Physical Attribute Thesaurus: Hands


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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.


HANDS


Descriptors: stubby, masculine, feminine, arthritic, knobby, clawed, elegant, manicured, rough, calloused, pale, gnarled, smooth, greasy, dirt-creased, fat, strong, limp, dimpled, veined, liver-spotted, bony, sweaty, slick, soft, skilled, shaky, graceful, rigid, scarred, freckly, open, closed, clenched, gentle, bejeweled, uncertain, weak, wrinkled, lined, smooth


Things Hands Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Hold: grasp, grip, squeeze, bruise, clutch, clasp
  • Tremble: quiver, shake, flutter, fidget, bounce, quake, tremor
  • Gesture: flap the air, point, wave, dismiss others, shoo, slap, giving a thumbs up or ok sign, clap
  • Connect with Others: shake hands, slap on the back, hold hands, squeeze a shoulder, pat a knee, rest approvingly on a child's head, stroke hair

Key Emotions and Related Hand Gestures: 

  • Anger: slap, punch, strike, hit, shake, clench, curl, pound, slam, push, shove, rip, tear, destroy, kill, choke, grab
  • Happiness: exuberant gestures, holding others, waving and flapping
  • Worry: fidget, wring, flap, twist, flit
  • Fear: shake, tremble, quiver, held out in front

Simile and Metaphor Help:                             
  • Elegant: Her long-fingered hands wrapped primly around the pitcher, two genteel ladies holding court at tea time.
  • Knobby: His hands were knobby and twisted—more like sea coral than human flesh and bone.

Clichés to Avoid: man hands, hands that look skeletal or spider-like, fists clenched in anger with nails biting into the palms


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: 
We girls called him The Octopus, because of his hands. They were rubbery and cold and seemingly everywhere at once.

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

22 comments:

shelly said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Shelly

JeffO said...

Heh, 'Man Hands' -- one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes of all-time. It still makes me laugh out loud.

I have a tendency to have too much focus on hands. It's important, a good way to help show emotion in addition to action, but I have to reign it in a bit, I think.

Beth said...

Wonderful suggestions! Hands can tell us so much about a person.

The Magic Violinist said...

Oh these are so cool! I can't wait to see more. Your Thesauruses help me so much in my writing. :D

Rosi said...

These are great! Thanks for these and keep them coming! I love your Emotion Thesaurus. It's a wonderful tool.

Stacy said...

These are great, guys. Hands are always a tricky part because–just like in life–it's hard to figure out what to do with them sometimes.

Thanks!

Stacy (stacygreenauthor.com)

Martha Ramirez said...

This one's a good one! Thank you, Becca!

Laura Pauling said...

Awesome guys! This will be a great addition to your collection!

Kristin Lenz said...

I shuddered reading the octopus example!

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks everyone! I think this will be a super fun thesaurus to take on--there are so many possibilities to show using a character's body and movement!

kittyb78 said...

Another awesome entry to begin a fabulous thesaurus! :)

Melissa Pearl said...

This is a great post. Thank you so much for sharing :)

Susanne Drazic said...

A great post!

Traci Kenworth said...

Hands can do so much for a character, we often don't realize. Thanks for reinforcing the idea to use every body part to convey more than just the ordinary, to really showcase what it can do.

Tracy Campbell said...

Keep them coming!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Ooooh! I love this thesaurus! :D

cleemckenzie said...

I've always been fascinated by hands. They tell so much about people, so they definitely tell a lot about characters. Great post.

LTM said...

I love the sound of this new thesaurus, and what a great example! You two are simply brilliant! :o) <3

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great tips on hands. I'll have to go back over my manuscript again and do a hand check. :)

DonnaGalanti said...

Love this one on hands! They do so much, can be so expressive and tell us so much about a character. Love to think about using them in unique ways in writing. (my husband's hands were what drew me to him:)

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Joanne Fritz said...

This is so helpful. Thanks!

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