Master List of Physical Description for Writers

Physical description, when done well, helps the readers see characters in their minds. But sometimes when you’re in the middle of writing, it can be hard to think of physical adjectives and distinguishing features for characters. I find that describing facial features can be especially tricky!

That’s why I created this long list of physical characteristics. It’s kind of like a character description generator, and it’ll help you when you’re trying to think of how to describe a character’s appearance.

Young woman with pensive expression and long brown hair. "Master List of Physical Descriptions for Writers - pin or bookmark for future reference!"

 

Eyes – General

 For all the words about describing facial features, I’m focusing more on physical descriptions rather than emotional expressions, though there’s a little crossover! You can also check out my long list of facial expressions.

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 a great chart of skin tones and descriptor words, and I got a lot of these words from him. You can get that here.

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

People don’t write much about noses, but they can be distinguishing features for characters!

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 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 #master lists for writers free pdf #master lists for writers free ebook #master lists for writers free kindle

 

And if you don’t want to miss future writing posts, follow the blog, if you aren’t already — there’s a place to sign up on the lefthand side of the blog. Thanks for stopping by, and happy writing!

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125 thoughts on “Master List of Physical Description for Writers”

  1. Pingback: Bryn Donovan | Shadows Publishing

  2. Aw thank you for this it helped so much! I’m 15 and I’m trying to write a novel and this was sooooo helpful so thank you a billion 🙂 Best wishes.

  3. Hi, Bryn
    Thank you for doing these lists. They helped me a lot. Can you make a list on how to describe emotions like sadness or anger.

    1. It’s funny you should ask 🙂 There’s a list like that in my book MASTER LISTS FOR WRITERS coming out this fall! I haven’t officially announced it yet, but hey 🙂

      You can get a free copy when it comes out if you agree to give it an honest review. SIgn up for my newsletter if you’re interested!

  4. VERY helpful. I need to get basic descriptions of people done and out of the way to move on with plot. This quickens any details that might have taken me a long time to think through, or strain a sentence. Yuck. I know my females characters would pay attention to lots of physical details. not so with the males. Thanks!

    1. Oh, so glad it’s helpful! That’s always what I’m trying to do with my lists — speed things up. I hate getting stuck on a detail and losing my momentum 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  5. authorjessicalouis

    Reblogged this on Jessica Louis and commented:
    This list is beyond helpful. Who knew there were so many eye colors!?

  6. Thanks Bryn your list was amazing. I’m an aspiring writer and it really helped me a lot. When I can I’m going to get a copy of your book. I think it would help me become a better writer. My genre of choice is erotic, but it is so hard to get out there, but I’m hopeful one day I will. It’s what I love to do and I’m going to keep trying.

    1. Hi Beth! Thank you so much for the kind words. If you do get the book, I hope you like it! And good luck on writing erotica — I’m doing a “WIP Wednesday” this Wednesday where you can share a bit of your work in progress, if you like 🙂

  7. That would be great. I have some short stories publish on a site called Literotica. I have some editing issues that I’m trying to work out, nothing a few classes wouldn’t help. How do I share my work.

    1. I am so sorry! I missed this comment before. The next WIP Wednesday on the blog is Dec. 2… if you’re following the blog you’ll see the post! (The follow button is on the righthand side of this page.) Hope your writing’s going well 🙂

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  10. Reblogged this on PRINCE CHARMING ISN'T HERE and commented:
    what an amazing list! I always have a hard time describing features! words sometimes fail me!

  11. Pingback: Describing People « Chestnut ESL/EFL

  12. Thank you! This is so helpful to have for reference. Occasionally I’ll have a particular word in mind and can’t think of it, and I can usually pop over here and find it right away!

      1. Thank you, and they are. I’m just about to publish a works I’ve been working on for the past couple of months, which is so exciting. XD
        Hope all your writing projects are going great as well. 🙂

  13. What a wonderful and thorough list Bryn. Thanks for sharing it! I will at some point ‘link back’ to this fabulous article (I’ll let you know when I do.) I’m new to your site, but will certainly be back for more! I’m fascinated to learn that you’re also a home-grown KC girl. =0) Although, I remarried and moved to California 9 years ago, KC still tugs my heart-strings.

