Rea Lities of Individual Lives

Physical details of a character are best doled out one or two elements at a time—and, if possible, where logic dictates they should appear. It's always a good idea to save the mention of hair color, for example, until a sensible place:

His long, yellow mane streamed out behind his golf cap in the wind that picked up as they approached the ninth hole____

The sun glinted from her so-perfect teeth as she took off her glasses and began to speak to the crowd____

Tripping on the rug, he complained to no one in particular that these damned size fourteens have given me problems since I was fourteen myself____

As you write about real people, consider including elements that describe them through use of gestures. If a person characteristically poses with an elbow resting on the mantle and holds a martini in a certain way, mention it—but only if it seems truly habitual. There's not much sense in wasting precious words on poses that are coincidental and that imply too much by their mention.

Other kinds of gestures can also be used to help create an image for the reader, provided they seem habitual. Some people have minor mannerisms that may delight (or bug) people around them: "He lets his cigar ashes drop wherever gravity dictates." In one case, this might mean that the person is deliberately insensitive; in another case, the same mannerism may be simply the behavior of a theoretical physicist whose mind is not on his ashes—or even on gravity. With the gradual accumulation of other characteristic behaviors the writer includes, the reader begins to form an understanding of what makes that physicist tick.

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