Physical Description Step-by-Step Writing Guide

Physical Description

Writing a physical description is a literary tool that enriches storytelling and engages readers on a sensory level. However, many writers – especially aspiring ones – usually find it difficult to understand the practical importance of introducing physical descriptions into their stories. We’ve seen many aspiring authors asking successful authors online: “When should I insert my main character’s physical description? I know some authors that don’t put it in until chapter three and some who start with it right off the bat. I’ve also noticed that they tend to vary in how much detail they give, and I was wondering if there were any common themes in that regard? If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it. Thank you so much.” 

To answer this and other similar questions, we’ve prepared this guide on writing physical descriptions. Or, if you are too busy at the moment with practicing, simply say, ‘Write my essay for me,’ and one of our writers will take care of the task for you. 

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Why Are Character Descriptions Important

Character descriptions play a pivotal role in storytelling as they serve as a gateway for readers to connect with the narrative on a personal and emotional level. Through smart physical description writing, authors breathe life into their creations, transforming them from mere words on a page into vivid, relatable individuals that readers can envision and empathize with.

First and foremost, character descriptions provide readers with a tangible entry point into the fictional world. By detailing a character's physical appearance, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies, authors enable readers to form mental images that go beyond the written words. This visual engagement enhances the immersive experience, allowing readers to feel like observers within the story rather than passive onlookers. The more readers can visualize and relate to characters, the more invested they become in the unfolding narrative.

physical description

Moreover, character descriptions are a crucial tool for conveying personality and motivation. Beyond the external features, authors can delve into the intricacies of a character's thoughts, emotions, and desires. Through carefully chosen details, writers can communicate not only how a character looks but also who they are at their core. Whether it's a quirk in their speech, a telltale scar from a past experience, or the subtle nuances of their expressions, these descriptions contribute to the multifaceted development of characters, making them authentic and multi-dimensional.

All in all, character descriptions serve as the bridge between the author's imagination and the reader's interpretation. They are the threads that weave the fabric of a story, fostering a connection between the fictional realm and the reader's own experiences and emotions. Through rich and compelling character descriptions, authors can create narratives that resonate, linger, and leave a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of their audience.

How to Write a Physical Description in 6 Simple Steps

In this section, we’ll dive into the essential steps of writing a PD, including a Harry Potter character description, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. Are you ready? Let’s do this, it will be fun!

how to write a physical description

Step 1 – Sneak in the Hero’s Age

Sneaking into a hero's age can be an essential narrative device that adds layers of depth and relatability to a character. Age is not just a number; it shapes experiences, perspectives, and responses to challenges. By subtly revealing a hero's age, writers provide readers with a contextual lens through which to understand the character's motivations, struggles, and growth.

How old is the hero? The bestselling authors include the hero’s age through the vehicle of other descriptions or backstories. Sometimes, they even make the reader do a little math to figure it out.

In Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, we know that Harry Potter has been living with the Dursleys for ten years, ever since he was a baby. We confirm his age with his birthday: “…tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry’s eleventh birthday. Of course, his birthdays were never exactly fun – last year, the Dursleys had given him a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon’s old socks.” (HP Ch.3).

In Twilight, we learn that Bella must be seventeen years old: “It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead.” (TW Ch.1).

In The Hunger Games, we learn Katniss’s age because it is relevant to her entries in the reaping: “So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times.” (HG Ch.1).

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Step 2 – Casually Describe the Hero’s Body Type

Describing a hero's body type is important because it contributes to the reader's overall visualization of the character, shaping their perception and understanding. The physical attributes of a hero, whether muscular, slender, or athletic, can convey information about their lifestyle, background, and potential strengths or vulnerabilities. It enhances the reader's ability to connect with and picture the hero in various situations throughout the narrative.

What kind of body type does the hero have? The bestselling authors include this information when telling the reader something else– something more meaningful– about the hero. Harry Potter’s body type shows that he has been neglected: “Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age.” (HP Ch.2).

Bella’s description of her body type shows that she is not very confident: “I had always been slender, but soft somehow, obviously not an athlete…” (TW Ch.1).

