Pssst… The 6 juicy, crafty secrets to writing a character description

Pssst… The 6 juicy, crafty secrets to writing a character description

36 Remarkable Comments

 

When were you at the movies last?

Imagine this: You sit down in eighth row with a boatload of popcorn and your favorite beverage, and after the usual commercials for toothbrush warmers and inflatable potato chips, eventually the main flick comes on.

Leaving nothing to chance, it starts with the protagonist: It shows his face from all sides in close-up, his hair color, eye-color, his hands, his feet, button-up shirt, him from behind… for a full five minutes.

By that point, you would be alone in the theatre, and an angry crowd would have gathered in front of the ticket counter to demand their money back.

Why?

Because these days, super-slow, excruciatingly precise descriptions make us want to play Russian roulette with our pet lizard. We see them as very boring.

Today, action movies cut with lightning speed. Our cell phones are tickling wonderboxes filled with never-ending stimulus. Today, you have to be quicker and pickier with your character descriptions, if you want to hook your reader.

Look at how Charles Dickens describes Uriah Heep in his novel David Copperfield, long before music videos were invented:

The low arched door then opened, and the face came out. It was quite as cadaverous as it had looked in the window, though in the grain of it there was that tinge of red which is sometimes to be observed in the skins of red-haired people. It belonged to a red-haired person—a youth of fifteen, as I take it now, but looking much older—whose hair was cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep. He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as he stood at the pony’s head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking up at us in the chaise.

 

Uriah Heep is one of the villains. Dickens lets us know about his evil spirit subtly, just by describing his looks: Hostile to life and people (cadaverous face), strange (fifteen, looking much older), snake-like (hardly any eyebrows and no eyelashes), rotten and somber (long, lank, skeleton hand).

So. This was great back in 19th century, when people still welcomed the author’s help to visualize a story. But nowadays?

You better make it quick.

This post should be your personal 101 on how to create a sparkling, fascinating character description. Read on to find answers to questions like:

  • What should you include in your character descriptions, and when are they too much?
  • A character description is not the sexiest part of a story; so how can you present it in a dynamic way that makes your reader eat it out of your hand like sugar cubes?
  • When is the best moment to insert a description?
  • An additional tip to make your reader feel who your character is

So step on into this post. Welcome, welcome!

Uriah Heep…

Character Description Examples

But this wouldn’t be Ride the Pen, if I just released you into the wild like that. So please find here, as an exclusive download, a MASSIVE list of character description examples, divided into categories (facial features, body type, clothes, accessories, etc…).

To be precise, it lists 626 ways to describe your character.

Should your imagination struggle one day, then you will find a ton of inspiration on this sheet. You will also find the precise words to describe any particular character of yours.

Character Description List

 

No spam, ever.

1. You Have to Pick Your Sights (Or: The ‘Why’)

First things first: In no way are you obligated to write ANY character description. You didn’t sign any contract, and there is no character description police out there (and if there is, I will protect you, I promise!).

In fact, only describe a character as far as you have a good reason to describe her:

E.g. you want to convey a trait that explains better what will motivate her later on in the story.

Or you want to make her more interesting to the reader.

Or you want to slow the pace down a bit (more on that below).

Anytime you don’t feel the specific need to go for a description, just leave it out. You have to pick your sights, so to speak.

Many great characters in literature are hardly described at all. Of others, we only know one or two features as cornerstones, for example their big nose and that they are thick or thin.

That’s because their authors know the movie that’s most fascinating for a reader will play in her mind. Less is often more.

Think of a character that’s street-smart and in the end always gets it the way he wants. One reader might depict him as an albino blonde, skinny guy, flexible enough to dodge the bullets. Another one will see more of a dark-haired, stronger built dude.

If you describe him like you see him, you might actually take away from your reader’s mental movie. Leave it up to your readers, and they will enjoy what they see so much more.

Let your audience fill in the blanks themselves. They will follow their imagination, and it will be less work for you.

 

2. Take it personally (Or: The ‘What’)

However, if you do describe what your character looks like, favor the features that tell us something about who he is.

The fact your character’s shoes are by Gucci is not interesting in itself at all. If it is not deeply connected to your character’s personality, don’t mention it.

But why is he wearing Gucci? Is he very conscious of his fashion, and stylistically confident? Does he need to identify with a brand to feel better about himself? Is he arrogant even? Does he have so much money he doesn’t care, or does he spend way too much?

