GiganticList of CharacterDescriptionsThe vast majority of character descriptions are simply lazy.

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They recycle typical ideas about hair, eye color, and build, giving you more information about the character’s fitting for a dress or suit than the type of information you need to know them intimately.

The first thing you should do when describing a character is to pick a category that isn’t so overused. Such as trying to describe: 

  • Scent
  • Skin
  • Aura
  • Movement

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Describing your character in an innovative way will help retain the reader’s interest. You want your reader to be asking questions about this character, to not only learn something about them but to create mystery. What made them like this? How long have they been this way? Is there someone currently after them or is this paranoia because of a past experience? Questions like these are what keeps the reader reading. head-776681__180

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Not only physical descriptions are needed. Consider: “How is this person viewed by another character?” Do they seem dangerous, alluring, secretive, suspicious? The way another character views someone else gives insight about them as well. Are they attracted? Repulsed? Curious? 

Another thing to take notice of is the type of person they are, despite their appearance.

  • How do they think?
  • What do they feel?
  • How do they view/react to certain situations compared to how others would?
  • What is their mental state?

Here is a list of examples of brilliant character descriptions to give you an idea and help you come up with your own:

 

3 Categories: Modern Literary, Literature, Popular

 

Modern Literary

 

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

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” … Her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever.”

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

” … in the last years she continued to settle and began to shrink. Her mouth bowed forward and her brow sloped back, and her skull shone pink and speckled within a mere haze of hair, which hovered about her head like the remembered shape of an altered thing. She looked as if the nimbus of humanity were fading away and she were turning monkey. Tendrils grew from her eyebrows and coarse white hairs sprouted on her lip and chin. When she put on an old dress the bosom hung empty and the hem swept the floor. Old hats fell down over her eyes. Sometimes she put her hand over her mouth and laughed, her eyes closed and her shoulder shaking.” 

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

“Phyllida’s hair was where her power resided. It was expensively set into a smooth dome, like a band shell for the presentation of that long-running act, her face.”

China Miéville, This Census-Taker

“His hand was over his eyes. He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.”

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

“And then the hot air congealed in front of him, and out of it materialized a transparent man of most bizarre appearance. A small head with a jockey cap, a skimpy little checked jacket that was made out of air … The man was seven feet tall, but very narrow in the shoulders, incredibly thin, and his face, please note, had a jeering look about it.”

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

“Mama BekwaTataba stood watching us—a little jet-black woman. Her elbows stuck out like wings, and a huge white enameled tub occupied the space above her head, somewhat miraculously holding steady while her head moved in quick jerks to the right and left.”

John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.”

A.S. Byatt, Possession

“He was a compact, clearcut man, with precise features, a lot of very soft black hair, and thoughtful dark brown eyes. He had a look of wariness, which could change when he felt relaxed or happy, which was not often in these difficult days, into a smile of amused friendliness and pleasure which aroused feelings of warmth, and something more, in many women.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

“He did not look like anything special at all.”

Literature

Henry Lawson, The Bush Girl

Grey eyes that grow sadder than sunset or rain, fond heart that is ever more true Firm faith that grows firmer for watching in vain — She’ll wait by the sliprails for you.”

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“I am an invisible man. 
No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: 
Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms.
 I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -
- and I might even be said to possess a mind. 
I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

“My brother Ben’s face, thought Eugene, is like a piece of slightly yellow ivory; his high white head is knotted fiercely by his old man’s scowl; his mouth is like a knife, his smile the flicker of light across a blade. His face is like a blade, and a knife, and a flicker of light: it is delicate and fierce, and scowls beautifully forever, and when he fastens his hard white fingers and his scowling eyes upon a thing he wants to fix, he sniffs with sharp and private concentration through his long, pointed nose…his hair shines like that of a young boy—it is crinkled and crisp as lettuce.”

Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Books

“A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path, for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.”

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“[Miss Havisham] had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker…”

 

John Knowles, A Separate Peace

“For such and extraordinary athlete—even as a Lower Middler Phineas had been the best athlete in the school—he was not spectacularly built. He was my height—five feet eight and a half inches…He weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, a galling ten pounds more than I did, which flowed from his legs to torso around shoulders to arms and full strong neck in an uninterrupted, unemphatic unity of strength.”

