Describing Characters: Moving Beyond Hair & Eye Color

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Whenever I'm in the planning stages for a new novel, one of the things I try to do is get a clear picture of what my characters look like. I believe we as writers need to know as much as possible about how our characters look if we want them to come to life.

I build my character's appearance in numerous ways.

If my character doesn’t already have a real portrait from history, I pick one from photos of actors or models. (Pinterest is a great place to do this!)

I also fill out an extensive character worksheet that includes the physical aspects of how my character looks. I make notes of every detail including height, weight, body type, scent, texture of skin, and other distinguishing physical traits that are unique to my character.

Obviously as part of the description, I include eye and hair color.

One thing I've noticed, however, especially among newer writers, is that sometimes we can rely too much on hair and eye color in our descriptions of our characters to the neglect of other techniques.

So, how can we find a balance when using eye and hair colors? Here are some methods to keep in mind:

1. Main characters will likely need hair and eye descriptions (especially in certain genres like romance). In fact, we should help our readers to visualize our main characters correctly right from the start (versus confusing them two-thirds of the way through the book by springing an image on them that might not match the person they’ve already visualized). However, these kinds of basic descriptions can be done in creative snippets that are subtly woven in.

2. Minor characters will probably NOT need hair and eye descriptions (unless hair or eyes play a role in the plot). Otherwise, why bother mentioning them? We can pick much more creative ways to describe them—preferably with traits that add to the story in some way (whether mood, tension, etc.). Blake Snyder in Save The Cat describes this technique by saying, “Make sure every character has ‘A Limp and an Eyepatch’ . . . something memorable that will stick him in the reader’s mind.”

3. Give our characters unique tags. A tag is something that will help identify a character throughout the book. Tags can be physical (a bulbous nose), verbal (a particular phrase only that character uses), characteristic (timidity), or an action (nail-biting). I've had to learn to be careful about over-doing my tags. Mentioning them every time a character makes an appearance can get tiring. Which leads to the next point . . .

4. Remember description is only a small part of bringing a character to life. In fact, description alone is not enough. We must weave the sharing of their physical appearance among other techniques—how our character reacts to situations, her goals, her method of handling conflict, the way she enjoys life, etc. All of these little things come together to leave an impression in the reader’s mind about who that person really is.

For example if a character is particularly worrisome, she can wring her hands and say "oh dear." But more than that, we should have her display her worry by hovering closely over her children, reminding them not to forget their lunch money too many times, and watching them cross the street even though they're in junior high.

My Summary: We can't forget to describe our character's physical appearance, but like most aspects of writing—we have to reject the easy (often clichéd) image that comes to our minds first. Instead we need to brainstorm, dig deeper, and find creative, interesting, and unique portrayals that will delight our readers.

But ultimately physical description is only the tip of the iceberg in bringing a character to life. Actions always speak louder, even in our characters!

How about you? Have you fallen into the eye and hair color description trap? How do you push deeper to find more unique ways of describing your characters?


  1. Great advice, Jody! Each time I start a new book, I use your character worksheet :)

  2. Where can we find your character worksheet? I started a new novel yesterday and fell into the hair description trap in the second line, but it's important to the character and I immediately found other ways to describe her personality through her interactions with other, far more minor, characters. For now, I'm leaving the hair because it's a darn good line for a first draft.

    1. My character worksheet is available on my "For Writer's" page above. You're welcome to print it out and use it! :-)

  3. I was just reading Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade the other day. She did a good job of subtly inserting descriptions. Since it is a contemporary romance she got away with just saying that one minor character reminded the hero of a particular actor. That's all she said. I looked up that actor online and could see what she meant right off. Another neat thing was how she described the old kitchen appliances in a bakery. Instead of saying that they were from the nineties and not the eighties, she said they were from the Clinton era and not the Reagan! I thought that was a creative way of letting one know the style of decorating without detail.

  4. Jody, I do a little character sketch for everyone who appears at least twice in any of my books. Don't forget to decide what kind of car they drive--it's amazing how often this is needed. Thanks for sharing.

  5. So true, Jody! The one thing that irks me is when the characters describe themselves when looking in a mirror. For my characters I try to find a way to have them described by someone else like a person asking if they colored their hair, a mention of contact lenses to change eye color etc.

  6. I'm writing my first novel and am realising that all of my female characters are the same. Thanks for these tips, I'll keep them in mind as I rewrite to give them each a different life!

  7. Bringing each character to life through a detailed worksheet including eye and hair descriptions is very interesting. A great read takes me out of my present environment and places me into the character's...everything around me vanishes and I am totally engrossed into the lives of those who I am reading about....thanks for sharing how this is done...

  8. Physical description is difficult for me; I often forget it in the first draft or all of my male characters in particular end up looking the same. For some reason it's easier for me to describe women; I read in a Whitney Otto novel that women study each other's appearances, like the way we admire each other's clothes or hairstyle.

  9. I've always found it useful to make a clear list of common flaws of characters. So often in books we read about these people with unattainably perfect qualities, but if you make it obvious what their flaws are, that can be eliminated. In addition, it always seems to make me want to defend my characters and give them awesome and unique strengths. I love this post! So helpful!