Now it gets interesting. And even more interesting if that trait is connected directly to your story: Is he a fashion guru, so that’s why he needs to get hold of a rare fabric? Can’t he deal with money, so that’s why he is now forced to do that shady job for those mafia guys?

What can you tell me about the owner…?

In the following, see how you can distinguish traits that show us who your character is from traits that don’t show us anything at all:

1. Features that do tell us more about how your character is wired

These are the features that are more closely connected to your character’s personality: Body language, movements, the clothes she chooses, and even the style of her hair, his beard, etc.

2. Features that tell us less about how your character is wired

These are the features that usually don’t tell you anything about a person: Height, eye color, hair color…

 

Here is an additional point, and I hope it doesn’t confuse you: Every feature could potentially tell us more about your character. Even body height, for example. Taller people appear more serious and threatening than small people, and they have an easier time being taken seriously than a very small person.

But some features just tell us easier about personality than others. Roll with those details that do naturally tell us more about your character’s personality.

 

3. Character description adjectives: Show, don’t tell (Or: The ‘How’)

How to insert background info unobtrusively“He was an evil magician.”

Are you scared now? Do you feel his evilness?

Not really. That description is too general, too cliché, plus you probably never met an evil magician in your life (tax authorities and automated phone systems don’t count). You have no point of reference.

So in order to make your readers feel your character, you need to get more specific. You have to show them details of what makes that magician evil, not just tell them that he is evil.

But don’t just list adjectives. Instead, list some details that set the mood:

His look was cold and piercing under big black eyebrows that came down like hawks. His face, pale as a corpse, made a sharp contrast to his flowing black robe with the red heptagonal pentagrams. What was dangling around his neck to me looked like a human eyeball with cracked veins.

Let’s take a look at a more modern character, a total nerd (because hey, an evil magician is nothing more than the misunderstood nerd of the fantasy world):

“He was a nerd.”

Do you feel his nerdiness? A bit maybe, depending on your imagination and how many nerds you have met. But if you want to draw your readers into your world more deeply, get specific:

He was wearing thick glasses, a long greasy pony tail, and a Superman T-shirt from the 2006 comics fair.

These are specifics that make your character come alive in the reader’s mind. They are not just meaningless data, but details that tell volumes about who that guy is. You showed instead of telling. Well done!

And if you need an extensive list of features, attributes and adjectives to help you out, this sheet here took me a while to assemble, and it contains 626 ways to describe your character:

 

Character Description List

No spam, ever.

4. Look for the sneaky opportunity (Or: The ‘When’)

How to insert background info unobtrusivelyYou can make your description even more interesting and pleasurable by inserting it at the right moment.

A story keeps us hooked when faster and slower parts take their turns. That’s because fast parts are exciting, and slow parts explain, relax us, and prepare us for the next fast part. A good story is an ebb and flow of rhythm.

Thanks, Alex. And how can we use this academic piece of information…?

By putting our descriptions of characters, of landscapes, of buildings, of backstories in between story parts of love, fight, hope, tears, desire, anger and joy… (you get the picture).

If you must describe several characters, try to find a way to put some EMOTIONS in between the descriptions; for example, some action or dialogue. Somebody doing stuff, or being scared, or something exploding. Or so. Be sneaky.

The more emotional your moment is, the more description you can insert afterwards without your audience getting bored.

Movies use this technique too, you can take a page out of their screenplay.

In the movie “Split” (just saw it, kind of recommend it), the antagonist has a split personality and keeps three girls locked in his basement. In one scene, the camera is tilting very slowly from his feet up to his head, to reveal him wearing women’s clothes and displaying female demeanor. Because the change of personality is so shocking, that slow tilt is perfect. The scene carries enough emotion to get away with a very slow “description.”

 

5. Be a mover and shaker (Or: The ‘With What’)

Think about it: “She flattened her bright orange dress” sounds a lot more interesting than “She wore a bright orange dress.” That’s because the former is more dynamic, it includes a verb of movement.

It also insinuates why that movement is happening, and therefore describes the character better: She is obviously concerned about her appearance. Or maybe she is just nervous. Or bored.

