1 Vunris

Write Essay Describing Someones Eyes

You have a potentially rich world of non-visual sensations with which to play, and unique situations to explore! I actually envy you the potentially-rich experience of writing this!

You have other senses--- sound or hearing; smell; feel or textural variations (presuming your character[s] can or will touch each other, or those with whom they'll interact); along with those very astute suggestions already provided!

I've an Israeli friend who was blinded in a terrorist bombing in the mid-1970s. He had participated in the martial art called Krav Maga. After becoming able to get about, again, he worked with his instructor and several students to perfect a "Blackout Krav Maga:"

It's amazing how one can zero in on others without needing sight--- people make noise all the time, whether simply the sound of the rush of air as they breathe (stronger if winded or frightened!) plus coughs, wheezes, whistling from breathing through a deviated septum; along with the very common "creaking" of knees and "cracking" of joints not to mention the sounds of footsteps (many people drag their feet; slap down their toes when stepping; "kick" the floor with their heels; plus shoes [even 100% synthetics!] will creak, squeak, crack, pop, "Click" because of hard-plastic or metal heel-pieces, and more)

Actually, some people even carry on a continual whispered monologue! No, they're not barmy; this is their way of "thinking." Only instead of it being a nonverbal process, they'd begun to "articulate their thoughts!" (This is rare, but could be made into a unique character identified as "Whispering Gael" or the like!)

In addition, what people wear as well as carry are also abundant sources of sounds. Cordoroy, silk, and other fabrics make noise when surfaces rub together; leather and webbing accessories will almost always creak as one moves---sword baldrics or equipment belts; burden straps; shoulder-slings, and the like. Also, the impacts of twigs (or, underground, roots) will make metallic noises when striking against helmets, plate-armour, shields, and such-like as the wearer moves along.

Plus, "personal items" can always make noise: Coins jingle in pouch or pocket; things analogous to ID tags can make noise--- necklace medallions, metallic charms, and other devices. Keys are also classic noisemakers--- the Seneshal or Bursar; a head servant like the more-contemporary butler, will carry keys as a "badge of office," and this can be seen by your character(s) as somebody like "'Mister Clink-clank,' the one who can get to the best wine and cheese!" (They may even silently shadow him, hoping to filch bites or sups of cheese or wine from the hoard!)

Then, there are the thousands and thousands of different smells! This is something I've personally noticed: Different ethnic groups prefer to use different spices, and differently prepare often vastly-different types of foods, which in turn almost always makes "native" body-odours very different.

In Victorian times, people simply assumed "different Races smelled differently;" well, people actually did--- but it was NOT because of genetics! It was simply "cultural," in the end.

People who eat large amounts of red meat will have very different "aromas" from fish-eaters, and this differs from those who, by reason of economics or perhaps religious proscription, eat mainly/only vegetables and grains.

Then, consider different occupations: In a "Middle Ages" setting, soldiers would be enveloped in the combined odours of old spilt blood and body-fluids, stale sweat, musty & moldy leather, and the inevitable "rancid old oil smell" from cheap oil used for leather-dressing and weapons-rustproofing.

There are also many other examples: Men who care for horses would smell like strong sweat, and the stables; blacksmiths will have a strong odour of coal- or charcoal-smoke, a strong aroma of sweat; and the "hot metal smell" that's peculiar to smiths. Butchers would wear the aromas of an abattoir or slaughterhouse, being the strong smells of old blood, offal, and incipient decay. Cooks, of course, would be enveloped in food- and spice-smells. Turgeons or doctors (going from historical human prototypes) would stink of old pus and blood, herbal concoctions, smokes of herbs and grasses, [and despair.]

Barkeeps would smell strongly of food, drink, smoke, and sweat. Barmaids (possibly prostitutes too) would smell of many liquors and beers, as well as many men; plus, probably, inexpensive perfume-herbs such as lavender and sweet-grass. Noble folk would be the ones heavily anointed with "expensive" floral scents such as rose-water or orange-blossom-water, as well as extracts of lavender, and other sweet-smelling herbs to cover their smells of sweat. Probably, the "lordly types" would have stronger sweat-smells because of frequent sword-practice, and an undertone of sword-belt and blade-oil aroma. In the Middle Ages, many if not most "Nobs" and knights took part in daily sword-practice.

The nobility may practice the Greco-Roman habit of "oiling" the body with olive-oil, followed by using a bronze or horn "stigil" to scrape off dirt, sweat, and excess oil--- this would put an olive-oil odour on these worthies.

Open your mind to think deeply, and you will realize that every profession or way of life found in the Middle Ages will have almost-unique "professional aromas!"

