November 18, 2019

by Ellen Buikema

Like many writers, I am fortunate to have a varied and interesting dreamlife. However, for almost a year after beginning our retirement travels I was unable to recall any dreams.

No dreams. No writing. Not good.

My dreamtime, normally filled with weird and thought-provoking scenarios, became a void. Sleep is playtime for the brain, and mine didn’t seem like it was having any fun.

If we don’t dream, we lose contact with reality.

Normally I’d remember enough of a dream for a short film, so not dreaming was a real concern. The most I’d recall upon waking was a fleeting feeling or snippet. In one, a kitten ran at me and jumped into my arms with such joy and force that it woke me up.

As I’d prefer not to be psychotic, I needed to know why the wonderful and sometimes frightening series of unconscious escapades escaped from memory.

Repercussions of Sleep Deprivation

I recognized that sleep deprivation was creeping into my life from my days as a new mom who tried to do everything herself, and didn’t take the sage advice of other parents. They’d point out that I should sleep whenever the baby slept. That would have been a wise choice, as not sleeping enough caused hallucinations.

Depriving the mind and body of sleep slows the brain’s ability to absorb visual information and translate the data into thought. Recent events fade fast, never arriving in long-term storage for future use.

Attempting to write in this state of mind was an exercise in futility, reading and re-reading paragraphs with nothing sinking in. Sleep deprivation was killing my creativity, making me cranky, and giving me a craving for carbs.

Feed me bread, lots of bread. Slather on the butter, too.

The Plaza, The Pigeons, and my Poor Sleep Cycle

My husband and I are living in a joyously noisy country. Roosters crow, dogs bark, vehicles blare, fireworks blast, people enjoy life (aka partying until 3 AM with a live band).

In my search for the elusive Sandman I tried several methods:

  • Meditation,
  • Siestas (Naps)
  • CBD oil
  • Earplugs for varying decibel levels
  • Rainstorm background sounds
  • A sleep mask
  • Reading (a non-thriller) at bedtime
  • White noise
  • Long walks
  • I even tried stuffing a pillow over my ears.

Each morning before the sunrise I awoke to the sound of pigeons either calling for a mate, or having an orgy on the small patio outside our bedroom. Pigeons are messy creatures, and can be very (very) loud.

At first I tapped on the window to get the chubby little monsters to move. This only helped once.  We tried all kinds of things: flapping curtains, opening the glass slider, playing recorded sounds of predators, bird spikes, corn oil mixed with hot pepper.

Our unwanted, accidental outdoor pets paused briefly to listen to the predator calls, then ignored the sounds and got back to the business of being pigeons.

The neighbors shoot rubber bands at the pigeons. My aim is terrible; you should see me try to bowl. Plus, I don’t want to hurt them. But I needed them to go elsewhere, so I decided to try a water pistol. Waldo’s dollar mart had what I needed, something that looks a bit like a miniature Super Soaker.

The next day I was ready for them.

I crept upstairs toward the bedroom, water-filled child’s toy in hand, to interrupt the red-eyed vermin's noisy fun on the patio. They ignored me until hit with a water stream. 

The water pistol has helped a bit. The early morning debauchery has lessened and I am sleeping better with the additional help of CBD oil.

Finally, as a treat, my brain served up an anxiety dream. It’s a start.

National Institute of Health's tips for good sleep:

  1. Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  2. Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  4. Relax before bed – try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  5. Create a room for sleep – avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and don’t watch TV or have a computer in your bedroom.
  6. Don’t lie in bed awake.  If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired. 
  7. See a doctor if you have a problem sleeping or if you feel unusually tired during the day.  Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.

Dreams are important to characters too!

I’ve used character’s daydreams and thoughts from a meditative state to advance a plot. Characters also suffer from insomnia and interrupted sleep. James Scott Bell recently did a great post on characters' dreams.

Other great reads:

Have any of your characters had a dream that influenced their behavior? Have you ever experienced insomnia? How does your sleep (or dreams) affect your creativity. Share your tricks for better sleep down in the comments!

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About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.

Find her at or on Amazon.

November 15, 2019

by K. Maze

Dear Writer Friends, it’s November. The time of holidays, deadlines and NaNoWriMo.

We have lives full of responsibilities, but we are also builders of amazing mind worlds, and if we don’t take care of ourselves, our stories suffer and so do we! How can we enter the season of celebration without wearing ourselves down to a nub?

This is my debut post at Writers in the Storm and I'm focusing on gratitude. To help you show your thankfulness for the gifts you have as writer, and to offer some advice on how to take care of those gifts. 

