How to Describe Your Characters Well

After talking about dialogue last week, here's a reminder about character's looks.

Writing a novel is hard enough without having to invent your character's features. Some things are hard to make up. Take the guy to your left. His name is Torbar. He's a Croatian peddler in the middle ages ('Torbar' is the Croatian word for peddler, by the way--creative naming on my part, right?).

I found this guy on a photo-sharing site, doing a search for 'Croatia' and 'old man'. I love how one of his eyebrows curves normally, while the other is shaped like the letter 's'. If you cover one side of his face, he looks sleepy, but if you cover the other side, he appears stern. These are details I would never have come up with on my own.

Of course, I had to describe the rest of him, too. The wonderful internet came into play again when I spent a relaxing hour perusing the image files at the New York Public Library. I was thrilled to discover a series of drawings detailing the costumes of fifteenth century Croatians, from peasants to soldiers. And in the middle of it all was a Croatian merchant.

The internet is a fantastic place to inspire character descriptions. Some writers peruse the head shots of modeling agencies. I might do that if I was writing a romance, but I don't want my characters to look perfect. I want my characters to have some character.

So here are a few resources to help you get inspired. You may want to bookmark the page, since I'll be adding resources as I find them.

There's a huge amount of stock photography sites out there. While it's not the biggest, I'm partial to Stock.xchng, because the photos are free. I usually find just what I need.

Photo-sharing sites are another place to check. Websites like Flikr and Photobucket are just two spots to start with. And don't forget about Google Images. Do a Google search like usual, and then click the 'images' button on the side. You'll be amazed at what you come up with.

I've done searches for 'eyes' and 'hairstyles'. There's even a blog by a guy who is growing (and documenting) every conceivable beard type! If you need it, it's probably out there.

How do you come up with character descriptions? Any resources we should know about?


  1. Oh I wish I could think of the site, but there is this great one if you are writing story in the past. It has real pictures of handsome men in the past. I am telling you not only are the men of our history super cute, but the pictures are amazing and give you great ideas for period clothes, hair, etc. If I can think of the link I will stop back by and share it.

  2. Oh, I hope you can remember it! If so, I'll add the link to the post. Thanks, Deana!


  3. That beard type one is something else--thanks for that link!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  4. Oh! What a good idea! I never even thought of looking at actual pictures for descriptions of my characters. I usually just pull them from thin air - and, a little like C.S. Lewis, I don't describe all that much. I think the audience is imaginative enough to place their own images onto my characters.

  5. @Angela: The beard one is what inspired this post. I've got it bookmarked for whenever I need to describe facial hair. The guy is certainly dedicated!

    @S.M.: I put all my character photos into Scrivener, and they sit on the side of the screen of whichever scenes they appear in. Same for setting and other photos.




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