Ambrose Bierce, Chickamauga

“-the dead body of a woman—the white face turned upward, the hands thrown out and clutched full of grass, the clothing deranged, the long dark hair in tangles and full of clotted blood. The greater part of the forehead was torn away, and from the jagged hole the brain protruded, overflowing the temple, a frothy mass of gray, crowned with clusters of crimson bubbles—the work of a shell.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“…your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. It was all black, no gray; so was his long, mixed-up whiskers. There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl – a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white. As for his clothes – just rags, that was all. He had one ankle resting on t’other knee; the boot on that foot was busted, and two of his toes stuck through, and he worked them now and then. His hat was laying on the floor – an old black slouch with the top caved in, like a lid.”  

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 William Golding, Lord of the Flies

“Inside the floating cloak he was tall, thin, and bony; and his hair was red beneath the black cap. His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness.”

Jane Austen, Persuasion

“Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character: vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth, and at fifty-four was still a very fine man. . . .”

Andrew Lang, The Crimson Fairy Book

“When the old king saw this he foamed with rage, stared wildly about, flung himself on the ground and died.”

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“He was commonplace in complexion, in feature, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe… Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy — a smile — not a smile — I remember it, but I can’t explain.” 

Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

“His heart was like a sensitive plant, that opens for a moment in the sunshine, but curls up and shrinks into itself at the slightest touch of the finger, or the lightest breath of wind.”

Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson

“He followed with his eyes her long slender figure as she threaded her way in and out of the crowd, sinuously, confidingly, producing a penny from one lad’s elbow, a threepenny-bit from between another’s neck and collar, half a crown from another’s hair, and always repeating in that flute-like voice of hers: “Well, this is rather queer!””

Aldous Huxley. Brave New World

“He had a long chin and big rather prominent teeth, just covered, when he was not talking, by his full, floridly curved lips. Old, young? Thirty? Fifty? Fifty-five? It was hard to say.” 

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“Her skin was a rich black that would have peeled like a plum if snagged, but then no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs. Flowers to ruffle her dress, let alone snag her skin. She didn’t encourage familiarity. She wore gloves too. I don’t think I ever saw Mrs. Flowers laugh, but she smiled often. A slow widening of her thin black lips to show even, small white teeth, then the slow effortless closing. When she chose to smile on me, I always wanted to thank her.”

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

“But her will had left her. A strange weight was on her limbs. She was giving way. She was giving up…”

Henry James, The Aspern Papers

“Her face was not young, but it was simple; it was not fresh, but it was mild. She had large eyes which were not bright, and a great deal of hair which was not ‘dressed,’ and long fine hands which were–possibly–not clean.”  

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Zanoni Book One: The Musician: The Magical Antiquarian Curiosity Shoppe, A Weiser Books Collection

“She is the spoiled sultana of the boards. To spoil her acting may be easy enough,—shall they spoil her nature? No, I think not. There, at home, she is still good and simple; and there, under the awning by the doorway,—there she still sits, divinely musing. How often, crook-trunked tree, she looks to thy green boughs; how often, like thee, in her dreams, and fancies, does she struggle for the light,—not the light of the stage-lamps.”

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

“Living among those white-faced women with their rosaries and copper crosses…” 

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“Though every vestige of her dress was burnt, as they told me, she still had something of her old ghastly bridal appearance; for, they had covered her to the throat with white cotton-wool, and as she lay with a white sheet loosely overlying that, the phantom air of something that had been and was changed, was still upon her.” 

Rudyard Kipling, Many Inventions

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“He was sunshine most always-I mean he made it seem like good weather.” 

Hugh Lofting, The Story of Doctor Dolittle

“For a long time he said nothing. He kept as still as a stone. He hardly seemed to be breathing at all. When at last he began to speak, it sounded almost as though he were singing, sadly, in a dream.”

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”

Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

“He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of any other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality, for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing.”

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Jamie McGuire, Beautiful Oblivion

“Her long platinum blond hair fell in loose waves past her shoulders, with a few black peekaboo strands. She wore a black minidress and combat boots.”

N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

“His long, long hair wafted around him like black smoke, its tendrils curling and moving of their own volition. His cloak — or perhaps that was his hair too — shifted as if in an unfelt wind.” 

