View Full Version : Other ways to describe...

02-17-2007, 12:09 AM
So, I'm having issues with some descriptions in my WIP (and in general) It seems like there are only so many ways to describe certain things.

One of these things is skin color... First of all, I hate describing it because I always end up feeling like I'm going to come off racist or whatever. But I think it is important to describe character appearances at least a bit, and skin color is a big factor in a person's appearance, and gives some clue into their ethnic background, which is background for the character.

So... for African-Americans... the more common description that I've seen is "cocoa skin" or "ashy" (which I find mildly offensive) Any other suggestions?

Another description that's eating my brain is kissing. There are only so ways to describe two characters kissing without sounding like a cheesy romance novel. There's pressing your lips together (borderline cheesy), he brushed his lips against hers, she gave him a light peck on the cheek...

So, I would love to see how other people describe these things (and anything else that comes up a lot) Feel free to specify if the descriptions your sharing are merely for inspiration and not for re-use.

02-17-2007, 03:34 AM
Just my opinion, but on the race thing: I say "black" -- a black man or woman. Action and dialogue help the reader "visualize" a character better than any skin color comparison.

As for kissing, why not call it what it is unless it's something more? Make the important ones count and contrast them with the everdayness of a regular kiss. Sometimes I just kiss my husband, and other times we have tongue twisting mouth mashings.

02-17-2007, 03:48 AM
I say "black" or I dont' mention it. I've had quite a lot of black characters that, unless you're consciously looking for it, you won't notice they're black. (If you ARE consciously looking for it, you'll notice.)

As for kissing, I'd just say "kissing." Which may be plain, but it works for me. "Brushed his lips against hers" isn't too bad either.

02-17-2007, 04:43 AM
As far as character description, I don't even do it unless I can do it in such a way that adds to the story or character development (which, really is just adding to the story). Like if I'm telling a story about a really shy guy who meets a friend, and when my character is out with this friend, he finds confidence to do things he otherwise wouldn't--like taunting some punk kids on the corner--it's probably important to the story to mention that the friend is a 6'7 black man with a prison tattoo on his face. But if it's two people who are friends from work, and one leans on the other for support, I'm more interested in who they are on the inside than the outside.

Unless you're writing romance or YA-ish chick lit, why would you need to describe kissing? I'd rather know what's going on in a character's head than read a play-by-play of their tonsil hockey.

02-17-2007, 05:50 AM
Different shades of black (skin) can indicate various things: if the person is mulatto, an African national, intermixed with hispanic heritage, etc.

I have heard that some people feel that if black skin is lighter that there is a preferential treatment by whites and even other blacks. I've heard of blacks being so dark in reference to being African.

Oftentimes, when a person is of a particular ethnic background that would not usually have blue or green eyes that is brought up and contrasted with the ethnicicity of the person.

Sometimes, if a person who is non-caucasion is not recognized to be black or of some other ethnic background, that is brought to attention with the ensuing issues that could be possible.

I think that race/skin color can be significant depending on the context. There are some people who personally identify with a particular ethnic group and yet, they look polar opposite to that particular group. I have friends that are Irish/Italian/Syrian and they are white as snow with red hair and blue eyes.

As for kissing, again, depends on the storyline and why a kiss would need to be emphasized as to how you would describe the actual kiss. If there are masked feelings, or a forbidden relationship, an impulsive discovery, a message, a final farewell, etc. A kiss is not always 'just a kiss'. There's superficial pecks, lingering lips, intensely euphoric, cold, etc. Again, depends on storyline and character development.

02-17-2007, 08:06 AM
I used "skin dark as charcoal" to describe one of my characters.

A kiss is just a kiss, unless there's something very special about it: "her tongue wrestling mine." ;) "Her lips felt soft on mine." "I tasted onion soup and chili on her lips." ;)

02-18-2007, 05:07 AM
As a writer of "Cheesey Romances", I find myself doing a lot of descriptions.

For skin color, I've used: 'smooth flesh the color of sunlight shining through dark honey'.

if I'm describing an African or African-American person, I will usually either refer to their ethnicity directly in the description, or use colors like: cafe-au-lait, rich mocha, etc.

As for 'ashy' being a derogatory term, it can be used to describe any race: we use it in medical descriptions when someone is pale, as in their flesh, no matter what color, has no pinkish undertone usually associated with health. I think it can also mean, for dark-skinned people, their skin getting really dry and having what looks like a layer of 'ash' on the skin. I've seen it in patients. When you moisten the skin, the natural brown comes out again.

As for kissing, well, the cheesy romance says close your eyes, remember what it feels like and go for it.

02-19-2007, 02:48 AM
Excellent input everyone.

And Jodi-cheers to you for writing the cheesy romances as I call them! Believe me, I didn't mean that as a slight in the least. But I think it is definitely a sort of sub-genre, in some ways :)

As for the descriptions, it's good to have some ideas, and I think sometimes it is good to just be straightforward. It's good to know I have back-up on that one!

02-19-2007, 03:11 AM
Lady Marmalade has skin the color of cafe au lait. Or so I hear.

02-19-2007, 03:53 AM
Skin color: ”sun-kissed a golden brown” - “toffee colored skin”
Kiss: “My tongue read his mouth like brail” - “felt the weight of the world crumble from his warmth and moistness.”

02-19-2007, 04:10 AM
So many ways of describing kissing, I have a field day! A lot of the above descriptions are good. Here are mine:"Nibbled at the lower lip. Just a little." "Softly pressed her lips to his, lightly. He held her closer." Etc. Have fun with it!

As for skin color, one time I was reading a picture book to my little niece about Martin Luther King Jr. I forget what his actual words were, but something about one day all little black boys and girls will be free. She looked at her hands and said, "I'm not really black, I'm more medium brown." That's when I realized. We can't just compartmentalize that an African will be black, an Italian will be olive, a scandinavian will be white. There are so many shades in between. And blended families. Descriptions of the skin color are far better.

02-19-2007, 09:39 PM
That reminds me of a British music hall act, about a hundred years ago, when it was common for white performers to "black up" to go on stage. This chap realised that black people weren't all boot-blacking black - and called himself "The Chocolate Coloured Coon".

02-20-2007, 01:14 AM
That's when I realized. We can't just compartmentalize that an African will be black, an Italian will be olive, a scandinavian will be white. There are so many shades in between. And blended families. Descriptions of the skin color are far better.

amen to there being many many different shades of skin color! Particularly now, as there are many many biracial couples and children.

I think I'll spend some time just observing all of the people I encounter in a day and think of ways to describe their looks in general. I know a lot of people dislike visual descriptions of characters, but since I'm such a visual person, I like to read descriptions. it's writing them that's the problem!