Writers deliver their stories — fiction and nonfiction alike — to readers more effectively when they use appearances of people, places, and things to help drive the narrative and illuminate personalities. Consider these ideas:
PeopleSome writers omit or minimize description of physical characteristics, considering them peripheral details, but revealing details about a person’s appearance can be a valuable narrative tool, especially when the description up-ends expectations. Helping readers picture a diminutive authority figure — or a sturdy, six-foot-plus word nerd, for that matter — lets them know that the tale isn’t going to be trite.
Practice by jotting down notes about people you know or have seen in person or in images, but take care not to write as if you’re filling out a police report. Instead of describing someone as extremely tall, note how they have to duck their head to walk through a doorway. Rather than using a pedestrian word like huge or petite, use formidable or bantam.
In describing hair or eye color, avoid “lustrous raven locks” and “limpid azure pools of light” phraseology (unless you’re penning a romance novel), and reach for unusual imagery like “hair like a tangle of copper filaments” or “milky-green eyes open wide in an attitude of perpetual astonishment.”