Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick Take: beware of thumbnail sketches

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 19•14

Avoid thumbnail sketches  or police blotter descriptions  whenever a new character steps into your book. (The suspect was a Latino male, 6 feet, medium build, scar on left cheek, tattoo of snake on right shoulder,  wearing black jacket, jeans and sneakers)This technique tends to feel contrived especially if used too often. A character doesn’t need to be described all at once, you can layer his or her appearance into the story in increments.  Here’s another example of piling it on: Allison, a 30-something,  5 foot 8 redhead, with heavily-mascaraed blue eyes and legs for days strolled into the restaurant her green eyes flashing. Her hair was shoulder-length, her figure striking, her fingernails painted a garish purple. She wore what looked like a real mink jacket over a tight, black dress and teetered on dangerously high heels. This is also direct characterization.

drag queen Pretend that you’re walking into a room and seeing your character for the first time. What are your first impressions?  Can you feel the force of his or her personality? Does he or she remind you of  a celebrity? Someone you know? It’s not all about the specifics of appearances—some people arrive on the scene full of confidence, some are hesitant or nervous. Why? Some people stand erect, some slouch. Some have lovely voice qualities, some people bray. Some wear too much cologne, some smell of fresh air or machine oil.  Use clothes, setting, and possessions, including large possessions such as cars to reveal characters.


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  1. You definitely have a knack for clarity. Another keeper.

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