Physical Attributes Entry: Stomach

By Luca Boldrini

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 caring 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.

(AKA: belly, midsection, tummy, breadbasket, gut, midriff, etc.)

Descriptors: flat, tight, pierced, round, thick, jiggly, bloated, puffy, stretch marked, bloblike, rolly, ballooned, pregnant, hefty, plump, obese, pudgy, portly, skinny, taut, slim, smooth, bumpy, tattooed, hairy, veined, sculpted, pouched, swollen, soft, hard, flabby, tanned, pale, brown, firm, loose

Things Stomachs Do:

  • Bounce: jiggle, vibrate, quiver, tremble, shake, judder, jounce
  • Tighten: harden, tense, suck in, bind
  • Slacken: release, bulge, balloon, billow, relax, stretch

Key Emotions and Related Stomach Gestures: 
  • Embarrassment: When people are self conscious and especially if they are embarrassed of their body image, it is common to suck in the stomach to make it appear flatter, or to use arms to hide the stomach by crossing them. People who are confident in their shape have no qualms about dressing so their midriff is exposed or clearly viewable through revealing/tight clothing, while those with less confidence dress to conceal this area. 
  • Shock or Surprise: When someone is startled it is common for all the muscles to tense up, including the stomach. Once the moment passes, muscles are allowed to go flaccid once more. Laughter (in the aftermath of a good surprise) will cause the belly to shake.

Simile and Metaphor Help:                           

  • The man snored on his narrow beach towel, his massive, sun-burned gut looking like a giant zit ready to pop.
  • On the boardwalk, Sheila bopped in time to the music, oblivious to the doughy spillover happening at the top of her too-tight jean shorts.
Clichés to Avoid: likening someone a beached whale; fat jokes that ask where Ahab is; the beer keg or barrel stomach; making comparisons to Jabba the Hutt or the Pillsbury dough boy

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: 

I loved watching Eric sleep--so quiet and composed, his small chest rising and falling in a pattern, his stomach smooth and flat. His stillness was so unlike him when awake. Then, he became a wild, electrified force that bounced all over the house. But while he napped, I had him all to myself, watching to see if he would smile, if his belly would shake with silent laughter at something only a three-year-old would dream. 

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


Heather said...

Nice! I especially love the example at the end that ties in into something deeper.

Diane Carlisle said...

The emotion I'm feeling now is envy. I can go to the gym 7 days per week and not get that belly. :\

Miranda Hardy said...

I want that midsection!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great example at the end of the post. I never think to describe stomachs, maybe because I don't write much YA or more likely because I don't love looking at mine.

Lydia Sharp said...

Excellent! I'm really loving the physical attributes thesaurus.

Here's a word I often use to describe my own post-baby stomach: pooch. Not really a bulge, but definitely not going to be flat ever again. (And that's okay. If I had to choose between my son and rock-hard abs, I'd choose my son. Every time.)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Super post, Angela. Lots to learn for me. Loved the example.

Tracy Campbell said...

"Sun-burned gut looking like a giant zit ready to pop." Love this and all the other stomach explanations. :-)

Carol Riggs said...

Great examples. Which reminded me I still hadn't ordered your EMOTION THESAURUS book--so I remedied that lack. Looking forward to receiving it in the mail!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wish my stomach looked like that. :)

Leslie S. Rose said...

My stomach never looked like that. I'm a big fan of the stomach since it has both external and internal writerly possibilities.

Angela Ackerman said...

Haha, you and me both Stina! :)

creativewritingintheblackberrypatch said...

Love the 'hint' at the end! said...

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