“He scratched his full beard” is lightyears ahead of “He had a full beard.” Again, the first one is dynamic, moving, scenic. This guy might be confused. It’s almost like these five little words tell us a mini-story.

And while you are distracting your reader with the action, you are smuggling in the info that the guy has a full beard. You sneaky, sneaky person you!

6. Bringing it all together (and running out of W-Words)

Great characters, the ones readers love or hate with all of their hearts, go far beyond character descriptions. They are made of personality traits, words, actions that let them step out of the page and straight into our living rooms. But great characters might start with an excellent description.

And how can you get that above-and-beyond luxury description going?

Remember to go a bit farther than adjectives, let us feel your character. You could develop an unusual combination of features, like the punker girl with the neatly polished skateboard, or the Olympic athlete smoking a cigar. If you bring out an unexpected feature, it will grab your readers and make them feel like your characters are made of flesh and blood.

Finally, the most skillful form and “secret sauce” to describe your character is by association. For example:

“Her eyes were a clear blue like the bright sky”

What does this say about your character?

It could stand for her innocence, pureness, or naivete, depending on your story.

Every reader knows what the clear blue sky looks like, and that sky has made them feel light, happy, or free at some moment. So that’s the feeling they might get when they hear about her clear blue eyes.

You could also write “Her eyes were a clear blue as the summer midday sky.” That would make your readers feel these summer feelings we want to evoke even stronger. But on the other hand, we might get into cheesy territory there, and once you get stuck in that cheesecake, it’s a sticky way out. Your call.

Image: rangizzz/Shutterstock

How about “His hair looked scrubby, like impenetrable thicket,” or “Her Cinderella-shoes were balanced on pencil-thin stilettos,” or “The pearls on her necklace seemed to line up in strictly calculated order, like wooden beads on an abacus”?

Can you guess what each character description reveals about the figure? And all while describing their features in an unobtrusive, interesting, poetic way.

Time to get creative!

Character Description Sheet

Here, let me throw that sheet at you one more time like sweet candy!

If you need a bit of support for your character descriptions, or if you just want to equip yourself with an extensive list of features, attributes and adjectives for any case – click here for the free download.

Character Description List

 

No spam, ever.

Writing Prompt for You

Time for you to get into gear. Remember, you will internalize best what you just read, when you put it into practice immediately while it’s still fresh in your memory.

This is your prompt:

You sit at a café and watch a guy opposite of you busily shuffling his papers around while on the phone. He looks like the high-pressure manager or lawyer type.

Describe his looks! Think about which details to describe to convey his personality best. How can you show his character traits through what we see and hear, and not just tell us? Could you even describe who he is by association?

Second option:

You sit at the same café, and you see an old lady sitting alone, munching on her cake. Let us know about her character by describing some details about her. How can you show, not tell, these details best? Can you even find an unexpected trait?

Post your prompt in the comments below!

 

The End

You don’t have to describe what your characters look like. But whenever you do describe your characters, depict details that tell us something about their personalities. Don’t just list adjectives, but get into specifics and show us who they are. Add verbs of movement, and if you can, even associations. Look left and right before you cross the street.

If you do all of this, not only will you be safe, but your characters will mesmerize your readers without end. These characters will be far from cardboard figures; they will feel like flesh and blood! Nothing hooks readers more irresistibly than a fascinating character.

Now let the intriguing characters that lie within you appear in front of your readers’ inner eyes vividly… and you will see how your reader can’t wait to turn the pages…

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36 Comments

  1. Chris

    Often more difficult than the description, is the naming of characters. I’d just posted about this on the ‘closed’ Facebook page for my publisher’s authors.

    Here’s the piece for the benefit of other authors out there. It might prove useful. It might even be entertaining.

    MAKING A NAME FOR YOURSELF.

    Names, where do we get them from? They usually come from our families, both the surnames we get automatically, and the forenames that can be reliant on a number of factors. Sometimes a kid gets lucky, and is given a nice normal everyday name, often from the annals of his or her family’s history. 

    “Oh look… she’s got old uncle Samuel’s eyes. Let’s call her Samantha.” 

    Of course this can backfire. We can all think of a British TV celebrity cook whose father was a famous UK politician. Doubling the ‘l’ and bunging an ‘a’ on the end of her dad’s name could have gone so badly, but our favourite middle aged man’s fantasy kitchen goddess seems to have done OK out of it.

