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Do you know a good way to describe a female character's figure?

I'm writing a fairly serious story, but the only way I know how to describe this is from comedy stories, where they work out some joke that gets the point across.

Constable Angua had mastered saluting first go. She wouldn’t have a full uniform yet, not until someone had taken a, well, let’s face it, a breastplate along to old Remitt the armourer and told him to beat it out really well here and here, and no helmet in the world would cover all that mass of ash-blond hair but, it occurred to Carrot, Constable Angua wouldn’t need any of that stuff really. People would be queuing up to get arrested.

Terry Pratchet, Men at Arms

But I'm not sure how I should describe my characters in a serious context, as I mostly read comedy books. I want her to feel sexy, but I don't want to have to something like the cliche of her looking into a mirror and describing herself. More confusing, is I'm writing from a guy's perspective, so I don't know how to have him notice without him seeming bad.

Could you please give me some advice?

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    How does the male PoV see her? That will be your key. Is he attracted to her? Or does he find her repulsive for some reason? Does he perhaps love someone else, and therefore simply notices her and moves on? – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Feb 2 '18 at 15:40
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    I would veer away from 'attracted to body/wealth/power.' That will feel exploitative, not sexy. He should be attracted to her because of her individuality, because of what she brings out in him. He wants to be more (attribute) when he is with her. – DPT Feb 2 '18 at 16:25
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    How do you describe how your male characters look? The ones who are not objects of attraction/lust for your MC? Do that. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Feb 2 '18 at 17:33
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    "I'm writing a fairly serious story" "I mostly read comedy books" - here's your problem. Try to read more books that are similar to what you write, and you'll know how to handle this and many other situations. Otherwise you may, despite all your intentions, end up writing a comedy book. – Alexander Feb 2 '18 at 18:38
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    @SethWhite Even if your assertion is true in real life (and I don't agree that it is), one advantage of fiction is that there can be characters that are better than real people in ways that we wish we could be better, but can't. So if you want to make a straight male character seem really good, he will not care about her looks to the extent that a real straight man could never achieve, and he'll respect her for her actions in a way that a real straight man hardly ever would. – Todd Wilcox Feb 2 '18 at 20:05
42

Don't describe the character's body. Let the action and the other characters do it for you.

"Have you met Lydia yet?"

"No, why?"

John and Andy exchanged a knowing look. "Let me just say that once you do, you'll forget all about what's-her-name".

Later

Without any apparent shame, John and Andy leered at Lydia as she stormed off.

"Man! Did you see that?" Andy whispered as soon as Lydia was out of earshot. "That's a body that just won't quit!" John laughed and he and Andy high-fived.

"Sure, I guess," mumbled Brian. He shifted is feet and looked down. They were wrong, of course. Not about Lydia's body, but about it distracting him from his memories of Samatha.

One advantage to letting your characters show the audience another character's attractiveness is you learn something about all the characters, not just the attractive one.

Another advantage is that we all may have different visions of what the most beautiful woman in the world looks like. If you write, "She was the most beautiful woman in the world," it's pretty weak and we just read the words and move on. If you actually describe in literal detail, some readers will find the picture formed in their minds to be of someone they don't find particularly attractive. If you write,

Helen's beauty was spoken of by travelers and tradesmen all over the known world. Duels to the death were fought between would-be suitors almost every week. Princes, Emirs, and Sultans from the richest kingdoms brought huge dowries to Helen's father to try to sway him into forcing her to marry. But as beautiful as men all over the world knew her to be, to her father she was precious beyond anything, and he would not force her to marry against her wishes for any amount of gold.

Then the readers will imagine their own idea of what the most beautiful woman in the world looks like, and she will be that beautiful for each reader. It's really the only way to get a reader to really feel the beauty - they have to complete the picture in their minds.

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    +1 for really driving home the point about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Excellent advice. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Feb 2 '18 at 21:32
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Read non-comedy books. Learn from other authors how to handle those things. (This is how writers learn how to write.)

Also, remember that you don't need to describe how your characters look unless it's relevant to the story. In my own reading it's rare to see a character's physical bodies described.