Take a minute to check in with your overall wellness.  

Writers get upper back cricks and lower back spasms.  We have underused legs from forcing ourselves to sit in the chair and write.  We deny ourselves the pleasures of spending time outdoors and write long after the rest of the household has gone to sleep, because most of us have another job to accomplish as well.  What is the price?  How do our bodies react? 

Behold, the Wellness Wheel.

The wellness wheel can keep us from spinning wildly out of control. “Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth,” according to researchers at UC Davis.

This goes beyond the yearly doctor’s visit to not just live, but to thrive.  Writers create life-giving prose. Can you imagine the energy we can enjoy when we take care of ourselves?

Some Wellness wheels contain 8 domains but more commonly the wheels use 7 to evaluate one’s overall well-being.

A Breakdown of Wellness Domains

Where you stand in each domain can vary.  If you are up on your word count and rocking the NaNoWriMo, you may be neglecting walking your pet, biking, or jogging.  Perhaps you are having a hard time meeting your deadlines because you are enjoying too many evenings in with friends or bingeing Netflix dramas. 

Try one of these assessments based on your personality.


This tool is useful for anyone trying to keep their life in balance.  Simply read the statements and color the wheel wedge to represent how you manifest this area of well-being. Examine your color-coded assessment and answer the reflection questions to take steps to a more satisfying life.  


This inventory developed by Princeton University can help one figure out their wellness numerically. Identify how often the statements are true about you.  Add up the totals for each section and notice any discrepancies.  These may be places to iterate your lifestyle.


This article lists ways to identify wellness action you take in your life. Take a moment to reflect on which areas you could adjust your well-being.

Keeping your monster in check.

It benefits no one if the writer-in-residence is cranky or 'hangry.'  I have a routine that includes checking my energy levels to determine which activity I want to do most. A little self-examination can be a cathartic culling of activities that do not suit you. 

I’ve included my own routine to show a few ways I push myself.  This is not a rigid set of mandates since I found that depletes my energy.  Figure out what works for you.

My Wellness Wheel Balancing Act

#1 - Physical Exercise

I leave myself wiggle room for the ups and downs that drive us to write in the first place! Having choices allows me to adjust to my mood and fatigue level, and to accomplish the work or maintain my most important relationships.  I force myself to do half an hour of yoga in the morning and also at night.  I will skip the night yoga if I walk the dog for that amount of time instead.

Unexpected health benefits:

  • My level of headaches decreased to almost zero.
  • My energy to run after injuries increased. 

To keep myself motivated and to include my people, I signed the whole family up for a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving.

#2 - Eat Well

I credit my daughter's immune disease for making large changes to our family eating patterns.  We try to eat clean and gluten free to accommodate her dietary needs.  The older two daughters have gone vegetarian as well. 

Fresh veggies, big box store meals in the freezer and healthy grab-n-go snacks help everyone stay on target with nutritious food within our budget.

#3 - Sleep

Wearing a health tracker has changed my views on sleep.  Regular rest has helped my energy level and stamina - both in exercise and writing!  Using a sleep mask and earplugs also made a difference in the quality of my sleep.  I rarely stay up past 11 and always get up during the same 1-hour window.  I allow myself to hit snooze on 'tired' days and I feel like I'm sleeping in. It works for me.

10 Hilarious Memes About Being Sleep Deprived from Reading

#4 - Professional reading and learning.

Writers have to exercise their brains. Even when I'm not taking classes, I have nonfiction and genre books around my nightstand.  I tend to read before I go to sleep (and avoid thrillers) so I can get tired after reading a few pages. It keeps me abreast of what is new and interesting in my field and my mind mulls it over as I fall asleep.  Win win.

#5 - Hobbies/ activities

I am a writer and spend time with writers and bloggers, which I find refreshing and fun. But my non-writer tribes keep me balanced as well.

One completely nonsense activity I relish is my neighborhood book club that opted *gasp* for movie versions instead.  My 'Cinema Sisters' take turns hosting a cheap, low prep, movie night at each other’s house.  We bring snacks and beverages to watch Hallmark movies or old throwbacks.  One lady held hers docked on her husband's fishing boat where we watched the original "Overboard."  Spending time with friends keeps the rest of the stressful things in perspective. 

To sum up...

My journey to wellness requires regular maintenance and micro adjustments. Keeping tabs on myself allows me to be my optimal self in all the important areas of my life: spouse, parent, friend, and writer.

