Writing About Body Types
Let’s have a conversation about body types and how to describe them. There are so many ways to describe characters. The most obvious is appearance. What do they look like? Are their eyes almond shaped, or set far apart? What are they wearing? Do they always wear a headband or baseball cap? What are they doing? What traits do they display? Under the umbrella of appearance is a category known as body type or shape.
It’s easy to depict a character as heavy, thin, tall, or short. I also think it’s kind of lazy. As writers we must move beyond these simplistic descriptions and expand our adjectives.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the following garden variety body types: rectangle, triangle or pear, inverted triangle or apple, hourglass, diamond, and round or oval. Get your glam-squad ready because these six main body types are also overdone and desperately need a makeover.
Your job as an author is to help readers visualize your characters as they read. So, what can authors do to avoid cliché body shape descriptions and make their characters stand out? First picture your characters in your head, or if you are talented enough, draw them. What sets them apart from other characters? Take inventory of their body type and make it your goal to highlight that element along with other physical attributes as you write. This will help readers keep track of your story’s characters and see them in their mind’s eye as they peruse your book.
Take a different and more versatile approach when describing a character’s body type. Don’t just make a descriptive list, that’s boring. Instead, take a distinguishing feature a step further. The way body shapes are portrayed, like having narrowed hips, rounded shoulders, or muscular thighs, broadens a reader’s vision of the character. Add these descriptions under the character section of your outline, if you use one, so you can keep track of each character's features. If you create a list of writing goals for the week or for a particular manuscript, include them there so you remember to incorporate them when building your characters.
Think outside the body type box. How about comparing your character’s body type to an animal, inanimate object, mythical creature, even a tree. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure if you take a moment to think about it, you can come up with additional avenues.
After you’ve established a character’s body type, add further description.
Jack was built like a pot-bellied pig. One of the buttons on his dress shirt popped, revealing an enlarged hairy paunch.
Mary was as thick as the trunk of an oak tree; big-boned with no distinguishing curves.
Long and lean like the handle of a sickle, Ralph towered over his classmates and a few of his teachers.
Ellie was petite like a pixie - well, a well-endowed pixie.
As a teen, Kathy found herself the brunt of neighborhood bullies, teased for her lanky, beanpole physique. Revenge was sweet. She grew into a slender supermodel who graced the covers of the most popular magazines.
Now move on to other characteristics and physical features such as piano legs, hams for arms, slender fingers, heart-shaped face, knock-kneed, bigfoot feet, Fred Flintstone feet, cat-eyes, sausage fingers, a head so large the person required an oversized hat, etc.
You already know the basic words fat, thin, tall, short – but there are many other ways to say these …
Words to describe body type & shape:
Pull from this list as you write and add to it as you come up with better words.