Physical description in blocks of text, watch those bosoms…

Judy noticed the woman was tall, blond, and had a healthy bosom. She wore expensive jewelry as though she’d been born in it. Her nails were manicured to fine points and sported blood-red polish. The woman’s clothing was woven from the finest linens and silk that money could buy. Her black sweater offset the woman’s straight teeth.

I admit to a bias against physical descriptions that take up blocks of text like this. It derails the story. Here you have your reader’s mouth watering with action, and SCREEEEECH … let’s take a brief time out while we get a description of what the character looks like.

To me, these text blocks show a lack of agility and imagination because they’re all tell and no show. It’s like a menu, dry and flat. Action – Obligatory Description of one character – Action – Obligatory Description of next character. Ka-thunk ka-thunk.

It’s easier on the eye when writers weave in a few descriptions while keeping the story where it belongs – firmly entrenched in the action. Descriptions, in general, are a personal choice. Some authors prefer to leave their characters features up their readers’ imaginations. Others want to fill in every nitty gritty detail. I’m ok either way; but I do not like seeing text blocks. Show your writing chops by adding bits of description here and there.

Judy walked over to the snoring woman laying face down in the gutter and pulled the near-empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s from her jeweled-encrusted fingers. She shielded the woman’s body from the water that splashed up from a passing car. Could this be the senator’s missing wife? I’m betting someone will pitch a fit when they see mud and urine stains covering her Donna Karan slacks and sweater. She tenderly brushed the thick, blond hair from the woman’s face and noticed a finely manicured nail indelicately inserted in her nose. “Helloooo,” Judy whispered into a diamond-studded ear. “Anyone home?”

Ok, Hemingway it ain’t. But you see that it’s possible to give full descriptions while keeping the action going. Descriptions are great because they give us a frame of reference. In this case, it gives us a visual of the woman’s stature and, well, lack thereof.

This is something I see a lot in submissions, and my reaction is always the same; ka-thunk.

And while I’m bleating on about descriptions, be careful these descriptions make sense. For instance, in the example I used, I listed “a healthy bosom.” First off, who uses that term anymore? Sounds like something my grannie would have said right before she clucked her tongue. Yet I just read one today – in the book of a very well-pubbed author. For shame. Made me go “eww.”

Keep in mind that if you have a character observing another character, as I do above, ask yourself whether that observation makes sense. I mean, does it make sense to have Judy, a woman, take notice of this woman’s “healthy bosom”? Not unless she’s gay or it’s a foreshadowing that those bosoms are going to see some action fairly soon.

I recommend that you avoid the text block description. It’s clunky and almost acts like a quickie commercial break. If you make me take a commercial break too many times, I’ll order the beagle to fire up the blender.

3 Responses to Physical description in blocks of text, watch those bosoms…

  1. Stephe says:

    I have a critique-mate who does this, insists on doing this despite advice to the contrary, and it drives me insaaaaaaaaaaaaane.

    Argh. What is the deal?

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    Perhaps they need to become more experienced at writing?

  3. lynnpricewrites says:

    Perhaps they need to become more experienced at writing?

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