    Sometimes it’s the time of the kid’s birth that lumbers them with a name. How many little girls born in the eighties answer to ‘Kylie’, or from more recent years, ‘Beyonce’? 

    I’m sure there’s already young mum Bieber fans pushing buggies carrying little ‘Justins’ around the supermarket aisles.

    Of course there’s those who simply want to be different, whether famous or not, for being different’s sake. Those who, without a thought about when their offspring goes to school and gets the piss taken out of them, give their little ones names more suited to a pet, a dessert recipe, or an address in downtown New York. 

    ‘Fifi Trixibelle’  or ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ are not what a strapping thirteen year old lad wants to be known as. Even for a girl they’re a bit on the bizarre side. 

    ‘Brooklyn’ doesn’t sound too bad, though like ‘Lourdes’, and ’Chelsea’, it sounds more at home on a girl. 

    I worry that this isn’t setting a trend. Are we going to see classrooms filled with young ‘Shepherds Bushes’ or ‘Neasdens’ in the future? Perhaps for a transatlantic equivalent they’d be ‘Yonkers’, “Bronxes’ or ‘Haight Ashburys’.

    But I’m not talking about our own names, or our children’s names. I’m talking about the names we writers choose for our characters. Where do we get those from? Do they work? Can our readers identify with them? Even, can our readers remember which one is which as they make their way through our novels?

    I was reminded of this when asked to look at a few pages of a submitted manuscript. There were a number of characters introduced within the first couple of pages, of which there were several with the same forename, and others who, because of being related, had the same surname. 

    Now I know that in the pot luck world that we live our real lives in, this kind of thing isn’t uncommon. The crowd I hung around with (and still know most of) had a surfeit of ‘Ians’ at one point. Fortunately, as was the spirit of the time, they all acquired nicknames, and so became ‘Ahmed’, ‘Abdul’, ‘Fang’, ‘Screwy Lewie’, ‘Mr Magoo’ and ‘Ian Mac’.

    However, to help our readers, we need to have ‘real’ names for our characters that define them. During the narrative, and particularly as markers in dialogue, we may call a character by his forename – full or shortened – his surname, his nickname, his rank – as in ‘the Sergeant said’ – or some other descriptive title, such as ‘the older man’ or something similar.

    One of my police characters, Detective Chief Inspector Nick Wilson, is known as ‘Nick’, ‘Wilson’, ‘The Guvnor’, ‘Guv’, ‘the DCI’, ‘The Chief Inspector’, (or just plain ‘Inspector’) throughout periods of dialogue and narrative to avoid too much word repetition. Others have similar selections to identify them.

    Every writer needs to compile – and keep topping up – a pool of names for their characters, but how do we come up with these characters’ names in the first place? Where do we find them? Do they grow on trees for us to just go out and pick?

    Well the answer to that is ‘almost’. In fact trees are as good a place as any to start, as are any other interests that you might have.

    Trees? 

    Well there’s ‘Beech’ and ‘Birch’, ‘Sycamore’, ‘Redwood’, ‘Pine’, ‘Maple’, just for a start.

    I’m into motorcycles, so I’ve gleaned names from that world like ‘James Villers’ – most post war James motorcycles used Villiers engines; ‘Frances (Frankie) Barnett’ (though she prefers ‘B’ as a nickname) – my first bike was a Francis-Barnett, or ‘Fanny B’ as they were known. Another is ‘Lucas Bright’, and I’ve used ‘Plug Champion’, ‘Tillotson’, ’Douglas’, ‘Benelli’, ‘Blackburn’, ’Henderson’, and ‘Ancilotti’ with appropriate forenames.

    From an interest in pioneer aviation comes ‘Saulnier’, ‘Anson’, ‘Guynemer’, ‘Voisin’ and ‘Fonck’. Then there’s towns and counties, with ‘Georgia Didcot’, ‘Noel Caversham’, and ‘Adrian Kent’.

    Most productive of all, there’s that rich vein of people we know or have met that we can mine for names, though when putting these in my pool, I have a certain convention that I follow.
    I’ll always mix the names, rarely using both forename and surname from the same person as a character’s name. Usually I’ll only use full matches in the case of people who were either long deceased friends of my late father, or are just names I’ve heard. There’s no point in upsetting your mates, though there is one who actually asked me to use his name and description as a character. It was on his bucket list.