  10. Thank you. I am baby stepping my way around. You are such a wealth of information, Jody. I always write notes when I read your posts.

  11. Great advice! But I somehow read some stories that where not really describing some character, some of it would describe characters in some necessary scenes.

  12. Thanks for taking the time to discuss that, I feel strongly about this and so really like getting to know more on this kind of field. Do you mind updating your blog post with additional insight? It should be really useful for all of us. Website

  13. Fajartoto like to read your article because it really helps me. Thank you for sharing this post with us.

    Togel Online

    Prediksi Hongkong

  14. Hello my respectable viewers and i'm from (Germany) I am very happy to share this amazing testimony, i was hurt and heart broken when my husband left me with our kid, i was confused and didn't know what to do, i loved him so much, i tried all i could to bring him back but all my effort was in vain , on one faithful day i explained my problem to my friend, and she told me of a great love spell caster called "dr Ogbeifun" whom also make her pregnant when she was looking for a child, i never believed in spells but i have give a try to see if things will get better, i contacted DR Ogbeifun through the contact info my friend gave to me, after some hours the spell caster responded to me he told me to stay and gave me some instructions on what to do and i did exactly as i was told, to my greatest surprise, my husband who has not called me for a very 3 yrs, called me and start apologizing for all the wrongs he did to me and pleaded with me that he want to return home with me and the kids, now he loved me more than ever before, my respectable viewers brothers and sisters if you are passing through any kind of problem contact him and i give you 100% guarantee that he will solve your problems. this is his contacts Email: call or add him on whatsapp +2348102574680

  15. HOW TO JOIN ILLUMINATI SECRET SOCIETY FOR MONEY +27785167256 IN South Africa,Lesotho, Namibia,Botswana, Zambia,Swaziland,Canada,Guyana, Uk,France,Germany,Spain,Poland,Switzerland,Romania,Bulgaria,Denmark,Finland,Netherlands,Norway,Sweden ,Egypt,Jordan,Sudan,Tunisia,Bahrain,Iraq,Kuwait,Oman,Qatar,Saudi Arabia,UAE ,Australia,New Zealand, GHANA,Uganda,Limpopo,JORDAN, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Johannesburg, Lebanon,Berhrain USA, Kenya , California, Dallas, England,Spain, Austria, Vancouver, Denmark,Pretoria, Durban,Wales, France, Norway, Sweden,Capetown, Tanzania, Northern Cape, New York, Limpopo, London,Sweden, Rwanda, Oman, Qatar, Dubai, Poland, Canada, United Kingdom.. For those who are interested in making money, every good thing comes with money, comes with extra effort , All u need do is a Spiritual work and every wicked power delaying your progress wants clear and good things will come to you like, money, favor from people, open doors, business breakthrough, good job. Etc. For more info you can call +27785167256 Note: Its not a child's play, its for those who are desperate and ready to make a change in their life. Above all its $266 dollar to Join SERVICE TO HUMANITY Call Agent CARLOS +27785167256 We are seeking that special wisdom and knowledge that would set us free from the bondage to dull and dreary everyday life, while strengthening us in body, mind and spirit, and bringing us the material rewards of wealth, love, and success. The karishika Brotherhood is a true brotherhood of secret knowledge and power. membership into our fraternity is free and normally through a thorough screening. we are here to liberate those who need wealth, riches, power, prosperity, protection and success in all ramification. Agent Ben brotherhood offers all initiate members growth, wealth, fame, power, prosperity and success in all areas of heart desires. we do not demand human sacrifice, the use of any human parts or early personal death as a precondition for you to become our member. we are not suppose to be on the internet but because of questions and comments like: I WANT TO JOIN OCCULT IN SOUTH AFRICA. I WANT TO JOIN REAL OCCULT IN BOTSWANA . I WANT TO JOIN OCCULT TO MAKE MONEY. I WANT TO JOIN OCCULT FOR MONEY. I WANT TO JOIN OCCULT FOR MONEY RITUAL. I WANT TO JOIN OCCULT IN AFRICA TO BE RICH. I WANT TO JOIN GOOD OCCULT FRATERNITY IN SOUTH AFRICA /BOTSWANA. I WANT TO JOIN GREAT ILLUMINATI IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR RICHES. I WANT TO JOIN ILLUMINATI OCCULT IN SOUTH AFRICA OR BOTSWANA. I WANT TO JOIN ILLUMINATI BROTHERHOOD IN SOUTH AFRICA OR BOTSWANA. HOW TO JOIN OCCULT IN SOUTHAFRICA. HOW TO JOIN REAL OCCULT IN BOTSWANA. HOW TO JOIN OCCULT TO MAKE MONEY. HOW TO JOIN OCCULT FOR MONEY. HOW TO JOIN OCCULT FOR MONEY RITUAL. HOW TO JOIN OCCULT IN AFRICA TO BE RICH. HOW TO JOIN GOOD OCCULT FRATERNITY IN SOUTH AFRICA. HOW TO JOIN GREAT ILLUMINATI IN BOTSWANA FOR RICHES. HOW TO JOIN ILLUMINATI OCCULT IN SOUTH AFRICA OR BOTSWANA HOW TO JOIN ILLUMINATI BROTHERHOOD IN SOUTH AFRICA OR . HOW TO MAKE MONEY ONLINE. HOW TO MAKE MONEY IN NIGERIA. HOW TO MAKE MONEY IN GHANA. HOW TO MAKE MONEY BY JOINING OCCULT. HOW TO MAKE MONEY BY JOINING ILLUMINATI. FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO:want to join occult in south Africa how can i join secret society or cult to make money how can join occult for riches i want to be rich but i do not know how etc. how do i do money ritual how do i join good occult that will not affect me and my family forever we are now here for you. Kindly contact us on 27785167256 for details on what to do MONEY,POSH CAR,MAGIC RING,MEMBERSHIP ID,GREEN ****,CERTIFICATE AND GOW
    I've been reluctant in purchasing this blank ATM card i heard about online because everything seems too good to be true, but i was convinced & shocked

