5 Better Ways to Describe The People in Your Memoir 

Without other people, our lives and our memoirs risk becoming dull. Although ideas are pivotal for many individuals, relationships are even more commanding. We are intrigued with who other people are and how they function. “Who’s that? What are they doing? Where did they come from?” These are question we want answered. To write a strong story, capitalize on this interest.

The people in your story are your characters. It is your job to bring vivid characters to the attention of your readers. To do so, use descriptive writing to present believable characters.

In lifewriting, you create a strong, vivid character by describing him or her in sensual details. (The senses, of course, are: taste, sight, sound, smell, and touch.) The most effective descriptions of people make use of these.

Here are ways you can use sense details to make your characters more vivid:

1. Taste – Let the reader sample foods associated with your past or with the person you are writing about. Perhaps a food image or a metaphor will give a deeper sense of the person’s personality.

Many people mistakenly believe that characters in a story have to be well-known to be interesting. When they write their stories, they search their pasts for when they might have crossed paths with the famous. Consequently they write about when they were in the same elevator with some luminary back in 1948. This is not necessarily something that will make your story interesting. A representation of a vivid character is more likely to entice your reader.

2. Sight – What did the person you are writing about look like? Describe height, weight, color, shape, posture, mannerisms, contours of the face, prominent features. How did that person move, talk, walk, sit? Describe the person’s clothing, sense of style, hairstyles. In what ways ways did that person typically express emotion with body posture?

3. Sound – This includes voice modulation, timbre, and pitch as well as favorite expressions, accents, dialectical usage. Don’t forget throat clearing, foot scraping, or the knocking of a wedding ring against glass as a hand cleared frost from a windshield.

4. Smell – Your text should make references to perfumes, colognes, pipe tobacco, barn odors, the scent of a kitchen, the aroma of a bath, or the smell of a workshop. Smell is one of the most evocative senses. A particular herb or soap or cleaning fluid can immediately return us to another time and place. Be sure to use that power in your descriptions.

5. Touch – Help the reader feel how rough your character’s skin was, or how smooth the clothing, how gentle the hands, or how furtive the caress.

Good luck writing!

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About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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