    For foreign characters, you can Google ‘common names’ for a nationality or culture for ideas, or mix and match the names of well known people from that nation’s history. If something comes into your sights, put it into the pool, even if you’ve no use in your current work in progress. These things will always be useful one day.

    Compile all these names into a list – don’t bother with putting them in any order as they’re as random as the opportunities to use them – and keep adding to it as new ones come to mind. Don’t forget that there are forenames that can be surnames, and vice-versa. Sometimes it’s particularly satisfying to name a nasty piece of work as an old boss or other bad memory from your past.

    Only one thing to beware of, though. When you do choose a name for a really nasty villain, it’s a good idea to Google that name to make sure that he or she isn’t someone really famous within a similar field. It might not look too good if your mad wheelchair bound evil genius was called Stephen Hawking, would it?

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Hey Chris! This made me chuckle a couple of times. Oh yes, the names… it’s incredible how much of a nuisance these one or two words can be… But it’s also fun to get creative there. “Strawberry Shortcake” we can only do to our characters, not to our daughters…

      The possibilities are endless. And luckily, everybody around us is in possession of a name and can inspire us, even the biggest assholes…

  2. Sonia

    All right, a toughie. How do you describe a character from a 1st person or deep 3rd person POV without the old “looking in the mirror, she saw-” trick? Sure, she (my current problem is a she) can play with her blond corkscrew curls, but what about her eyes? Her cute button nose? The description is mildly important because I need it to be known that, while she does not find herself particularly attractive-looking, she’s still pleasant to look at. (Not beautiful. Cute, I guess, or ‘nice’.)

        1. Alex
          Alex

          Yes, good point.

          The important thing is to justify WHY he is comparing himself (insecurity, to motivate himself, jealousy, bc he is wondering,…). So the readers will feel he is comparing himself because he has to, not because the author wants to insert description. Cheers!

  3. Arvilla

    With one practiced move the suit filed his papers into his compact briefcase. The tie tight enough to strangle, picked up the blue in those steely eyes. The suit looked like it was straight off the Gucci walkway.
    The phone rang and two yesses and one no ended the call. His coffee and half eaten sandwich remained behind with the twenty dollar tip along side.

  4. Edmund de Wight

    Really good article, Alex.
    The art of what to describe was something I tried to internalize early in my writing efforts. My English teachers almost ruined me for professional writing by demanding exhaustive use of adverbs, adjectives, and similies.
    I used to think I needed to exhaustively describe but, for example, in my recent novel, my first-person narrator is never described beyond a scar on his wrist (important to his character background) and his eye color because frankly when we look in a mirror do we really catalog our features? I felt a first-person narrative wouldn’t either. But the other characters were different.
    The heroine was described in vivid detail right down to the clothing of the scene to tell you her mental state but details were peppered through the text. A mentor character was only described by a handful of features to let the reader imagine a large, powerful man who was bearded and very Viking-like.
    Now that I read for both pleasure and to study the writer’s style I’ve come to realize that the subtle description is best as it allows my imagination to fill in details which make the story I’m reading uniquely mine.

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Nice examples there, Edmund!

      Make the stories uniquely ours…. after all, that’s why we read, isn’t it? Otherwise we could just watch a movie, which takes a lot less effort and time.

  5. Lola Wilcox

    The only empty seat was at a table for two occupied by a grannie eating a piece of cake covered with ice cream, strawberries and chocolate syrup. She peered at him through her wire glasses as he came up, smiled, and waved her fork at the open chair. She lifted her large purple leather purse into her lap, leaving his space open.
    Sitting down, he opened his briefcase, took out his computer and phone, and put them on top of the briefcase, now adding two inches to the table top. The waitress brought water.
    “Water without ice,” he said, not looking at her. “Coffee with milk, not cream, and a non-buttered croissant.” He picked up his phone as the waitress walked away.
    “I don’t like ice in my water either,” Grannie said, letting her glasses slide down her short nose to see him better. “Ice hurts my teeth. Old teeth, I guess,” and she laughed, showing a mouth of perfect teeth. She had very green eyes; he thought old people’s eyes faded out.
    “If you were a horse I’d buy you,” he said. “You know, age shows in their teeth and yours…’
    “Are artifically implanted…” she finished, adjusting her bright purple scarf around her neck. He found himself reaching to adjust his tie and remembered he’d stopped wearing one last year. He nodded at his phone.
    “My name is Alexa Hogan,” she said and put foward her hand, which had a heavily sculpted ring on every finger. “Painter.”
    “Randall Geoffrey” he said, put his phone down and shook her hand. “Broker.”
    “Thought so. Did you sell XRY this morning?”
    “Yes.” He was startled; he was ahead on that game.
    “Me too. And I bought DRG with my profits.”
    “Why?”
    She told him.

