Physical Attribute: Toenails

photo credit: shannonkringen via photopin cc
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: shaped, trimmed, painted, glittery, decorated, colorful, glossy, tiny, thick, yellowed, rounded, curved, shiny, short, hangnail, long, broken, peeling, bejeweled, clawed, dirty, thick, brittle, ingrown, pedicured, smooth

Things Toenails Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Toenails, unlike other parts of the body, don't actively "do" much. Their main function is to protect the toes from injury. People may use them to scratch at an itchy part on their leg, and women often showcase them in summer months by painting them fashionably.

Key Emotions Related to Toenails: 

  • Worry: because of the almost universal feeling that feet are not overly attractive, men and women are generally self conscious about their feet and so  take care to keep their toenails clean and healthy when they are visible to others (sandal season, going to the pool, etc.) 
  • Pride: Painted toenails for women are a source of pride, good fashion sense and femininity. Many will keep their nails painted year around to make their feet appear more attractive.
Simile and Metaphor Help:                           

  • Janice's toenails flashed bright against the sand--a scatter of rubies dropped from a pirate's treasure chest.
  • Demi's red and black toenails lined up like a row of lady bugs.

Clichés to Avoid:
  • None that I can think of!
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: 

Jenny walked across the ballroom, each step deliberate and slow, drawing all eyes to her. From the diamond hair clips holding back her thick blond hair to the glossy gold metallic toenails peeking out of her three inch Prada sandals, she was every bit the wealthy, well-bred society girl.

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...

At the risk of sharing too much, I used to suffer regular injuries to a toenail when I played hockey that would result in it turning black and falling off. It was pretty hideous, though not as painful as it sounds.

D J Harrison said...

I get it. Really good post, but toenails? These, thankfully, remain a mystery in most characters.
I love blogs that help writers and yours is one of the best.

Becca Puglisi said...

What you've done here with toenails is truly amazing ;). I have a friend who is so freaked out by feet, she says she'd prefer a career in proctology to podiatry. I should send this to her...

Magical Mystical MiMi said...

I love this and although I do paint my toes I don't like to draw too much attention to my feet. All those years in heels and stilettos were not kind but hey, I looked super hot then! Lol.. Great post. :)

Tracy Campbell said...

I hadn't thought about using toes to describe someone, but perhaps now I will. It's interesting that there were no cliche's associated with toes. Now I must go and paint my nails. :-)

Teresa Robeson said...

I think toenails must be the Rodney Dangerfields of the body. LOL! I'm kind of grossed out by them, but wouldn't go as far as to say I'd rather be a proctologist! ;D

jennifermzeiger said...

As always, your posts get my brain working on good descriptions. Thanks.

Traci Kenworth said...

Toenails can add flash or make you cringe, lol.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Broken, peeling, clawed, dirty toenails... Ick. But such toenails would say something about a character. : ) As always, a wonderful, insightful, and informative post.


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