Katniss’s description of her body type shows that she does not consider herself attractive: “When we met, I was a skinny twelve-year-old, and although he was only two years older, he already looked like a man.” (HG Ch.1)."

Step 3 – Comment on the Hero’s Skin

A hero's skin is essential for providing additional layers to the character's identity. Skin tone can carry cultural, ethnic, or environmental significance, offering readers insights into the hero's heritage and background. This description contributes to the richness of the character's portrayal, fostering a more immersive reading experience. We get just about one sentence on what the hero’s skin looks like. (Consider checking out the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign before writing that sentence.)

Harry’s skin is scarred, which goes with his “chosen one” thing: “The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning.” (HP Ch.2).

Bella is very pale, which suits her damsel-in-distress style: “My skin could be pretty – it was very clear, almost translucent-looking…” (TW Ch.1).

Katniss is olive-toned, which fits her outdoorsy nature: “I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin…” (HG Ch.1)."

Step 4 – Quickly Mention the Hero’s Eye Color

A protagonist's eye color serves as a window to their soul, revealing emotions, intentions, and personality traits. The eyes are often considered a focal point for expression and connection, allowing readers to glean deeper insights into the hero's thoughts and feelings. Whether piercing blue, warm brown, or enigmatic green, eye color can convey a wealth of information about the character's inner world.

It’s tempting to break out the flowery language to describe the hero’s eyes, but it’s best to keep it simple for now and save the obscure colors for describing the hero’s love interest later. In The Hunger Games and Twilight, we learn the hero’s eye color in a slightly indirect manner.

Harry has green eyes: “Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes.” (HP Ch.2).

Katniss has gray eyes, which she tells the reader through her description of Gale: “…we even have the same gray eyes. But we’re not related, at least not closely.” (HG Ch.1).

Bella most likely has brown eyes: “Instead, I was ivory-skinned, without even the excuse of blue eyes or red hair, despite the constant sunshine.” (TW Ch.1)."

Step 5 – Spend a Little More Time on the Hero’s Hair

The main character’s hair is important for characterizing their style, personality, and even cultural influences. Different hairstyles, lengths, and textures can signify elements of the hero's identity, such as their fashion sense, personal grooming choices, or adherence to societal norms. Hair descriptions contribute to the visual richness of the characters, enhancing the reader's ability to picture them vividly.

If we can learn anything from Kate Middleton, it’s that having fabulous hair can turn you into royalty. Like the duchess, Harry Potter, Katniss, and Bella all have dark, long hair that borders on unruly.

Harry has dark, messy hair: “Harry must have had more haircuts than the rest of the boys in his class put together, but it made no difference, his hair simply grew that way – all over the place.” (HP Ch.2).

We know that Bella does not have blonde or red hair: “I looked at my face in the mirror as I brushed through my tangled, damp hair.” (TW CH.1).

Katniss has her famous braid: “I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag.” (HG Ch.1)."

Step 6 – Describe Clothing While Making Another Point

A hero's clothes are crucial for setting the scene, establishing the time period, and conveying the character's social status or occupation. Clothing choices can reflect the hero's personality, preferences, and even mood in a given scene. Additionally, clothing details contribute to the overall atmosphere of the narrative, helping readers immerse themselves in the world the hero inhabits. We’ve already examined the symbolism of the hero’s clothing when writing physical descriptions. Put the hero’s first outfit to good use and make it represent something more.

Harry’s glasses show us that he has a hard home life: “He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.” (HP Ch.2).

Bella’s warm-weather outfit shows us that she is about to experience a big change: “I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture.” (TW Ch.1).

Katniss’s outfit shows us that she is no stranger to hunting: “I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet.” (HG Ch.1)."

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Why Characters Physical Description Works

Character physical description works because it serves as a visual anchor for readers, allowing them to form a mental image of the characters and enhancing their engagement with the narrative. When authors provide detailed physical descriptions, readers can better connect with the characters on a personal level, creating a more immersive reading experience. It goes beyond just appearances, as these descriptions often carry subtle cues about the characters' personalities, backgrounds, and even potential plot developments. 

