Physical Attributes Entry: Knees

By Memphre via Wikimedia Common
Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey--too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or care about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.
Descriptors: dimpled, wrinkled, knobby, bulging, scabbed, scraped, scarred, hairy, lumpish, chapped, blotchy, freckled, knotted, dry, smooth, cracked, leathery, creaking, popping, grinding, arthritic, bandaged, weak, soft, rough, swollen

Things Knees Do:

Bend: stiff; rapid; awkwardly; painfully
Stiffen: clench; tighten; support; strengthen
Give out: tremble and release, causing collapse; momentarily weakness which causes a hitch and catch

Key Emotions and Related Knee Movements:
  • Fear: loosen, tremble, clench together, bring knees up to core, making oneself smaller & less noticeable
  • Unease: rubbing or stroke knees to soothe, gripping knees with hands, moving knees, shifting the body, picking at scabs to take mind off of feeling
  • Excitement: stiffen, tighten, lock
  • Relief: weaken, loosen, soften, sag, give out

Simile & Metaphor help:
  • Bony: Her bulging knees creaked as she sat, a knobby reminder of her ski accident.
  • Dry: Her pinched knees lined up just below her dress hem, white and chapped like she'd knelt in chalk.

Clichés to Avoid:
knees knocking together; knees giving out as a prelude to uncontrollable weeping

HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty.
Example: The old man wore a faded Army cap and walked like his joints pained him. With every step, his knees strained and groaned, trying to hold their weight. Like soldiers carrying too-heavy packs, they struggled gamely on, doing the only thing they knew to do.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 


Natalie Aguirre said...

Love this series Angela. I have to go back and read the first one. Great example on how to use the description well.

Susanne Drazic said...

This was a good post. Swollen would be another good descriptor, don't you think?

Angela Ackerman said...

Oh good one, Susan...I'll add that!

Thanks Natalie! I'm glad you like this series!

Bish Denham said...

Ah yes, I'm reminded of the scarred knees of youth, my own included. :)

Beth said...

Wonderful suggestions for a body part I'd never thought of describing!

Debra Feldman said...

Thanks for these helpful postings!

Kelly McWilliams said...

When we're writing we're so in our heads we sometimes forget about the physical! Thanks for the reminder. It's nice to muse a little on knees. They really do say a lot about a person. My husband just had knee surgery. His scar tells a long story of dangerous but exhilarating over-40 basketball games...

Traci Kenworth said...

I love this new thesaurus!! Very helpful and unique.

Tracy Campbell said...

Ah knees. I'd never thought of focusing on knees. Love it, Angela.
Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

Heather said...

This rocks. Now I totally know how to describe knees! The right way. ;)

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never thought about a character's knees so much before. Guess it just shows everything about a person can tell a story.

Leslie S. Rose said...

Many of my friends are having knee replacements. Ouch. It's all that knee knocking in their youth.

estetik said...

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Adventures in YA Publishing said...

Another fantastic post! I am clearly going to love this thesaurus even more than the others. And that's hard!

Have a great week!


Aimee Katherine said...

I never really thought that much about putting knee related description into my writing before. I love this blog, it's so useful!

Angela Ackerman said...

Thank you all so much for your enthusiasm over this new thesaurus! I've been super busy this past week and sorry I haven't been very vocal, but have been reading and so appreciative of all the comments!

E.B. Black said...

I hope you make this into a book because these lists are amazing.


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