  • What books would you recommend I read, which demonstrate this? Do you have some Romance books in mind, maybe? I haven't read many, a bit embarrassed to. – user29283 Feb 2 '18 at 17:09
  • No, just read whatever you like to read. The more you read, the more you'll learn to do it with a writer's eye, recognizing techniques that other authors use. (I'd only suggest you read romance if you're writing romance.) – Ken Mohnkern Feb 2 '18 at 17:54
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    @user29283 While the first paragraph is useful advice, I think it's the second paragraph which is the one that's most immediately relevant to your situation. Because, let's face it, the only reason Pratchet needed that paragraph was comedy. If he wasn't attempting to get some laughs out of the concept of a woman guard, he wouldn't need that description at all. The only non-comedy-relevant portion of that paragraph is "Carrot found her attractive", which can be (and was) better covered elsewhere in a "show, don't tell" fashion. – R.M. Feb 2 '18 at 19:47
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Physical measurements seldom make any difference to the plot, and (IMO) it is an amateur mistake to imagine any character, male or female, with too specific a set of measurements.

Breast size, hip size, waist size, shoe size, are all far too specific, and if you think about it, this is the telling of facts, not showing the consequences of those facts, which is what you really want to do.

In rare circumstances, it might make a difference to the plot if somebody is extremely tall or short or obese, or an amputee or physically disabled or deformed, in which case such characteristics must be described. But whether a woman is small breasted, average, or large breasted would require a lot of contrivance to make this significant to the plot. Often, the normality or abnormality of height ratios may be useful clues, a few inches shorter, or taller, or if people are the same height, or if friends have interchangeable clothing (or not).

Show, don't tell. Show the consequences of beauty, not the clinical description of it. Here is a story, not yours, but one I made up here as an illustration:

Angela. For Billy, a name tinged with awe, the perfect name for the most perfectly proportioned woman he had ever seen. Every curve, from brow to ankle, an exact match to his dream desire. Her every expression felt like it tugged at another string in his heart. Every time he saw her, it punched the mute button on his thoughts, any words to say flew from his mind and he could only watch her, rapt and speechless. How could every man in the bar not feel the same?
Sooner or later they would, he thought, and if he didn't find his tongue soon, he'd regret his cowardice for the rest of his life.
It took him a week to work up the courage to say hello. But he wasn't new to this game.
It just takes practice, son, practice, and keep it witty. If you ain't handsome, you best be funny.
He practiced. At night instead of watching the games, at work instead of working, with his eyes closed so he could see her face, burned into his memory as if it had been there all his life. And thirty hours of rehearsal paid off. She laughed at his jokes. She knew his name. She touched his shoulder, and Billy was in love.

2

Three things:

  1. Let the viewpoint character look at her.

    Get into the guys mind and describe how he looks at her and what he thinks and feels about what he sees. How you do that will depend on what kind of person he is, so his perception of her is both a description of her and him.

  2. Sometimes telling is better than showing.

    If you give a detailed description of the woman's physique, that is both detrimental to the reader's ability to identify with your hero and cumbersome to read.

    The more detailed a description is, the more effort it takes the reader to create a mental picture of the object. Try to describe someone sitting at a table without using the word table, and then compare that to "he sat at the table", to understand what I mean. If you can, rely on the reader's knowledge of the world as much as you can.

    Also, if you describe the woman in detail, your readers might not think her sexy. Different men (and women) find different looks attractive, and any specific woman will appear desirable only to a part of your readership. To give all readers a sexy woman, do not describe her at all. Instead tell that she is sexy and allow each reader to fill the empty space of the woman's looks with what they themselves find sexy, thus allowing them to better inhabit your narrative.

  3. Number two were two things: effortlessness of reading and facilitation of identification.

1

You don't have to describe her whole figure, sometimes describing just the face and a bit of her style works well.

Focus on her facial features, was she chubby or skinny? How did her jaw line look? Did she have makeup on? If so, how much did she put on and if it looks good or not. What kind of person did she look like? How did she dress herself? Does your protagonist have feelings for this woman? These are questions to consider while writing.

Here is an example paragraph:

"Her skin was clean and her blissful blue eyes reflected off of the light above us. Her lips looked like the leaves of a fully bloomed cherry blossom tree; her smile brought the satisfying image of maple syrup perfectly being poured on freshly baked pancakes.."

Try using figures of speech to make the description interesting.

I hope this helped, good luck with your writing!

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