    Power full native traditional doctor herbal medicine can fix broken marriages HERBALIST TRADITIONAL CANADA, GERMANY, SAUDI ARABIA, Power full native traditional doctor herbal medicine can fix broken marriages / Relationship in Cape Town / South Africa / UK / Pretoria.
    Spiritual Healing and spiritual center where miracles are done by herbalist Doctor in Cape Town, South Africa, uk, Johannesburg, Pretoria Strongest Traditional healer with strong traditional medicine Doctor can now solve husband and wife problems in Cape Town / Johannesburg / South Africa / Traditional African medicine and spiritual herbalist healing is now common in the miracle center of herbalist Docotor in Cape Town / mpumalanga / limpopo / free states / kzn / gauteng, South Africa, uk, Johannesburg, Pretoria. Traditional Doctor and love spell caster herbalist doctor in cape town can help you win lotto, divorce cases, short boxes, horses in Johannesburg, Pretoria, South Africa, Uk. Herbal healer and Traditional healer Herbalist doctor +Drmamaalpha can fix and protect your home because, business in Cape Town / Johannesburg / Pretoria / Uk. Contact African international and traditional spiritual herbalist healer herbalist doctor in cape town can get you promoted at your work and work with traditional spirits and work spells. Contact . Call Or Whatsapp on +27605775963Contact African international and traditional spiritual herbalist healer herbalist doctor in cape town can get you promoted at your work and work with traditional spirits and work spells. Contact . Contact African international and traditional spiritual herbalist healer herbalist doctor in cape town can get you promoted at your work and work with traditional spirits and work spells. Contact . Call Or Whatsapp on +27605775963

  17. i was once living on the street where by things were so hard for me, even to pay off my bills was very difficult for me i have to park off my apartment and start sleeping on the street of Vegas. i tried all i could do to secure a job but all went in vain because i was from the black side of America. so i decided to browse through on my phone for jobs online where i got an advert on Hackers advertising a Blank ATM card which can be used to hack any ATM Machine all over the world, i never thought this could be real because most advert on the internet are based on fraud, so i decided to give this a try and look where it will lead me to if it can change my life for good. i contacted this hackers and they told me they are from Canada and also they have branch all over the world in which they use in developing there ATM CARDS, this men who were French and also experts at ATM repairs, programming and execution who taught me various tips and tricks about breaking into an ATM Machine with a Blank ATM card.i applied for the Blank ATM card and it was delivered to me within 3 days and i did as i was told to and today my life has changed. there is no ATM MACHINES this BLANK ATM CARD cannot penetrate into, because it has been programmed with various tools and software before it will be send to you. i know this is illegal but also a smart way of living Big because the government cannot help us so we have to help our self. if you also want this BLANK ATM CARD you can contact these Hackers at

  18. I’m so excited because my broken marriage has been restored & my husband is back after he left me and our 2 kids for another woman. After 8 years of marriage, me and my husband has been into one quarrel or the other until he finally left me and moved to California to be with another woman. i felt my life was over and my kids thought they would never see their father again. i tried to be strong just for the kids but i could not control the pains that torments my heart, my heart was filled with sorrows and pains because i was really in love with my husband. Every day and night i think of him and always wish he would come back to me, I was really upset and i needed help, so i searched for help online and I came across a website that suggested that DR.Osasu can help get ex back fast. So, I felt I should give him a try. I contacted him and he told me what to do and i did it then he did a (Love spell) for me. 28 hours later, my husband really called me and told me that he miss me and the kids so much, So Amazing!! So that was how he came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and he apologized for his mistake,and for the pain he caused me and the kids. Then from that day,our Marriage was now stronger than how it were before,All thanks to DR.Osasu . he is so powerful and i decided to share my story on the internet that DR.Osasu real and powerful spell caster who i will always pray to live long to help his children in the time of trouble, if you are here and you need your Ex back or your husband moved to another woman, do not cry anymore, contact this powerful spell caster now. Here’s his contact: Email him at:Account: , you can also call him or add him on Whats-app: +2347064365391,THANKS TO DR. Osasu


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!