Skip to content

Crafting a Novella


By: Donna Schlachter –

Character Descriptions and Attributions –

In a shorter work such as a novella, you can’t spend too much time describing what a character looks like. Some authors take the path of not describing them at all—simply leaving it to the reader’s imagination. However, others, while trying to keep the description from eating up too many words, limit the words to those found on a drivers’ license: height, hair and eye color, and weight or build.

Readers don’t tend to like either method.

How to Create Interesting Characters

To create interesting and diverse characters that your readers will remember, you need to use words that aren’t ordinarily used as describers. Here are some ideas to incorporate into your next work in process:

  • Choose a category that is rarely used, such as scent, skin (don’t limit this to color—what does their skin look like?), aura (what mood do they project or instill in others), and movement (are they athletic, gangly, awkward, aged, crippled, or loose-jointed?)
  • How is this character viewed by others? Dangerous, secretive, fancy, haughty, mousey
  • How do they think about themselves, others, and the world around them?
  • What do they feel about world issues, social justice, government, the opposite sex?
  • How do they view/react to certain situations compared to how others would? Is their reaction logical? Expected? Visionary?
  • What is their mental state? Are they unbalanced, stable, wavering?
  • Do they demonstrate faith in anything or anybody? In themselves? Are they codependent?
  • Do they gravitate toward or away from a particular kind of person? Why?
  • Are they a cat or a dog person?
  • Imaginative? Sense of humor?
  • Skills or talents? Extreme lack of in some area?
  • What is another’s first impression of them? A scarecrow in designer jeans? A ballerina in a Chanel suit? Classic? Loser? Someone to know? A mover and a shaker?
  • Choose your adjectives carefully, and stick to a few for each character. Overdoing the use of adjectives can tire the reader and confuse them as to which character you’re talking about.
  • What is your character interested in? Reading, pop culture, music (what kind?)
  • What object does your character hold as precious? Or abhor?
  • What habits does your character enjoy? Wish they could change?

Describing your characters accomplishes several objectives:

  • Differentiates your characters in looks, habits, and actions
  • Allows room for backstory. Why do they do, wear, look like they do?
  • Keeps the reader interested and engaged
  • Allows the reader to accept that your characters are just like people they know in some way
  • Explains why they say and do what they say and do; gives credibility to them as people

What NOT to Do

Here are some Don’t suggestions to enhance your character descriptions:

  • Don’t make everybody a supermodel or a six-pack abdomen guy – few of us are, and it gets tiring when that’s all we read about
  • Don’t make everybody look and sound the same. Vary the ages, build, occupations, and mannerisms – don’t make them all sound the same in dialogue, either
  • Don’t forget to include their education and occupation in their description. While not all engineers wear plastic pocket protectors, and not all baristas are chippy cheerful early in the morning, you could have a character who is stereotypical.
  • Don’t dump the entire description all at once and then never refer back to the detail. For example, if you want the reader to know the character has red hair, make sure there’s an important reason for us to know that, such as nobody else in her family has red hair, so she questions her parentage.
  • Don’t hold back too much information. If later in the story, the character needs blue eyes, tell us that early on.
  • Don’t forget their personality and other non-physical traits
  • Don’t forget to describe them through another’s point of view. For example, the hero might think the heroine’s eyes look like a glassy sea, while the antagonist might see her eyes as cold and uncaring.
  • Don’t choose physical description OR imagery – balance both
  • Don’t forget to give each character a special attribute, whether that’s physical or not. For example, freckles or clear skin. A tic when nervous. A mouth that never quite smiles. Wrinkles around the eyes from being outside. Skin tough like leather, or soft like a bunny’s nose.

With these ideas, try this exercise: take your current work in process, main character. Write a paragraph describing them using some of the suggestions above. For example, you might say your heroine had freckles across her cheeks and nose that reminded him of the stars on a clear night—a multitudinous and fathomless depth of tiny dots on her otherwise pale skin.

Donna Schlachter, Headshot

A hybrid author, Donna Schlachter, writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter.

Stay connected with Donna through her links below:
Books: Amazon:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.