Check in with your wellness wheel this November and remember to take time to refine the best character of all - your own.

What has improved your writing life? Comment below to share your tips. Or, just share your favorite beverage and give Kris a warm welcome!

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About Kris

K. Maze Author

K. Maze first clutched a crayon to record how the bird escaped the wired cage in Kindergarten and has been spinning tales ever since.  Writing speculative stories stems from her reading classics by O Henry, Shirley Jackson, and Ray Bradbury. She's fascinated with strong female characters who tackle unbeatable odds. When Kris is not immersed in stories, she is outdoors hiking with her family and pets or pondering the wisdom of Bob Ross. You can follow her on her website:


November 13, 2019

by Barbara Linn Probst

I’m delighted to join WITS as a regular blogger! Thanks for having me.

We’ve all had that question put to us by friends, relatives, colleagues, and potential readers. It’s a reasonable question.

“It’s the story of a woman who …”

“It tells what happens when ...”

But that’s the setup. It’s not what the book is about.

Coined by R.A. Fairthorne in 1969, “aboutness” is a term used in linguistics, philosophy of language, and the informational sciences to convey both the subject and intention of a text. In other words: what is said, and why.

So what’s your book about?

The question can be surprisingly difficult to answer. That's because we aren't used to thinking conceptually about our writing. We’re taught how to create stakes, wounds, obstacles, turning points—but those are just landmarks, coordinates, strategies in the service of the book’s aboutness.

Pinning down your book’s aboutness is critical, however!  It will lead you to your “elevator pitch,” log line, and all the language you’ll need for talking about your book out there in the world.

We’ll explore three ways to think about this question—three perspectives, from concrete to abstract.

  • First, there’s the story your protagonist or point-of-view character is enacting. It’s driven by her goal (inner or outer) and what she must do to achieve that goal. When she achieves that goal, the story is over.
  • Next, there’s the story your reader is experiencing. It’s driven by the question the reader is yearning to resolve as she turns the pages. When she’s answered that question, the story is over.
  • And finally, there’s the story that you, as author, are creating, driven by what you want to say about how life works or what it means to be human. When your premise has been fully illustrated, the story is over.

There are no rules for which comes first, but it can be helpful to begin by identifying your premise, since premise underlies both question and goal. A premise is like an aphorism, a concise generalization about the way life works. Forgiveness is always possible. Courage takes many forms. Be careful what you wish for.  

The story question—a question that’s large enough to span the entire narrativeasks whether the plot will demonstrate that the premise is true. If the book’s premise is that it’s never too late to change, then the story question is: “Will the outcome verify or disprove the assertion that it’s never too late to change?”  In spite of everything, will Lucy be able to let go of her anger toward her father?

The protagonist’s goal takes the story question and turns it back into a statement. Lucy’s goal is to let go of her anger and reunite with her father.

The premise doesn’t have to be stated overtly; often, it’s better if it’s not. But you, as author, need to know what it is! Without it, your book has no coherence.

In a “simple” story, the goal, question, and premise line up neatly. The protagonist’s goal is usually to find or acquire something; it might be something that’s been taken or lost, like a kidnapped child, or an achievement that represents recognition or healing of a prior wound. The reader’s question is whether the protagonist will reach her goal. The author’s premise is that the protagonist’s core feature (determination, resourcefulness, courage) will lead to success. For example, if the protagonist’s goal is to find her missing child, in a simple story their eventual reunion demonstrates the premise that parental love will overcome all obstacles.

There are many examples of stories in which the protagonist’s goal, the reader’s question, and the author’s premise align easily. In The Help by Kathryn Stockett, for example, Skeeter’s goal is to write a book about something that truly matters, and the question is whether she’ll be able to accomplish her aim. She does, thanks to the courage of the women who trust her with their stories. The book’s ending thus captures its premise: Courage and friendship will triumph over hate.

In my own novel Queen of the Owls, Elizabeth’s goal is to find her true self beneath the roles she tries so hard to fulfill, a more complete self that will unite body and mind.

The overall story question—whether she will be able to do that, and at what cost—is framed by a series of questions that emerge as the plot escalates and evolves. These questions (whether she will pose for Richard, what will happen as a result of the photographs he takes, and what she will do in response) are the steps that lead from the first intimation of the question all the way to its resolution. At the end of the book, the book’s premise is fulfilled: Embracing the parts of yourself that you’ve denied leads to wholeness.