Combining some of the examples of "non-visual identification" in a sort of third-person narrative (as in WATERSHIP DOWN) allows you to create mental images of characters in the readers' minds every bit as memorable and impressive as any visual description!

In The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain paints a word picture of King Henry VIII using descriptive language:

Before him, at a little distance, reclined a very large and very fat man, with a wide, pulpy face, and a stern expression. His large head was very grey; and his whiskers, which he wore only around his face, like a frame, were grey also. His clothing was of rich stuff, but old, and slightly frayed in places. One of his swollen legs had a pillow under it, and was wrapped in bandages. This stern-countenanced invalid was the dread Henry VIII.

And in The Bronze Bow[aff. link], Elizabeth George Speare describes a young Roman soldier:

When he straightened again, the Roman was pulling off his helmet, revealing crisp fair hair. He wiped the back of his hand across his wet forehead where the metal had left an uncomfortable-looking crease. With a shock, Daniel saw that he was very young… The beardless cheeks and chin scarcely needed a razor. His skin was white, mottled and peeling from exposure to the sun, so that he could not have seen service long under the Galilean skies. The eyes that stared back at Daniel were a clear bright blue. He looked as though he might be about to speak.

Using Descriptive Writing Tools

Can your high schoolers describe a person using vivid vocabulary like the above examples? Without good observation skills or an arsenal of strong words, this can be a challenging task!

Can they describe their subject in detail without turning it into a narrative or story? When I was teaching writing classes, this was a hard concept for my students to grasp. Even with careful guidelines, many still ended up focusing on what the person was doing instead of how they looked.

Use the following tips as teaching tools in one of two ways:

  1. Discuss the many ways to describe a person before letting students loose to brainstorm; OR
  2. Once the rough draft has been written and edited, give this list of ideas to stimulate creativity and to help them write a meatier revision.

Either way, whether you work on better brainstorming or focus on more polished revisions, improved description will result.

How to Describe a Person

It’s good to let your kids struggle with the initial writing process. As they wrestle with ideas and words, it will remind them of the importance of thorough and effective brainstorming. The following ideas will help them improve their descriptive paragraphs as they think of more concrete ways to describe a person’s appearance.

TIP: Students shouldn’t be expected include every descriptive element listed below. Rather, a few well-chosen details will go a long way toward bringing their subject to life.

Face Shape

  • Square
  • Oval
  • Round
  • Triangular
  • Heart-shaped
  • Thin
  • Wide
  • Chiseled

Skin and Complexion

Complexion is the natural appearance and color of the skin, especially of the face. For example, “Mary has a soft, creamy complexion.”

  • Wrinkled:covered with lines or loose folds of skin; often associated with age 
  • Freckled: sprinkled or covered with light brown spots 
  • Ruddy: skin that has a reddish tint; may have the appearance of sunburn 
  • Sallow: skin that has a yellowish tint; may be associated with illness
  • Tanned: skin with a warm, golden-brown tint
  • Rosy or fresh-faced: pink-cheeked, fair complexion that glows with a hint of pink 
  • Other skin-related adjectives: pale, fair, spotless, silky, smooth, creamy, dewy, baby-soft, peaches-and-cream, glowing, paper-thin or translucent (as with a very old person), sunburned, peeling, rough, callused, weathered, weatherbeaten, craggy, leathery, mottled, dry, brown, dark


TIP: Pay attention to the eyes, as they often reveal much about a person.

  • Shape, size, and appearance: large, small, almond-shaped, round, squinty, crinkly, bulging, heavy-lidded, hooded, deep-set, close-set, hollow, tear-filled
  • Eye color:black, brown, hazel, green, blue, violet, gray, amber
  • Eye expressions: piercing, mesmerizing, sad, sorrowful, haunted, gentle, sympathetic, warm, compassionate, expressive, bright, twinkling, lively, dancing, laughing, shifty, sly, distrusting, sleepy
  • Other: brown-eyed boy, bright-eyed sister, wide-eyed child, gold-flecked eyes

Mouth and Lips

  • Lip shape and size: thin, full, pouting, rosebud (baby’s lips, often), pursed (puckered up, as when concentrating)
  • Mouth expressions: laugh, smile, beam, grin, frown, grimace, scowl, sneer, curl, pout
  • Adjectives describing the mouth or mouth expressions: toothy, toothless, gap-toothed, kind, sweet, dimpled, relaxed, firm, serious, cruel, snarling


