|Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.
Descriptors: stubby, masculine, feminine, arthritic, knobby, clawed, elegant, manicured, rough, calloused, pale, gnarled, smooth, greasy, dirt-creased, fat, strong, limp, dimpled, veined, liver-spotted, bony, sweaty, slick, soft, skilled, shaky, graceful, rigid, scarred, freckly, open, closed, clenched, gentle, bejeweled, uncertain, weak, wrinkled, lined, smooth
Things Hands Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
- Hold: grasp, grip, squeeze, bruise, clutch, clasp
- Tremble: quiver, shake, flutter, fidget, bounce, quake, tremor
- Gesture: flap the air, point, wave, dismiss others, shoo, slap, giving a thumbs up or ok sign, clap
- Connect with Others: shake hands, slap on the back, hold hands, squeeze a shoulder, pat a knee, rest approvingly on a child's head, stroke hair
Key Emotions and Related Hand Gestures:
- Anger: slap, punch, strike, hit, shake, clench, curl, pound, slam, push, shove, rip, tear, destroy, kill, choke, grab
- Happiness: exuberant gestures, holding others, waving and flapping
- Worry: fidget, wring, flap, twist, flit
- Fear: shake, tremble, quiver, held out in front
Simile and Metaphor Help:
- Elegant: Her long-fingered hands wrapped primly around the pitcher, two genteel ladies holding court at tea time.
- Knobby: His hands were knobby and twisted—more like sea coral than human flesh and bone.
Clichés to Avoid: man hands, hands that look skeletal or spider-like, fists clenched in anger with nails biting into the palms
HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example:
We girls called him The Octopus, because of his hands. They were rubbery and cold and seemingly everywhere at once.
BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above!