In a more complex story—one based on irony or misdirection—the three elements don’t always line up so neatly. In Gone with the Wind, for example, Scarlett O’Hara’s goal is to marry Ashley Wilkes. The reader, however, wants to find out if Scarlett will come to her senses and realize that Rhett is the one she really wants; the reader doesn’t share Scarlett’s goal. This discrepancy (misalignment) adds to the book’s tension and points to its premise: Never give up.

Other stories are complex because the protagonist’s goal changes. Perhaps the first goal turns out to be false, a mask for the true goal, or perhaps circumstances require a new goal.

In Lisa Genova’s Every Note Played, Richard’s initial goal is to preserve as much of his identity as a musician as he can. As his disease progresses, however, he must abandon this goal in favor of a neglected desire—to connect with his family. In Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, Vianne’s initial goal is to protect her daughter. As the story develops, her goal shifts to the aim of saving as many Jewish children as possible —not a reversal of her earlier goal, as in Genova’s book, but an expansion.

Sometimes the protagonist’s failure to achieve her goal—or the reader’s realization that what seemed like the story question wasn’t, in fact, the right question to have been asking—is the way the book’s premise is ultimately demonstrated. E.g., the premise that the thing you’re seeking may have been right in front of you all along might not be apparent until the end of the book.

By “goal,” I mean the Big Goal, although the protagonist may have “smaller,” specific goals at various points in the story. For example, in the middle section of Queen of the Owls, Elizabeth believes that her goal is to destroy the photographs that are revealing her, publicly, in a way she didn’t intend. Later, she comes to understand that her true goal is exactly the opposite: she must embrace the photographs, claim what they portray.

In each of these examples, there’s a discernable relationship between goal, story question, and premise—a good thing!

Not so good when the elements have no intrinsic relationship or slip, inexplicably, out of alignment.

In Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Anna’s goal is agency, the ability to make her own decisions about her body. She has a secondary goal to help her sister, whom she loves. The two goals appear incompatible, raising the story tension. The reader’s question is thus: “How can Anna achieve the agency she seeks without causing her sister’s death?”  Five-star stakes!  

But what’s the premise? The book’s unexpected ending seems to proclaim the goals are meaningless in a world governed by random events. It doesn’t fit with Anna’s goal. So what’s the book actually “about?”

Certainly, there are novels in which the story question is never fully answered, leaving the reader with a sense of open-ended possibility. In Chris Bohjalian’s The Law of Similars, for example, we want Leland and Carissa to reconnect, but Bohjalian’s ending is intentionally ambivalent. We don’t know if Leland achieves his goal, yet the book’s premise is intact: We must try our best and sustain hope.

[Note:  When I call a book like The Help “simple,” I don’t mean that it lacks complexity, nuance, or depth—only that goal, question, and premise are clearly aligned. It’s okay if they’re not—as long as you, as the author, know why you’ve chosen an intentional misalignment and why it is the most effective way to tell your story.]

Now think about your own book. Can you identify these three elements?  

Goal. It may be easiest to begin with the most concrete: the protagonist’s goal. Often, the overt or external goal (e.g., winning a trophy, thwarting a villain, solving a mystery) is a stand-in for a deeper goal (e.g., standing up for oneself, learning to be vulnerable, letting go of a grudge).

Question. Next, ask yourself: What is the reader dying to know?  Is there a central question strong enough to sustain a reader’s interest and concern?

Premise. And finally: What are you trying to express about what it means to be human? 

If the answers seem elusive, there might be a missing through-line, dangling subplots, or too many plot points that are sequential rather than consequential (that is, a lot of things “happen” but they lack necessity).  

If there seem to be multiple goals and premises, it might indicate that you’re trying to do too much and need to simplify—to save some material for your next book.

Considering these questions is time well-spent. Your book will be stronger—and more readable—if you know what it’s about.

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About Barbara

Barbara Linn Probst is the author of Queen of the Owls, coming in April 2020 from the visionary, award-winning She Writes Press. Queen of the Owls has received stellar advance praise and will be the May 2020 selection of the Pulpwood Queens, a network of more than 780 book clubs throughout the U.S. To pre-order or learn more, please see

An earlier version of this article appeared on Live-Write-Thrive in July 2018.

November 11, 2019

by Melinda VanLone

I’ve posted several articles here at WITS covering the tone and type of image needed for different genres of book covers, but images are only part of the overall cover puzzle. There’s something else on the cover that’s pretty darn vital…the author name and the title.

