elements that appeal to you that you can incorporate into your own writing. These character descriptions can come from anywhere, but it’s always helpful to look for inspiration from authors you admire. You might find inspiration from sources as different as Mark Twain’s description of Huckleberry Finn or J. K. Rowling’s description of Hagrid. Keeping this list handy can help you break through writer’s block when you’re feeling stuck.

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