Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words to describe individual facial features, faces in general, bodies, and even hair. I’m hoping this post will be a good resource for describing the looks of characters in your story.

Before I get to the long list, I have a couple of notes and words of advice:

When you’re in a character’s POV, their attitude toward another character’s appearance may change over the course of the story as their relationship to that character changes. A classic case in point: Mr. Darcy goes from saying Elizabeth Bennet is “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me,” to “one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.” Conversely, the cute guy in Spanish class might not seem cute at all once your protag figures out he’s a dick.

Don’t rely too much on attractiveness or ugliness to make me as a reader like or dislike a character. If I’m reading a romance, for instance, it’s great if the hero is physically attractive, but I’m going to need him to be smart or kind or funny or something to get interested. And if you keep talking about how ugly the villain is, I’m going to start to think that you, the writer, might be a mean person, which makes me enjoy your story less.

Some of these phrases are more expected than others, and whether you care is up to you.

Okay, here we go!

 

 MASTER LIST OF PHYSICAL DESCRIPTIONS

Eyes – General

 I’m focusing here on physical descriptions rather than emotional expressions, though there’s a little crossover.

large

small

narrow

sharp

squinty

round

wide-set

close-set

deep-set

sunken

bulging

protruding

wide

hooded

heavy-lidded

bedroom

bright

sparkling

glittering

flecked

dull

bleary

rheumy

cloudy

red-rimmed

beady

birdlike

cat-like

jewel-like

steely

hard

fringed with long lashes

with sweeping eyelashes

with thick eyelashes

By the way, this post on how to describe (and not describe) the eyes of an Asian character is really great. Check it out.

Eyes – Color

Brown is the most common eye color by far. Green is quite rare.

chestnut

chocolate brown

cocoa brown

coffee brown

mocha

mahogany

sepia

sienna brown

mink brown

copper

amber

cognac

whiskey

brandy

honey

tawny

topaz

hazel

obsidian

onyx

coal

raven

midnight

sky blue

sunny blue

cornflower blue

steel blue

ice blue

Arctic blue

glacial blue

crystal blue

cerulean

electric blue

azure

lake blue

aquamarine

turquoise

denim blue

slate blue / slate gray

storm blue / storm gray

silver / silver gray

chrome

platinum

pewter

smoky gray

ash gray

concrete gray

dove gray

shark gray

fog gray

gunmetal gray

olive

emerald

leaf green

moss green

Eyebrows

arched

straight

plucked

sparse

trim

dark

faint

thin

thick

unruly

bushy

heavy

Skin – Color

Josh Roby made this great chart of skin tones and descriptor words, and I got a lot of these words from him. The quote from N.K. Jemisin interested me: “I get really tired of seeing African-descended characters described in terms of the goods that drove, and still drive, the slave trade–coffee, chocolate, brown sugar. There’s some weird psychosocial baggage attached to that.” 

amber

bronze

cinnamon

copper

dark brown

deep brown

ebony

honey

golden

pale

pallid

pasty

fair

light

cream / creamy

alabaster

ivory

bisque

milk

porcelain

chalky

sallow

olive

peach

rose / rosy

ruddy

florid

russet

tawny

fawn

Skin – General

Some of these are better for the face, and some are better for other parts of the body.

lined

wrinkled

seamed

leathery

sagging

drooping

loose

clear

smooth

silken

satiny

dry

flaky

scaly

delicate

thin

translucent

luminescent

baby-soft

flawless

poreless

with large pores

glowing

dewy

dull

velvety

fuzzy

rough

uneven

mottled

dimpled

doughy

firm

freckled

pimply

pockmarked

blemished

pitted

scarred

bruised

veined

scratched

sunburned

weather-beaten

raw

tattooed

Face – Structure

square

round

oblong

oval

elongated

narrow

heart-shaped

catlike

wolfish

high forehead

broad forehead

prominent brow ridge

protruding brow bone

sharp cheekbones

high cheekbones

angular cheekbones

hollow cheeks

square jaw

chiseled

sculpted

craggy

soft

jowly

jutting chin

pointed chin

weak chin

receding chin

double chin

cleft chin

dimple in chin

visible Adam’s apple

Nose

According to this article in the Daily Mail, there are fourteen kinds of noses.

snub

dainty

button

turned-up

long

broad

thin

straight

pointed

crooked

aquiline

Roman

bulbous

flared

hawk

strong

Mouth/Lips

thin

narrow

full

lush

Cupid’s bow

rosebud

dry

cracked

chapped

moist

glossy

straight teeth

gap between teeth

gleaming white teeth

overbite

underbite

Facial Hair (or lack thereof)

clean-shaven

smooth-shaven

beard

neckbeard

goatee

moustache

sideburns

mutton-chop sideburns

stubble

a few days’ growth of beard

five o’ clock shadow

Hair – General

I threw a few hairstyles in here, though not many.

long

short

shoulder-length

loose

limp

dull

shiny

glossy

sleek

smooth

luminous

lustrous

spiky

stringy

shaggy

tangled

messy

tousled

windblown

unkempt

bedhead

straggly

neatly combed

parted

slicked down / slicked back

cropped

clipped

buzzed / buzz cut

crewcut

bob

mullet

curly

bushy

frizzy

wavy

straight

lanky

dry

oily

greasy

layers

corkscrews

spirals

ringlets

braids

widow’s peak

bald

shaved

comb-over

afro

thick

luxuriant

voluminous

full

wild

untamed

bouncy

wispy

fine

thinning

Hair – Color

There are some repeats here from the eye color section!

black

blue-black

jet black

raven

ebony

inky black

midnight

sable

salt and pepper

silver / silver gray

charcoal gray

steel gray

white

snow-white

brown

brunette

chocolate brown

coffee brown

ash brown

brown sugar

nut brown

caramel

tawny brown

toffee brown

red

ginger

auburn

Titian-haired

copper

strawberry blonde

butterscotch

honey

wheat

blonde

golden

sandy blond

flaxen

fair-haired

bleached

platinum

Body Type – General

tall

average height

short

petite

tiny

compact

big

large

burly

beefy

bulky

brawny

barrel-chested

heavy / heavy-set

fat

overweight

obese

flabby

chunky

chubby

pudgy

pot-bellied

portly

thick

stout

lush

plush

full-figured

ample

rounded

generous

voluptuous

curvy

hourglass

plump

leggy / long-legged

gangling

lanky

coltish

lissome

willowy

lithe

lean

slim

slender

trim

thin

skinny

emaciated

gaunt

bony

spare

solid

stocky

wiry

rangy

sinewy

stringy

ropy

sturdy

strapping

powerful

hulking

fit

athletic

toned

built

muscular

chiseled

taut

ripped

Herculean

broad-shouldered

sloping shoulders

bowlegged

Hands

delicate

small

large

square

sturdy

strong

smooth

rough

calloused

elegant

plump

manicured

stubby fingers

long fingers

ragged nails

grimy fingernails

ink-stained

~

This list, a Master List for Describing Emotions, and many more are in my book Master Lists for Writers: Thesauruses, Plot Ideas, Character Traits, Names, and More. Check it out if you’re interested!

Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan

Happy writing!