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Hi Lola, this is wonderfully entertaining and lets the characters appear in front of our inner eyes very vividly! Plus it comes with several twists too. A truly odd duo.

      I wish there was a third seat left at the table, so I could sit down with them. Just watch and listen maybe, not even talk…

  6. Lance Haley

    Great observations and ideas, Alex. Thanks again for offering your writing wisdom.

    P.S. being a child of the ’60s and early 70s, whenever I hear the name Uriah Heep, I think of the rock band (I still have several of their albums). Not the Dicken’s character.

    Ironically, it’s the band’s Wikipedia link that first comes up when you Google it; the Dicken’s character Wikipedia page is second. 🙂

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Ha, to tell you the truth, before I wrote this post I too had to think of the band first. I never listened to their music though (at least not knowingly).

      Seems like people think that Uriah Heep rocks more than Charles Dickens… Thanks for being such an avid commenter!

  7. Robin Wirth

    Okay…you twisted my arm…how about this:

    Sometimes when I stopped off at the cafe, it wasn’t even for the food, it was for the entertainment. Today, for example, I spied an old woman at a table across from my own munching on a large, thick slice of chocolate cake.

    The crumbs were dripping off of her face onto the little saucer underneath, some of them invading her half-full cup of coffee with heavy cream. She lifted the cup and took a healthy swig. Brown liquid slopped down from her lips onto her chin, cleaning away some of the darker debris.

    She grabbed up a crumpled paper napkin and swiped at her face, though she barely made a dent in the debris, and seemed uncaring that the mess was all down the front of her shirt. I wondered why nobody had offered the poor woman a bib.

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Our virtual cafe is filling up with old women… way to go, Robin!

      This particular one seems a bit confused/demented. It’s clear now: Cake can, after all, reveal our personalities!

  8. Lance Haley

    I just emailed my five best friends from junior high and high school; we are still great friends after all these many decades. I sent them a link to Uriah Heep’s “Demons and Wizards” album on Youtube. We used to drive around in my Camaro race car and listen to it on an 8-track tape player the summer of 1972. Bet most of your followers have no idea what the hell I am talking about. “What’s an 8-track tape player?!?”

    It was one of the many obscure rock masterpieces that came out of the 60s and 70s, containing their three greatest hits: The Wizard, Easy Livin’, and Paradise. I still have my copy of the album downstairs in one of my many crates full of records. The album production and recording quality were extraordinary. The album cover art was worth the price of the record.

    A secret little gem. Unlike Dicken’s universally renowned publication.

    Thanks for prompting awesome memories from my adolescence, Alex. On occasion, writing advice comes with unexpected ancillary benefits.

  9. Chris

    Describing the characters themselves is only a part of conveying an image of them to the reader (both physical and otherwise). How they’re seen by others can say a lot.

    The following is the opening to my ‘Lena’s Friends’ novel ‘Sharknose’ (lrd.to/sharknose). It introduces Lena, along with another character who is central to the plot (as well as two others: one important, the other, never to appear again). It does this by not only describing the way they look, but by the reactions of others to them, as well as by their own interactions with each other,
    . . . . . . . . .

    Bristol Airport – England.

    “Sex,” the young man thought to himself as he saw her, “Pure unadulterated sex.” He watched her for a moment, “No… there was something else there too… Class… Yes, that’s what it was… She was classy… very classy.” The woman in green may have been older than him by a few years, but it was undeniable.

    The returning student managed to drag his eyes away, muttering under his breath, as he bent to pick up his rucksack.

    “Yeah… I would… like… I definitely would.” He smiled to himself as he stood back up, then after a nod from the man on the desk, he put his passport away and walked out of the baggage hall to where he could see his own teenage girlfriend waiting for him, waving her hand excitedly. He’d better get a move on.

