Character Development: Don’t Forget Your Character’s Hygiene (especially if he does…)

When developing your major characters, don’t forget to include details about his or her hygiene and, well to put it bluntly, body odor. It might seem like something OCD or overly detailed at first, but let’s do a little experiment. Don’t close your eyes (because then you couldn’t read this blog), but imagine a man coming toward you. You get a whiff of aftershave, a touch of cologne, and a lingering hint of soap.

What does he look like? What clothing is he wearing? What kind of haircut does he have?

Catch that? You’ve already filled in the blanks. You have a clear picture of this guy, and I never told you what he was wearing or how he cut his hair.

Good description and character development is about giving your reader just enough details to let him fill in the rest of the blanks. Staying within word count and good storytelling principles prohibit writers from describing every detail and backstory about each character. We need to set the stage, create the structure, and let the reader add the rest so we can move on with the story.

Giving your reader a hint of your character’s hygiene and smell takes only a few words yet gives your reader an incredible bit of insight into your character. Here are a few details you might want to include in your manuscripts:

  • Clothing cleanliness
  • Ironed vs. wrinkled clothes
  • Fabric softener
  • Cologne/perfume vs none
  • Cheap cologne vs expensive
  • Sweat
  • Salt from the beach still on a person has a distinct odor
  • Fire and dirt leave a distinct odor, for those of you with characters backpacking or on a Baggins-sized adventure.
  • Halitosis (bad breath, lack of brushing teeth)
  • Alcohol comes out in the breath and pores
  • Smoke – cigarette vs cigar vs pipe
  • Nervous sweat vs hard work sweat (smells different)
  • Underarm stains
  • How trimmed is his beard? How clean does it stay when he eats?
  • Matted hair/dreadlocks
  • The greasy hair look is real, and it indicates how long ago she washed her hair.
  • Does she do her hair with loads of product, or is her look more natural? (location matters. In south Florida, we don’t do our hair the way they do it up north in the South.)
  • Fresh clothes smell different than warn clothes. They are also less faded.
  • An athlete or a soldier may not mind being sweaty on the field, but can clean up well and have good hygiene.
  • People associate dandruff and acne with uncleanliness, but they are actually caused by other things, including oily skin.
  • If it’s humid, hair gets frizzy.
  • A person can smell clean without smelling like fragrance.
  • Don’t forget nails. Dirt doesn’t always come out. Also, some women do them, some leave them natural.
  • Makeup. How much?

These are just a few things you can add to enhance your story and help your reader build a better picture of your characters in his mind. Happy writing everyone!


Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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