Physical Attributes Thesaurus Entry: Arms

Before we get into today's entry, congrats go to Sandy Fry; Janel Gradowski & Jessica S. who have all won themselves and their friend a 250 word critique in our World Kindness Day Giveaway! Thanks everyone for entering and hurray for all the kindness you do for others!

And also, a reminder: for you NaNoWriMo'ers out there, Ange and I are giving away 10 digital copies ofThe Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression to participants and winners. More info can be found here, or just skip right to the entry form :).

And now, on to today's Physical Attributes Entry:


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: skinny, plump, dimpled, ropy, wiry, sinewy, muscled, tanned, hairy, strong, weak, bony, loving, sweaty, too-long, farmer-tanned, flabby, tattooed, broken

Things Arms Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Carry: lift, heft, hoist, lug, shift, take, tote, move
  • Hug: embrace, squeeze, enfold, hold, clasp, cuddle, snuggle, clamp, clinch, clutch, grasp, grip, seize, snatch

Key Emotions and Related Arm Gestures: 
  • Excitement: flap, wave, pump, embrace, flail, gesticulate wildly
  • Anger: stiffen, harden, cross

Simile and Metaphor Help:                         
  • His arms hung too long, like they were made of silly putty that someone had stretched too far.
  • Yesterday's workout turned my arms to wood: they were hard and tight and no longer hinged in the middle.
Clichés to Avoid: gorilla arms, arms like tree trunks or branches, toothpick arms

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: Stephen's arms snaked around me and I tried not to stiffen. A hug should be a loving gesture, but with Stephen, it felt like two ropes tightening around me, binding me to him.

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


Janel Gradowski said...

Yay! Thank-you!! You just made me weekend. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, too! :)

Megan Wille said...

I just found your site through NaNoWriMo. Show vs. Tell is one of the hardest things for me. I either tell too much or show without explanation. It all gets jumbled up in my head. I was so excited to find your site. I look forward to reading so much more :)


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