M.L. LeGette, The Orphan and the Thief

“A creature–a frightfully, awful creature–was mere feet from her. Its eyes were enormous, the size of goose eggs and milky white. Its gray, slippery skin was stretched taut upon its face. Its mouth was wide and full of needle teeth. Its hands rested on the rock, hands that were webbed and huge with each finger ending in a sharp, curved nail. It was as tall as a human man, yet oddly shrunken and hunched.” 

 Amber Dawn, Sub Rosa

“When he did appear his eyes were as brown as I remembered, pupils flecked with gold like beach pebbles.” 

 Julia Stuart, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise

“His hair had been grown to counteract its unequivocal retreat from the top of his head, and was fashioned into a mean, frail ponytail that hung limply down his back. Blooms of acne highlighted his vampire-white skin.” 

James Lee Burke, The Neon Rain

“His khaki sleeves were rolled over his sunburned arms, and he had the flat green eyes and heavy facial features of north Louisiana hill people. He smelled faintly of dried sweat, Red Man, and talcum powder.” 

Stephenie Meyer, Twilight

“I vividly remembered the flat black color of his eyes the last time he glared at me – the color was striking against the background of his pale skin and his auburn hair. Today, his eyes were a completely different color: a strange ocher, darker than butterscotch, but with the same golden tone.” 

Brian Malloy, Twelve Long Months 

“Whith her hair dyed bright red, she looks like Ronald McDonald’s post-menopausal sister. Who has let herself go.”  (This is one of my favorites, because I find it ridiculously funny)

Joan Johnston, No Longer A Stranger

“Actually, Reb had the same flawless complexion as her sister– except for the freckles. Her straight, boyishly cut hair fell onto her brow haphazardly and hid beautiful arched brows that framed her large, expressive eyes. She had a delicate, aquiline nose, but a stubborn mouth and chin.” 

Brian Morton, Breakable You

“Without her glasses Vivian did look a little frightening. She had tight sinewy strappy muscles and a face that was hardened and almost brutal – a face that might have been chiseled by a sculptor who had fallen out of love with the idea of beauty.”

Anne Rice, The Vampire Armand

“I saw my Master had adorned himself in a thick tunic and beautiful dark blue doublet which I’d hardly noticed before. He wore soft sleek dark blue gloves over his hands, gloves which perfectly cleaved to his fingers, and legs were covered by thick soft cashmere stockings all the way to his beautiful pointed shoes.” 

Becca Fitzpatrick, Black Ice

“His brown hair was cropped, and it showed off the striking symmetry of his face. With the sun at his back, shadows marked the depressions beneath his cheekbones. I couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but I hoped they were brown…The guy had straight, sculptured shoulders that made me think swimmer…” 

E.C. Sheedy, Killing Bliss

“He stood, which put him eye to eye with the dark-haired woman whose brilliant, burning gazewoman-65061__180 poured into his worthless soul like boiling tar, whose mouth frothed with fury–and whose hand now curled, knuckles white, around a steak knife.” (The author gives a lot of details about the characters emotions, but there is not one specific detail about neither of their appearances. Use this as an example of how physical appearances aren’t always the most important thing.)

James Lee Burke, The Neon Rain

“His wiry gray and black hair was dripping with sweat, and his face was the color and texture of old paper. He looked up at me from where he was seated on his bunk, and his eyes were hot and bright and moisture was beaded across his upper lip. He held a Camel cigarette between his yellowed fingers, and the floor around his feet was covered with cigarette butts.” (As soon as I read this, I wanted to know more about the character. Though not many specific details were given, there were enough to cause questions to gather in my mind, and make me want to read the book!)

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

“She has bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin and stands tilted up on her toes with arms slightly extended to her sides, as if ready to take wing at the slightest sound.”

Becca Fitzpatrick, Hush, Hush

“He was abominable…and the most alluring, tortured soul I’d ever met.” (This isn’t describing him physically, but it is giving insight to how the main character views him)

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.” 

Anne Rice, Violin

“I deliberately thought of him, my violinist, point by point, that with his long narrow nose and such deep-set eyes he might have been less seductive to someone else–perhaps. But then perhaps to no one. What a well-formed mouth he had, and how the narrow eyes, the detailed deepened lids gave him such a range of expression, to open his gaze wide, or sink in cunning street.”

