Typically, a character’s description should occur when the character is first introduced. Choose two or three attributes to describe a character. Good character descriptions mix in a physical attribute with a mannerism or attitude and integrate the description within the scene. Keep the following in mind when creating character descriptions:
Use the strongest attributes about the character to describe them – use vivid imagery to help readers get a sense of not only how the character looks but what kind of character they are.
The attributes should be specific, avoid using vague terms or generalized descriptions.
Avoid overusing adjectives.
Consider the following when deciding what to include: character quirks, mannerisms, habits, unique hobbies, dislikes, loves, clothing style, attitude, and so on.
The goal is to leave a lasting impression in the mind of the reader about the character in addition to helping them visualize what the character looks like.
From Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
“But the lights and the room and the world are bending forward to hear the man who’s speaking: Marcus Defoe. He’s black, but not like me. I’ve spent half my life feeling like an absence, a moonless night. I can’t imagine this guy going anywhere without turning heads. Everything about him whispers king. It’s in the set of his shoulders and the sound of his voice and the quiet power of his walk.”
This author weaves in imagery to describe a man that is obviously powerful and revered and does it without coming right out and saying it. We also learn a little about the main character and how he’s felt invisible half his life.
From BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman
“With the helmet off, Malorie gets a better look at him. His sandy blond hair is messy above his fair face. The suggestion of freckles gives him color. His beard is barely more than stubble, but his mustache is more pronounced. His plaid button-down shirt and brown slacks remind Malorie of a teacher she once had.”
Note in the above example, the author doesn’t just say the man has sandy blond hair, freckles, a beard and mustache – the author weaves in specifics about each to make it more vibrant, memorable, and interesting to read.
From OUR DARK DUET by Victoria Schwab
“It had Malchai’s red eyes, yes, and a Corsai’s sharp claws, but its skin was the bluish black of a rotting corpse, and it wasn’t after flesh or blood.
It fed on hearts.”
This description weaves in physical attributes with the character’s thoughts about what this monster is and what it’s after.
From TWO CAN KEEP A SECRET by Karen M. McManus
“The skinny guy behind the desk looks like he could still be in high school, with a rash of red pimples dotting his cheeks and jawline.”
This example weaves in a thought from the main character, suggesting that he’s still in high school, which also clues readers in as to his age.
From MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRoca
“A tall teenage boy with shaggy brown hair was carrying boxes into what used to be my best friend Emma’s house.
So that was why Jules wanted to go next door.
“He’s cute, huh?” Jules said.
I shrugged. He looked around Jule’s age, fifteen or sixteen.
“I want to make a good first impression. Bring the brownies, and whatever you do, don’t tell Riya.”
Our sister Riya is a year older than Jules, and five years older than me. She’s like an Aleppo pepper—striking and fragrant, but with a substantial kick.”
This excerpt weaves in description about the new boy with action and information about the house he’s moving into. The line about age does double-duty – showing how old the main character’s sister is while also showing that it’s about the same age as the new boy. The description about the main character’s other sister, Riya, uses a metaphor to show readers she’s not only beautiful, but she’s got some spunk to her personality.