    He knew that her father would be waiting in the car and he always complained that they charged him a quid to even pull into the pick-up and drop off area, here at the terminal. It used to be free for the first twenty minutes.

    He kissed the girl, her soft young body against his felt good, as they embraced briefly before walking towards the exit. The woman passenger at arrivals had been banished to the deeper reaches of his fertile young imagination.

    Lena Fox reached forward, her beautifully cut emerald green dress showing her exquisite figure to its best advantage without riding up, stretching its seams, or forming unattractive crease lines across its soft silk material. The ability to raise a man’s blood pressure without being blatant about it came completely naturally to her. This striking looking redhead, who was in fact in her early thirties but could easily pass as younger, was certainly able to turn heads as she bent over to retrieve her case from the baggage carousel at Bristol’s International Airport.

    Her travelling companion chided her, reminding her that in the absence of a porter it was his job to carry the luggage, but as she pointed out to him with a grin, his own bag was just coming through and he’d better grab it quickly, or he’d have to chase after it.

    He put an arm around her and squeezed gently as they walked across arrivals to the ‘nothing to declare’ channel, recently vacated by Lena’s young admirer. The man was revelling in the looks of barely disguised envy that he was getting from the other male passengers. He knew it wasn’t his expensively tailored lightweight Italian summer suit that had attracted their attention.

    Whether they thought that she was his wife, his girlfriend, or his secretary mattered little. There was no clear indication of their relationship. The fact that she was evidently close to this older man she accompanied, yet it was obvious that she wasn’t his daughter, would be more than enough to generate envy in any red blooded heterosexual male.

    Just being seen with a woman like her was enough do any man’s credibility, and undoubtedly his ego, no end of good.

    Once clear of Customs, they walked over to the coffee stand and ordered overpriced lattes. The drinks bore little resemblance to the morning coffees that they’d been drinking in Italy over the past few days.

    The young barista’s friendly reaction to the woman’s smile, rather than the more usual sullen teenage scowl in response to the attitudes of most customers, said a lot about how passengers normally tended to treat the airport’s catering staff.

    Sitting at a table drinking coffee and dunking croissants, they idly watched the other arrivals passing through.

    The man took his phone from his jacket pocket to call his driver. Their flight had arrived a little early so he was prepared for a wait, but Gareth had anticipated the likelihood and had already been parked up, reading his newspaper in a lay-by on the nearby A38.

    He simply needed to drive into the airport and pull up at the short term parking area outside the arrivals building, before coming inside to carry any bags that his employer and his companion might have.

  10. Chris

    Sorry, Alex, if I appear to be hogging this a little.

    Another way to describe a character’s qualities and potential to the reader is by referring to their past.

    I rarely resort to flashbacks or time shifts, but in the following scene I did so, as it tells the reader far more about the kind of person the character is. By referring to her actions (and the training she must have had) it also shows what she might be capable of far better than mere ‘telling’ can.

    It opens in the book’s ‘present’, with the flashback appearing, before the narrative returns to the present day.
    . . . . . . .

    From: lrd.to/coincidences

    Normandy.

    The old woman knelt in front of the small memorial to one side of La Place de l’Église. She muttered quietly to herself, appearing to be oblivious to the passing traffic in this busy Normandy village square. She seemed to be unaffected by the petrol and diesel fumes and oily smoke from the morning’s rush of cars, vans, and mopeds, as they went about their business or madly careered off to either employment or education.

    She took a single lily from her bag. It looked no different to any others that might be seen growing locally, but it was a Welsh lily. She’d carefully wrapped the bloom to protect it, during its journey with her from her garden in Cardiff. Taking a small brass vase, appropriately made out of a second world war shell case, she filled it with Welsh spring water from a bottle before placing the flower into it. She stood the vase and lily carefully on the ledge above the memorial’s plate that bore the name of ‘Thiérry le Vaillant’. Bending forward, she tenderly kissed the bronze plaque, then spoke very quietly as if nobody else was meant to hear,

    “Peace to you, my dearest Thiérry… never was a man’s name more fitting… You saved my life, I’m only sorry that I couldn’t have returned the favour, I loved you so much… Au reviour Thiérry… Je t’aime, mon cœur, je t’aime.”