    1. Hey, so glad you like it! Yeah, Kansas City is a special place. Come visit anytime 🙂 And thanks for visiting my blog! — I LOVE your username, by the way. Made me smile.

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  17. Christopher Hunter

    I’m going to save this as a favorite. You always provide great information Bryn. Continue with your success.

  18. Kyla Matton Osborne (Ruby3881)

    This list is so complete! I haven’t worked on fiction in a long while, but lately I’ve been wanting to get back into it. I know this is going to be a great help when i sit down to create my characters!

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  20. Pingback: How Do You Describe a Character’s Looks In His or Her Point of View? – Bryn Donovan

  21. This is absolutely perfect for aspiring writers so that we don’t have to use Microsoft Word synonyms that tend to nit have what we’re searching for.
    Your introductory paragraph about readers falling in love with characters’ personalities and not theit physical attributes was spot on.
    Thank you thank you, thank you!

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  24. I read this over and over, thank you for creating this! Can I just ask, when thinking of clothing and how to describe it, what are some things you would put? (I’m making a book draft and have never needed clothing described to me as much as now)

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  27. Your book “Master Lists for Writers” has helped me incredibly. I’ve always wanted to be a romance writer but didn’t have the nerve until now. I am currently working on a short story about a college girl who is assaulted by a classmate. It was based on a dream I had a few nights ago. I haven’t developed how she gets her revenge on him. I know the story line seems dark but the dream stuck with me so much, I felt the urge to turn it into a story. Thank you again for your awesome book. What a great resource

    1. Rhonda! Thank you so much for the kind words. I am so happy that the book is helpful, and even gladder that you’re going for it and writing! Sending you best wishes on your story!

  28. Pingback: MASTER LIST of Physical Descriptions! | Written By Gigi

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  30. This is a great list! So comprehensive, and just what I was looking for. I struggle with physical descriptions of people and have a tendency to write the same kins of attributes. So this list is fab!

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  33. Tiptoeing out there to publish my first book (I’ve been writing a long time). This post helped so much. Thanks!

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  38. More extensive than my general list. My wizened goatee and elder Fu Manchu thank you for sharing your time and devotion to the craft.

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  44. I’ve been writing for a while, mostly for fun, but this was the one thing I could never get down, but this list is great! all around solid, and incredibly useful, I see myself using it every time I need to make a new character, good job!

  45. I am following your prompts and valuable advice for writing a fantasy teen fiction novel. I think you are amazing. You might not know it but I was able to clear hundreds of my doubts through your help. Please keep up the good work and providing your valuable support to all of us upcoming writers.

    1. Hey, thank you so much for the kind words—you made my day! It’s wonderful to hear that you’re working on YA fantasy. I’m so glad I could help, and I wish you every success!

  46. I honestly would not recommend this as good writing advice. The focus is too much on describing someone’s physical features using analogies for food. That is not a good thing, it becomes trite and overdone. If used sparsely it’s okay but almost every word in this list is food related.

      1. You have done a great job preparing this Master List. Those who think such precise words for describing someone hurt their sensibilities, move on to another URL. I appreciate every bit of your effort.

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  50. I work 20 hours per day, (regular business and writing the memoir). Just ordered the Master List–seems like having my own research assistant. I may be able to get 5 hours sleep now.
    Thanks

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  53. Tina Barbknecht

    You saved my day with your wonderful, descriptive words! Now I’ve found the perfect features for my handsome male character. Thank you!

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  56. Eleanore Trupkiewicz

    Hi Bryn, thanks so much for this information! I always appreciate your lists because I like comprehensive material all in one location as a reference (then if I decide to break the rules, at least I know what the rules are “supposed to be” first!). Have you considered making comprehensive lists of creative writing genre conventions (tropes, archetypes, settings, devices, etc.)?

  57. Hello, and thank you for the valuable and useful information. I agree with Eleanore regarding the list of genre conventions. I’m more than pleased I found you website.

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