The reader needs just enough description to get her imagination started – you don’t have to fill in every single detail. Though Katniss and Bella each stop by a mirror, this isn’t the main method of passing physical description to the reader. (Katniss thinks, “I can hardly recognize myself in the cracked mirror that leans against the wall.” Bella thinks, “Facing my pallid reflection in the mirror, I was forced to admit that I was lying to myself.”)

There’s also a lot of description through opposites: Bella doesn’t look like the blond, tan girls; Katniss doesn’t look like her blond, blue-eyed mother and sister. Most importantly, most of the physical description does double duty by explaining another aspect of the hero’s personality or background.  Since the details are tucked in with the rest of the story, the reader has no reason to skip ahead to the good stuff.

I’ll add this physical description card to the master outline. The first chapter works just fine to introduce the hero’s physical description – there’s no reason to “hide the ball” because the sooner the reader can imagine the hero for herself, the sooner she can connect to your story.

P.S. Did you notice that Harry Potter, Katniss, and Bella are all thin? Do you think this is just a coincidence or that it has more relevance to the story?"

Physical Description Writing Tips

Writing a compelling physical description involves using vivid and evocative language to paint a detailed picture of the character. Remember that physical descriptions are a tool to enhance the reader's connection with the characters and the story. Balancing detail with subtlety and relevance is key to crafting impactful and engaging character descriptions. Here are some tips on how to write a physical description effectively:

Select Key Features

Choose specific physical features that are distinctive or relevant to the character's personality, role, or the plot. Focus on details that contribute to the overall characterization. Example: "Her emerald-green eyes sparkled with mischief, a stark contrast to the jet-black curls framing her face like a cascade of midnight silk."

Use Descriptive Language

Employ sensory and descriptive language to create a clear and imaginative image. Engage the reader's senses by incorporating details related to sight, touch, sound, and even smell when applicable. Example: "The sun-kissed skin on his forearms bore the faintest scent of summer, a testament to countless days spent beneath the open sky."

Integrate into the Narrative

Introduce physical descriptions seamlessly within the context of the story. Avoid info-dumping and instead weave the details into the narrative, revealing them gradually and naturally. Example: "As she stepped into the dimly lit room, the scar on her cheek caught the flickering candlelight, telling silent tales of battles long past."

Relevance to Characterization

Ensure the physical description aligns with the character's traits, emotions, or experiences. Consider how the character's appearance reflects their inner world and contributes to the overall narrative. Example: "His broad shoulders hinted at a lifetime of lifting burdens, the calloused hands beneath the elegant suit betraying a blue-collar past."

Show, Don't Tell

Instead of outright stating facts, show the character in action or interaction with the environment. Allow readers to infer aspects of the character's appearance through their behavior and reactions. Example: "With a graceful flick of her wrist, she brushed aside the stray strands of auburn hair, revealing a tattoo on her nape – a symbol of resilience etched into her skin."

Consider the POV

Take into account the point of view from which the story is told. The narrator's perspective can influence how certain details are presented and the tone of the description. Example: "From where I stood, her angular profile softened by the morning light, I noticed the delicate freckles adorning her nose, each one a tiny constellation."

Avoid Stereotypes

Challenge stereotypes and strive for unique, nuanced descriptions. Think about how you can subvert expectations and offer readers a fresh perspective on character appearance. Example: "He defied the expected ruggedness associated with bikers, his leather jacket concealing a canvas of vibrant tattoos that told stories of artistry and rebellion."

Invite Imagination

Provide enough detail to guide readers but leave room for their imagination. Allow readers to fill in some blanks, fostering a collaborative reading experience. Example: "Her eyes, a shade somewhere between ocean and sky, left room for interpretation – an ever-changing palette that mirrored the ebb and flow of her emotions."

Summing Up

In conclusion, learning how to write a character description is not just about creating compelling narratives; it's a front door to academic excellence. As students incorporate rich and detailed character portrayals, they enhance not only the literary quality of their work but also cultivate essential analytical and observational skills. 

The ability to dissect and articulate physical traits not only breathes life into characters but also demonstrates a keen understanding of human behavior, a valuable asset in academic endeavors. So, dear aspiring writers, use this powerful tool and witness how it can illuminate both your stories and your academic path, opening doors to a richer, more profound understanding of the written word.

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