Writing Character Descriptions That Aren’t Boring

A lot of character descriptions in short stories and novels will include basic things like a character’s height, eye color, hair color, and age. And even though these can tell readers more about the character, people are more complex than what they look like. Here are a few ideas for including more interesting character descriptions.

1. The overall aesthetic/vibe

Have you written a character that just physically embodies a rainy day? A sunny one?

Character descriptions are more interesting if you include little things that remind the reader of a certain feeling or aesthetic. Some examples include clouds, cinnamon raisin cookies, the smell after it rains, light bouncing off of water or through trees, etc.

People can have different (or mixes of) aesthetics, which can be really helpful when trying to describe a character. Pinterest is a great tool for finding aesthetic inspiration.

2. Their quirks/mannerisms/ticks

Different people have different ticks, too. Some include their biting fingernails, tapping their foot when bored, constantly tilting their head to the left, etc.

Aside from physical mannerisms, characters can have other quirks—maybe they’re obsessed with 80’s horror movies or love to collect spoons wherever they travel.

Quirks make characters interesting, unique, and more realistic.

3. How they laugh/smile

This is a big tell for personality. A self-conscious character might have a small, tight-lipped smile while a more outgoing and confident character might smile broadly and laugh loudly.

You can also incorporate a character’s sense of humor while describing their laugh/smile; what do they find funny? Physical humor, dark humor, or witty humor?

4. What they notice about other characters

If a character is insecure about how their hair looks or what their voice sounds like, they’re probably going to notice those things first about another character.

This is a more subtle character tell, but it still can show the reader what the character thinks about when looking at another person: appearance? Personality? Maybe they value personality over physical appearance, or the other way around.

5. What they smell like

This one’s pretty common in writing, so don’t overdo it. Not all people smell like pine trees and salty beach air.

Little things can tell the reader more about a character. Maybe they use a certain laundry detergent with a smell they like because it reminds them of their childhood. Maybe they always smell like chlorine no matter how many showers they take. Maybe the smell of oil and smoke lingers on them because one of their parents works at a refinery.

Smells can tell about a character’s family/home life or their personal preferences—even their emotions.

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