|Rhinocerous skin, courtesy of Sanjay ach|
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: olive, caramel, brown, black, tan, pale, white, yellowish, gray, ivory, pink, freckled, splotchy, smooth, flawless, rashy, wrinkled, dry, spotted, pocked, hairy, rosy, scarred, saggy, itchy, tingling, acned, oily, glistening, glowing, sweaty, dirty, translucent, veined, warm, hot, cool, icy, shivery, drawn, tight, sensitive, loose, flushed, discolored, ashy, leathery, sickly, wan, pasty, feverish, clammy, sallow, jaundiced, puckered, frostbitten, rough, bruised, sun-damaged
Things Skin Does (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
- Shiver: shudder, jitter, tremble, quiver, tremor
- Tingle: prickle, sting, tickle, prick
- Blush: flush, bloom, gild, pinken, stain, tint, tinge
Key Emotions and Related Skin Verbs:
- Fear: a tightening sensation, prickling or tingling, the hair rising on the arms and back of the neck, over-sensitivity to stimuli, shuddering/trembling/shivering, numbness in the extremities, a sensation of the skin "crawling"
- Embarrassment: blushing/pinking/reddening, a flush crawling over the skin, sudden warmth, feeling overheated
Simile and Metaphor Help:
- The back of his neck was thick and dark like a leatherback turtle's.
- Her skin was a minefield of moles and cancer spots waiting to do her in.
Clichés to Avoid: alligator skin, peaches-and-cream complexion, skin that's paper thin, a sun-kissed hue, porcelain skin
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: Lines meandered over her skin, intersecting with scars and puckering where they criss-crossed. It was a roadmap of her past, marking not only the pain but also the changing points that had made her the woman she was today.
BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above!
Also, Angela's posting today at Lisa Voisin's blog: Do Your Characters Have Emotional Pull? If you've got a minute, stop by and say hi. Happy Saturday!