    French resistance fighter, Thierry Le Vaillant, had been executed by the Germans in nineteen forty four after being unsuccessfully interrogated. He’d been captured after a resistance operation to mine the tracks to destroy a military train. It was said that his last words had been,

    “Au reviour Lilliane, ma chérie… Je t’aime… Vive La France!” They’d been shouted out loudly just a split second before the firing squad’s shots rang out and were heard clearly from outside the walled yard of the Gestapo headquarters. This may be nothing more than local legend, but the village had erected a monument to their wartime resistance hero for his courage before his capture, and his silence during it.
    * * *

    It had been one of the few fine moonlit nights before the weather had turned nasty prior to D day. A young Welsh woman, really little more than a girl, who had been living as a local French villager was hiding behind a tree holding a gun. A voice behind her broke the silence.

    “Jetez l’arme!” It was spoken in poorly pronounced French with a heavy, gutteral, German accent, and was followed by, “And turn around… slowly.” Again, it was with a German accent, but this time it was spoken in English.

    The girl dropped her gun and almost started to turn, before realising that the English was being used to try to trap any unwary British agent. She stood motionless, her heart beating like a steam hammer.

    “Tournez!… Maintenant!… Immédiatement!” His French pronunciation was still appalling but she turned around to face a soldier, wearing feldwebel tabs on his field grey uniform, and pointing a machine gun at her.

    She sensed, rather than actually saw, a movement in the darkness behind the man and to this day will swear that, in the seemingly instant moment in time between the sound of a shot and her being splattered with blood as the man’s face appeared to explode outwards, she saw a look of surprise in his expression.

    His gun loosed off a short burst of fire as he crumpled. Fortunately for her, the recoil caused it to fire upwards so the worst that she received was a torn sleeve to her jacket, and a very small graze to her upper arm that nonetheless hurt like hell. Thiérry shouted at her,

    “Allez!… Vite!…” She needed no more encouragement than that. They both ran blindly through the woods, away from the village, but in different directions as they tried to make good their escape.

    They could hear the sound of shots and confused shouting in French and German behind them, as their comrades fled as best they could from the German patrol that had stumbled upon them. It was every man for himself.

    The following day, after laying low in a farm building overnight and through a good part of the day, the girl stole some clean clothes from a washing line, then buried her own blood stained clothing and made her way carefully back to her home.

    Thiérry Le Vaillant wasn’t so lucky. He was picked up by a patrol the following morning after being wounded during an exchange of fire as he tried to get away.
    * * *

    The old woman stood up. She saluted the memorial, then crossed the traffic to the café. Her taxi driver was waiting there, seated at an outside table watching her as he drank his coffee.
    They returned to his cab for the journey back to the railway station where she would catch the local train to take her back to rendezvous with the rest of her coach party. The taxi driver asked her, in poor English, if the man had been family. She answered him in perfect, if dated, French that they’d been comrades in arms.

    Upon arrival at the station the driver refused to take her money, insisting that he owed her a debt of gratitude as his grandfather had been with Cavaillès and the Libération-Nord during the occupation. He’d been assisted by agents from Britain and had himself survived the war.

    She thanked the man, then air kissed his cheeks in the French manner before running, surprisingly nimbly for someone of her age, into the station to catch the approaching train. It would be carrying her over the same section of track that she and her French comrades from La Résistance had been attempting to blow up all those long years ago when this part of France had been very different.
    * * *

    (Yes, I know the ‘steam hammer’ comparison is a cliché… but sometimes clichés become clichés because they really do make a point better than anything else – That’s my excuse, anyway.)

  11. Lance Haley

    My brother and I have over 3000 record albums, and that doesn’t include 45 rpm records, cassette tapes, cds, and mp3s. Dating back from the 1960s to the present. Our music catalog is mind-boggling.

    He has been in the music business since back in the 70s. Suffice it to say, we are both walking music encyclopedias. And could turn you on to hundreds of great bands, as well as a wide spectrum of the music world, the likes of which you have never heard.

    Hope you appreciated their sound, even if it’s not your cup of tea. There are so many obscure bands from the 60s and 70s that young people are finally discovering. It was the Golden Age of rock music.

  12. Lance Haley

    Alex –

    Alex, you just put the biggest grin on my face! So glad I could turn you on to them. Definitely their greatest hit by far and away. Such a beautiful and magical song. Great tribute to the wisdom of Dickens…he must be smiling in his grave right now.

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