Tale of the Tresses


When your reader opens your pages, and their eyes skim along those inky symbols we call words, you want to supply every detail that makes your characters jump off the page and come to life. One thing easily described is hair. It’s a reflection of personality and lifestyle. It’s one of the things your reader will use to make an assessment, a snap judgement, about your characters. Along with eye color and facial features, hair has a tremendous impact. So, use it wisely.

very-short-naturally-curly-hairstyles-57-8Make your hair descriptions work overtime. Use them to describe the person within – not just what they look like on the surface. Match what you want to show about your characters’ inner selves as revealed by whether they maintain or ignore their hair.

  • The harried single mom who has gray roots showing and knows a salon visit and a quiet afternoon aren’t possible.
  • The cheap toupee that sits atop the desk clerk at the hotel.
  • The homeless man with a shaggy mane that hides head lice.

Beginning writers rejoice. There are ample experienced authors who have composed long lists of hair characteristics. Just google “Words that describe hair” and scan the lists. The nouns, adjectives, and adverbs number in the hundreds. However, here are some general facts about hair descriptors that need mentioning:


  • Natural hair comes in a limited number of shades – blond, red, brown, black, gray, and white.
  • Spelling is important – females can be blonde, brunette, or redhead while males are blond, brunet, or redhead.
  • If you’re itchin to put in some exotic color – turquoise, hot pink, etc. – it will work for those audiences who read fantasy or YA but not literary fiction.

And the cliché caution flags fly here too for:

  • jet black
  • raven
  • snow
  • snowy
  • snowwhite

All have been overused and are considered clichés. Happy writing.


9 thoughts on “Tale of the Tresses

  1. Judith, very interesting. I often think about how much detail to write about a character’s appearance, wondering if I should leave those details to the readers’ imagination. But sometimes it’s useful to use such descriptions, particularly in another character’s viewpoint. Thanks for sharing..

    1. Mary: I tend to be “wordy” and live to regret it when my critique group reads my stuff. But it’s easier to cut out too much than struggle to add what’s missing.

  2. Dear Judith, your writing tips are helping me as I polish my novel that takes places in first-century Palestine. Just the other day I was dealing with “black” and thought about what you’d written. And this positing on hair will also be helpful to me. thank you. Peace.

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