Describing People, Part One : Faces

I recently wrote a guest post on inspiration for JR Wagner’s blog  [ ] and I mentioned people watching as a rich source.

One of the comments made was by someone who experienced difficulties describing people, especially faces. I gave him some tips to help, but then it occurred to me that other people may also have the same problem.

Here are some thoughts and tips that may help.

Start with a list – a very general list. You could create a table in Word or Excel, or create a database in Access to store the information.

Look at the features one at a time.

What shape is the face?

Face Shapes

What shape are the eyes? What colour are they? Are the brows heavy, light or average? What colour are the eyebrows? Does the eyebrow colour match the hair? Are the lashes long, short or sparse?

Eyes Shapes

Is the forehead wide, narrow, average?

Are the cheekbones prominent, high or hidden beneath chubby cheeks?

What is the nose like – large, bulbous, pointed, turned up at the end, button, wide, flat, broken?

Are the lips full, luscious, thin, lopsided, large lower lip, a perfect cupid’s bow? What colour are they?

What is the skin tone like – pale, tanned, peaches & cream, brown, black? Are there any blemishes on the skin (scars/moles/freckles/zits)? Are there any facial piercings (not including ears)?

Look at the shape of the chin. Is it pointed, wide, rounded, double? If it’s a male – has he got a beard/moustache/stubble or is he clean shaven.

Ears – are they large or small? Do they stick out? Are they pierced, and if so, how many times? Are there earrings?

Is the person wearing make up? Is the make up light (natural looking) or heavy? Does it enhance the features or disguise them? Does it complement them or make them look tarty?

Look at the hair – colour, length, style. Is the hair colour natural or can you see roots of a different shade?  Also look at how the hair frames the face (or not as the case may be).

Look at the neck and how the head sits on it. Is the neck long and graceful? Is it short? Does the neck disappear under a double chin? Is the skin smooth or like crepe paper, crinkled with age?

Once you’ve made your basic list then you can start thinking about how to embellish on the features you want to include. Sometimes similes are good, but not if you over-use them. However, thinking about a simile to help describe a certain feature can lead to a wonderful descriptive phrase.

Take it slowly; build your list of different features and any descriptive words that come to mind. After a while, revisit your list and add any new words that you think of. Keep doing this at different times and eventually you’ll have a comprehensive source of information to use when crafting your characters.

Other posts in this series:

Describing People Part Two: From the Neck Down

Describing People Part Three: Gestures, Expressions & Mannerisms