Physical Attributes Entry: Ears

Funky Ear Hair picture:
courtesy of Wiki Commons
Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

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: big, small, dangly, flopping, large-lobed, cauliflower (wrestler's) ear, frostbitten, pink or red, protruding, pierced, Vulcan or elfin, deaf, hairy

Things Ears Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Hear: listen, eavesdrop, harken, overhear, catch, pick up

Key Emotions and Related Ear Gestures: 
  • Ears can turn pink or red when someone is embarrassed or angry. They have the ability to become more sensitive to sounds when someone is afraid. People tend to play with their ears when they're nervous or restless by pulling, twisting, scratching, rubbing or bending them.

Simile and Metaphor Help:                         
  • I try flattening my ears, but it doesn't do any good. My head looks like a trophy cup.
  • He had foggy eyes and melted candle wax ears and scars that puckered his face.

Clichés to Avoid: Dumbo ears, someone who is "all ears", a talkative person "bending" someone's ear

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: 
   The cats wailed and howled and caterwauled, and all during the eerie duet they were moving closer to one another with their fangs bared and their ears laid back.
   Nose to nose, Socks found Old Taylor a terrifying sight with his torn ear and his fur standing out on his great black jowls. But Socks did not back down.    (Socks, by Beverly Cleary)

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 


JeffO said...

I have to say, I've never come up with a good description for ears.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks Becca. This is really helpful.

Susanne Drazic said...

Thanks for this post. LOL, good picture.

Angela Ackerman said...

Ear hair for me has a huge ewwwww factor, lol! Great entry!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'll be living on this blog when I come to edit my new WIPs. :D

Another great entry, Becca!

thebookshelfmuse said...

The ear hair is...yuck. But it would definitely say something about a character, lol.

Alicia Conway said...

Hmmm... Interesting fact. I always thought that it's the prevailing heatures of eyes to express emotions.


Traci Kenworth said...

Glad to have the feeds coming through again. This one's difficult to do but I like your suggestions!!

Francene Stanley said...

Great insight for giving detail. I like the idea of ears turning red.

Becca Puglisi said...

Alicia, that's one of the reasons we created this thesaurus. So many times, we default to the eyes, mouth, or hands to describe a character or show their state of mind. But if we do that too many times, the description starts to get stale and repetitive. Hopefully the entries in this thesaurus will give us all some ideas on how to describe in fresh new ways.

Bethany Williams said...

Thanks Becca. Very helpful! :-)

Bethany Williams said...

Thanks Becca. Very helpful! :-)

lbdiamond said...

Dangly ears--love it!

Tracy Campbell said...

Hi Becca,
Another terrific post! :-D

Pascal and Isabella Inard said...

What about things we do with our ears ?
For example, "He pricked up his ears when he heard his name mentioned."


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