  • Hair color: black, brunette, brown, chestnut-brown, blond, honey-blond, golden-blond, ash-blond, fair, cornsilk, auburn, red, strawberry-blond, gray, silver, white, salt-and-pepper
  • Texture or appearance: wispy, fuzzy, wavy, curly, kinky, frizzy, wild, untamed, unmanageable, straight, spiky, stiff, buzzed, shaved, parted, neatly-combed, tamed, cascading, long, short, cropped, dull, shiny
  • Hair styles: braids, ponytail, pigtails, bun, messy bun, twist, bob, ringlets, flip, cornrows, extensions, bangs, buzz, layered, feathered, chopped, gelled, spiked, slicked down
  • Lots of hair: thick, full, lustrous, bushy, coarse, wiry, stiff
  • Little hair: thin, scraggly, fine, baby-fine, downy, wispy, limp, flat, balding, bald, bald spot, receding (gradual loss of hair at the front of the head)
  • Treated hair: permed, dyed, bleached, highlighted, weaved, streaked, colored

Facial Hair

  • Hair: beard, goatee, mustache, soul patch, sideburns
  • Beard growth: stubble, fuzz, peach fuzz, bristles, five o’clock shadow (describes new beard growth that’s shadowy in appearance. It’s usually more noticeable late in the day on the jaw, chin, or cheek area, but some men purposely grow five o’clock shadows.) 
  • Adjectives: bearded, bushy, stubbly, bristly, scratchy, unshaven, shaggy, whiskered, beardless, clean-shaven, smooth, trimmed, neatly-trimmed, pencil-thin


TIP: Choose strong verbs and adjectives.

  • Build: small, slim, slight, thin, lean, willowy, skinny, angular, bony, fine-boned, chunky, chubby, large, portly, plump, round, stout, pudgy, full-figured, ample, broad-shouldered, burly, solid, muscular
  • Posture: stand, sit, slouch, flop, lean, recline, rest, stretch, sprawl, curl up, roost, squirm, arch, slump, stoop, bend, hunch, scoot, walk, run, race, jog


  • Fabric: denim, twill, wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, seersucker, gingham, lace, chiffon, tulle, velvet, velveteen, fleece, flannel, tweed, polyester, jersey, corduroy, spandex, leather
  • Bottoms: jeans, skinny jeans, cargo pants, flat-front pants, pleated pants, slacks, trousers, overalls, sweatpants, crop pants, capris, skirt, shorts, board shorts
  • Tops: sport shirt, dress shirt, polo shirt, button-down shirt, tank top, blouse, tunic, long-sleeve, short-sleeve, sleeveless, collared, T-shirt, V-neck, scoop-neck, turtleneck, sweatshirt, hoodie, pullover, sweater, cardigan, sweater set
  • Other clothing: dress, gown, frock, uniform, coveralls, costume, pajamas, bathrobe, robe, vest, jacket, blazer, coat, apron
  • Footwear: socks, stockings, shoes, slippers, sandals, flip-flops, loafers, heels, pumps, boots, ankle boots, riding boots, slouch boots, athletic shoes, sneakers, tennis shoes, gym shoes, runners
  • Accessories: mittens, gloves, hat, cap, head wrap, bandana, scarf, muffler, necklace, choker, bracelet, ring, earrings, cuffs, cufflinks, purse, clutch, bag, tote, sunglasses, eyeglasses, glasses
  • Adjectives (appearance): stylish, natty, smart, chic, classy, elegant, polished, draped, flowing, sheer, casual, relaxed, carefree, starched, crisp, sharp, dressy, lacy, shiny, shimmering, sparkling, glittery, sloppy, torn, ripped, tattered, disheveled, slovenly, tacky, unkempt, faded, scratchy, worn, frayed, nubby, rough, smooth, pliable, warm, soft, quilted, knit
  • Adjectives (patterns): striped, solid, plaid, checked, floral print, geometric print

Sentence Starters Describing Clothes (Encourage your students to write more maturely by using strong sentence openings.)

  • Smartly dressed in (name of garment), the woman …
  • Casually attired in (name of garment), Chloe …
  • Simply clad in (name of garment), Mark …
  • Uncle Max sported a (name of garment) …
  • Wearing a (name of garment), the detective …

There are so many ways to describe people! What other words would you include?

* * * * *

Do you need help teaching descriptive writing to your middle and high school kids? WriteShop I provides a strong foundation in concrete description, teaching students how to describe an object, animal, person, food, season, and place. Students learn to choose strong words to bring their subjects to life. WriteShop II continues by offering several lessons in advanced descriptive narration, where students weave vivid description into a story or other narrative.

Photo credits: Dave Rosen (street man), Loren Kerns (blue eyes), Paul Arps (Dai boy), Dylan Walters (mountain woman), Connie Liegl (redhead), Spigoo (newborn), courtesy of Creative Commons

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