Six Ways to Describe An Attractive Character

When it comes it describing an attractive character, “show don’t tell” is crucial. But how do you describe the love interest without just repeating “she was beautiful” or “he was drop-dead gorgeous”? Just like any kind of writing exposition, good description can make or break the introduction of a stunning new character. Never fear! Here are six ways to write about a good-looking guy or gal in your book without being boring, repetitive, or flat.

Get physical.
As with writing kissing scenes, physicality is, if not everything, then a lot of things. Instead of focusing on the purely visual aspects of an attractive character, focus on how their appearance affects the other characters. Stomach butterflies? Racing heart? Rising temperatures? Don’t hold back.

Use all five senses.
Another classic romance writing tip—but applying all five senses specifically to appearance of an attractive character is absolutely crucial. Don’t just focus on the visuals; consider how the person smells, sounds like when they talk, and feels (if your POV character is lucky enough to touch them, anyway!).

Don’t go crazy with adjectives.
Too many descriptors can make your character sound like a laundry list of features rather than an actual human being (or wolf shifter, or vampire, or whatever). A hero with “sapphire eyes” and “bronzed caramel skin” ends up being more distracting than specific to the reader—the ten-dollar words aren’t adding anything, and in a pile-up, can read as clumsy and amateurish.

Use voice.
All that said, it is actually okay to “tell” what the attractive character looks like—as long as it’s grounded in the voice of the narrator. Using the turns of phrase that your narrator is accustomed to in writing about an attractive character does double duty, because it not only conveys information about the character being described, but also the worldview and particular attitudes about the narrator.

Avoid cliché.
You know this, of course! But in romance and YA romance in particular, readers want writers to know how avoid clichés in their writing. Clichés make books feel generic, and make readers skim—which is the opposite of what you want! The only real way to avoid clichés is to know what they are in the first place, and the only way to know that is to read widely in your genre. It’s a fine line between delivering on genre expectations and settling too heavily into cliché, but the more you know about the other books in your category, the better you’ll be able to make your writing stand out.

Subtext, subtext, subtext.
Dialogue is a big part of showing off a character’s magnetic appeal. But it’s human nature that people don’t mean what they say or say what they mean. (Seriously, when was the last time you just walked up to someone and said “hey, you’re hot!”?) When your character is talking to someone they find attractive, what they talk about isn’t as important as the way they say it. Too much talking about mutual attraction outright is a sure way to kill tension. Amp up the mystery and sensuality by cloaking their real intentions—even a discussion over something as simple as grocery shopping can become electrically charged when attraction is at a fever pitch.

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

How to Write Great Exposition (and Avoid Infodumps)

Writing good exposition is one of the qualities that truly sets apart talented writers from amateurs. Exposition—the portions of your novel’s narrative that introduce information not shown through the action of the scene—is essential to storytelling, but writing it smoothly and skillfully can prove challenging, particularly in genres like fantasy that require lots of worldbuilding. The “infodump” occurs when a writer drops in large chunks of exposition that interrupt the flow of the narrative and effectively boot the reader out of the story.

So how do you write exposition that not only slips in seamlessly, but engages your reader and makes her want to keep reading? (Or, phrased another way, how do you avoid bad exposition that detracts from your novel?) It’s not impossible—here are some strategies.

Get voicey.
If you’ve already written a chunk of your book, one way to quickly make your exposition more interesting is to revise the paragraphs as much into your character’s voice as possible. This gives these paragraphs double duty: they relay information while also revealing character through voice. So, for example, a teen boy character might call his school “a total craphole” instead of “worn down and in need of repair.” Word choice matters (always!).

Attach emotions.
Bad exposition tends to exist in a vacuum, with the information dropped in for no reason besides the writer’s need to plant it in the mind of the reader. One way to revise this type of exposition is to use a character’s emotions as the catalyst that sets the exposition into motion. For example, a character grieving over a breakup might naturally notice—and detail—the parts of her surroundings that remind her of her broken relationship. The more sensory details, the better! Once again, this will make your exposition pull double its weight by also revealing backstory and/or character.

Relate information to the action of the scene.
What’s the central action point of the scene—the dynamic part of the plot that starts one way and ends another? Use that driving force to motivate exposition. For example, a chase scene early in the novel may include the POV character searching around for an escape route—conveniently allowing her to describe her scenery.

Give your characters something to do.
So-called “maid and butler” dialogue is one thing that editors dread and can make an agent stop reading. If the scene is two secondary (or even primary) characters simply discussing things they already know, then it’s a textbook example of bad exposition. (After all, you don’t start a coffee date with your best friend by saying “ever since we met in 11th grade, I’ve relied on you for advice, especially now that I’m deciding between two equally rewarding career opportunities.”) Still, sometimes writing exposition in dialogue is unavoidable, and that’s okay—just be sure your scene has a secondary goal in the form of an action. Have your characters pack suitcases, bake cupcakes, trim hedges, anything that allows for some action beats that break up the dialogue and avoid a scene of talking heads. Bonus points if the action moves the plot into the next scene!

Pare way, way back.
Truth bomb: maybe you don’t need that much exposition. Part of the psychological phenomenon (not to mention enjoyment) of reading is that the author and the reader meet halfway to create the fictional world of the novel. Trusting your reader to fill in the gaps will make her a happier reader—whether she realizes it or not—because it’s actively engaging her on the page. Try this exercise: rewrite your current chunk of exposition in half as many words as it takes now. Then halve the word count and revise again. Then boil it down to a single sentence. That may end up being a little too bare bones, but if your beta readers don’t feel confused, then it’s probably more than sufficient.

Create a character as conduit.
Particularly in novels with complex worldbuilding, a “new kid in school” character can be a great avatar for the reader in the world of the story. A new recruit, a stranger in town, or a literal new kid in school will provide a set of fresh eyes that naturally notices all the details that more situated characters are now accustomed to (and therefore would never actively describe). This isn’t a foolproof method—it can easily fall victim to the “maid and butler” dialogue, or take place in scenes with no purpose beyond exposition—but it can also be a powerful way to establish empathy with the reader and create a guide for her to navigate the world of the story, especially if you’re writing an ensemble cast.

No mirrors!
What do agents and editors hate, hate, hate reading in an early chapter? The clichéd scene of the protagonist standing in front of a mirror and describing herself. Yes, it’s convenient, especially in first-person point of view, and yes, people do tend to spend time in front of mirrors before heading out for the day, but that doesn’t mean it’s interesting on the page. In short, there’s pretty much no way to make this kind of scene interesting. Be more original: instead of showing your protagonist combing her hair, have her best friend tell her how jealous she is of her natural highlights. Rather than merely describing her outfit head to toe, have her spill a cup of coffee on her skirt and give her a natural opening to describe what it looks like—stain and all.

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.