Writing

Character Descriptions: 7 Tips for Describing Faces in Your Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 10, 2020 • 3 min read

A human face reveals a lot about a person. In creative writing, describing a character’s face can uncover information about who they are and how they feel. Writers can zoom in on individual features, like the eyes or mouth, or describe a face in its entirety to paint a picture of a character. Learn how to develop a character through their most telling attribute—their face.

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7 Tips for Describing Faces in Your Writing

The physical features of your characters' faces are important details to include in your stories. They help bring characters to life, especially when you’re introducing them for the first time. They can also reveal emotions and reactions and help set the mood of a scene without relying on dialogue. Along with personality traits, body type, body language, and physical appearance, your character’s unique facial features can tell us more about who they are. Using descriptive writing, a writer can enhance character description by detailing facial features and expressions. Here are eight tips for how to describe faces in your writing:

  1. Use figurative language when describing a character’s face. When you’re introducing a character for the first time and want the reader to create an image in their mind, use figurative language to describe the character’s face instead of just stating the obvious qualities. For example, you can use similes and metaphors. It’s okay to simply say, “She has blonde hair,” but you could also use a simile: “Her hair was golden like the sun.” In Great Expectations Charles Dickens uses a unique metaphor to describe a feature of a character’s face: “His mouth was such a post-office of a mouth that he had a mechanical appearance of smiling.”
  2. Create facial expressions that reveal emotions. How a character’s eyes, eyebrows, nose, forehead, mouth, and chin move in unison can let a reader in on their emotions. A character can have a facial tic when they get nervous. Whether it’s raised eyebrows and a mouth curved into a smile or a furrowed brow and an upper lip curled into a scowl, you can use a character’s expressions instead of dialogue to reveal their feelings about a situation.
  3. Frame your character’s face with a hairstyle that reflects their story. A crewcut might signify a military soldier or someone who likes to be in control. A ponytail or pigtails might indicate a young character. Describe a character’s hair color—black hair, dark hair, brunette, redhead, blonde, gray, or white—in interesting ways instead of just stating the shade. It makes a difference whether your character dyes their hair or keeps it its natural shade. Describe the length of their hair. A confident businesswoman might have short or shoulder-length hair. A musician might have longer hair. Match your character’s hairstyle with their personality.
  4. Make facial hair an element of a character’s style. How a male character keeps his facial hair is telling. If he’s constantly clean-shaven, he might go to a regular corporate job. A bit of stubble can signify a more casual career. From a beard to sideburns to a goatee, facial hair helps paint a picture of a male character and can help represent their life and what they do.
  5. Realize that eyes are windows to the soul. There are endless ways to depict eyes. Describe obvious characteristics like eye color—green eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, gray eyes, or black eyes. Highlight their shape—round, almond, narrow. Think about the entire orbital structure, from eyelids to eyelashes. Illustrate how the eyes are placed in relation to the character’s face—deep-set, wide-set, or close-set. Give eyes their own movements to tap into a character’s feelings. Let a character’s eyes twinkle, squint, gaze, or glare.
  6. Describe your character’s skin. The tone and texture of a character’s skin can provide insights into a character’s life. A child’s face might be freckled. A sickly character might look pasty. An old cowboy might be good looking and rugged with craggy skin.
  7. Give your character unique facial features. Set a character apart with distinguishing facial features. Give them dimples, freckles, or unique markings on their face. Give them poor vision so they need to wear eyeglasses. Maybe they wear heavy makeup or have piercings. Think of different ways you can create unique facial features that help define a character.

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