Kevin Brooks, Lucas

“As I’ve already said, the memory of Lucas’s walk brings a smile to my face. It’s an incredibly vivid memory, and if I close my eyes I can see it now. An easygoing lope. Nice and steady. Not too fast and not too slow, Fast enough to get somewhere, but not too fast to miss anything. Bouncy, alert, resolute, without any concern and without vanity. A walk that both belonged to and was remote from everything around it.” 

Anne Rice, Violin

“And she looked the way he had always hated her–dreamy and sloppy, and sweet, with glasses falling down, smoking a cigarette, with ashes on her coat, but full of love, her body heavy and shapeless with age.” 

Kevin Brooks, Lucas

“As we drew closer, the figure became clearer, It was a young man, or a boy, dressed loosely in a drab green T-shirt and baggy green trousers. He had a green army jacket tied around his waist and a green canvas bag slung over his shoulder. The only non-green thing about him was the pair of scruffy black walking boots on his feet. Although he was on the small side, he wasn’t as slight as I first thought. He wasn’t exactly muscular, but he wasn’t weedy-looking either…there was an air of hidden strength about him, a graceful strength that showed in his balance, the way he held himself, the way he walked….” 

Iris Johansen, The Face of Deception

“Kinky tousled curls, only a minimum of makeup, large brown eyes behind round wire-rimmed glasses. There was a world of character in that face, more than enough to make her fascinating-looking instead of just attractive.” 

Dennis Lehane, A Drink Before the War

“Brian Paulson was rake thin, with smooth hair the color of tin and a wet fleshy handshake…. His greeting was a nod and a blink, befitting someone who’d stepped out of the shadows only momentarily.” 

Gena Showalter, The Darkest Night

“Pale hair fell in waves to his shoulders, framing a face mortal females considered a sensual feast. They didn’t know the man was actually a devil in angel’s skin. They should have, though. He practically glowed with irreverence, and there was an unholy gleam in his green eyes that proclaimed he would laugh in your face while cutting out your heat. Or laugh in your face while you cut out his heart.”

Sam Byers, Idiopathy 

“Now here he was: sartorially, facially and interpersonally sharpened; every inch the beatific boffin.”

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

transformation-857734__180“As always, there was an all-American war hero look to him, coded in his tousled brown hair, his summer-narrowed hazel eyes, the straight nose that ancient Anglo-Saxons had graciously passed on to him. Everything about him suggested valor and power and a firm handshake.” 

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

“The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars.” 

Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” 

Frank Herbert, Dune

“…a girl-child who appeared to be about four years old. She wore a black aba, the hood thrown back to reveal the attachments of a stillsuit hanging free at her throat. Her eyes were Fremen blue, staring out of a soft, round face. She appeared completely unafraid and there was a look to her stare that made the Baron feel uneasy for no reason he could explain.” 

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

“Ender did not see Peter as the beautiful ten-year-old boy that grown-ups saw, with dark, tousled hair and a face that could have belonged to Alexander the Great. Ender looked at Peter only to detect anger or boredom, the dangerous moods that almost always led to pain.”

Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl

“He had his head in his hands, and his tie looked like it had been put on by an enemy, and was strangling him.”

 Graham Joyce, Some Kind of Fairy Tale

“Peter was a gentle, red-haired bear of a man. Standing at six-four in his socks, he moved everywhere with a slight and nautical sway, but even though he was broad across the chest there was something centered and reassuring about him, like an old ship’s mast cut from a single timber.”

Brad Parks, The Girl Next Door

“…in addition to being fun, smart, and quick-witted—in a feisty way that always kept me honest—she’s quite easy to look at, with never-ending legs, toned arms, curly brown hair, and eyes that tease and smile and glint all at the same time.” 

Dennis Lehane, A Drink Before the War

“Sterling Mulkern was a florid, beefy man, the kind who carried weight like a weapon, not a liability. He had a shock of stiff white hair you could land a DC-10 on and a handshake that stopped just short of inducing paralysis.”

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter. It was a face to be dominated by, or to fight: never a face to patronize or pity. All his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it.”