Stop Using Hair to Describe Characters

A look at why you should use more than hair to describe characters and what to do instead.

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Oftentimes in writing, we’re faced with a situation where we need to give a character a defining or identifying feature. These characters tend to be not important enough for a name, as they may only be in one scene, so we need an easy and effective way to differentiate them from the others on the page. There are literally hundreds of ways that you can do this but a very common way in which this is done is to describe their hair.

Please stop doing this.

Yes, lots of people have hair but it’s incredibly lazy and unimaginative to rely solely on that to describe your characters. Using hair for the odd person every now and again isn’t a problem, but it does become one when you only use hair to describe your characters.

A young woman with a stylish blonde bob is kneeling on the floor, wailing as she cradles a little girl with blonde curls stuck to her forehead.

The Paramedic’s Daughter by Tara Lyons

This example shows why it’s an issue: it tells us absolutely nothing about the characters. With the types of characters that these descriptions are often used for you don’t need to give much information about them—they are usually only around for a scene—but a little bit of character helps bring them to life on the page. A stylish blonde bob does not do this. The insinuation that the little girl is the woman’s daughter—the wailing, the blonde hair again—is also not particularly impactful. Describing the woman as having perfect hair and a tailored coat whilst kneeling in the rubbish-filled gutter would show us at least that she was either out-of-place or did not care for her place in society in that moment; the little girl wearing a matching coat, her head lulling to the side, would give us more impact.

So, what can you use to describe these people? Anything and everything. The woman with the mismatched socks. The man with the fake watch. The chubby child. The man with the beard. The woman with the beard.

These things say something about them as people; not a massive amount, but enough so that the reader can form some kind of picture of them rather than them simply being blonde. So, the next time you feel the need to describe someone simply by their hair, ask yourself if it’s saying anything. If it isn’t, then why are you writing it, and shouldn’t you write something else in its place?

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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