Fitting text into an allotted space is both an art and a science, one I’ve spent a lifetime perfecting. That sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

So here’s the thing…it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

Don’t get me wrong, the topography needs to be good. Solid. Professional. What I’m saying is it’s easier to achieve professional looking text on a book cover than it might seem at first glance. Here are some basic guidelines:

Free fonts are free for a reason.

It’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of free fonts available on the internet. It’s fun when you first start to explore the possibilities, but over time it quickly becomes overwhelming. There are just so many! And a lot of them look great on the display, but then when you download it and try it out, they don’t look as good. If you don’t know the difference between kerning and leading, then choosing some of those freebies might send you into a disappointment spiral. Often they need a lot of work in InDesign or Photoshop to get them to look right. If you have access to Adobe TypeKit, that’s an excellent way of getting quality fonts for commercial use (and yes, you are commercial) without spending any additional money.

Speaking of Commercial...

Licensing is important. If you downloaded a font from a freebie website, be sure to read the fine print. Most often the license they “give” you is a personal one, meaning you’re free to use it at home on something like your child’s science fair project. If you intend to sell your book, you need a commercial license. Every foundry is different in how they license, and the last thing you want is to come up against a lawsuit because you made a lot of money using a font you didn’t pay for. If you buy a font from a professional foundry, be sure you purchased the right license for your needs. If you aren’t sure, ask them. Save the license you get with the font purchase for future reference, just in case.

Classic fonts are classic for a reason. 

One way to ease the stress of cover design is to realize that the subtle differences between different fonts are, well, subtle. Unless it’s a specialty display font, it’s a lot of tiny tweaks to a basic form. There’s no need to spend hours worrying about which is “just right.” At icon size, nobody will see those tiny differences.

When in doubt stick with classic, tried and true fonts and be more creative with their size/placement/treatment instead. You’ll look professional, and spend a lot less time in the font mines trying to choose. Here are some solid choices for book covers.

Less is more.

On a book cover, with such limited space, you really don’t need more than two fonts, no matter what genre you’re targeting. A good rule of thumb is one font for the title, and another for the author name (or the same font for both).

Use variations of either for any other text…subtitles, log lines, etc. If it’s a good font, and not a super freebie found somewhere in the murky depths of the internet, it will have multiple faces, from ultra fine to ultra black, for all your design needs.

Serifs are classy but pesky.

Serifs are those little bits that stick out from the main part of the letter, and they’re what makes a classy font look classy. Serif fonts are used for interior layouts of books because they are easier to read. But on a cover, with all the colors going on behind it, serifs can get lost, leaving weak text struggling to be seen. If you do go with a serif font, be sure to choose one with sturdy, solid flourishes rather than thin, reedy ones unless you’re making the text super sized.

San Serifs can be clunky.

San serif fonts lack those delicate little flourishes that serifs have so they stand up well on colorful or cluttered backgrounds, and are more legible at smaller sizes. They can, however, look a little less formal, and are surprisingly harder to read in long blocks of text.

Don’t be shy.

Since this is a marketing piece, you have to remember exactly what it is you’re selling. The book? Yes, but no. What you’re really selling is you. That means what you really want the customer (reader) to remember is not the title of your book…it’s your name!

There are varying genre conventions for the size of the author name but the general rule of thumb is, if it’s not a children’s book, then get that name on there big and proud. I always make sure I can read the author name at icon size. The more often customers see your name the more you seem familiar and the better that name recognition works on down the line.

Titles are nice, but…

It’s not nearly as important to be able to read the book title online as you might think. Every online vendor puts your cover image right next to the catalog book title and description. It’s almost never pictured alone. That means the customer glances at the image, then their eye flicks over to the text next to it. Meaning as long as you have an overall great hook, the actual legibility of the text is secondary. (I realize that typographers everywhere are probably throwing rotten fruit at me right now.)

Match your genre.

If you’re using a special display font for the title, be sure to choose one that more or less matches the genre of the book. It should work with the background image, not fight against it. A pretty handwriting font works great on romance covers, but looks horrible on thrillers. It can create a disconnect for the reader if the feel and tone of the font doesn’t match the tone of the image and the intent of the overall design.

When in doubt, stick with a classic font. They aren’t boring, they’re timeless. A classic font tells readers that the cover, and the story inside, are professional. That is the best hook.

Do you have a go-to font? What is it and where did you find it? Do you have any questions for Melinda?

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About Melinda

Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.

When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.

Her elementary fantasy series, House of Xannon, begins with Stronger Than Magic. And for more information on covers, visit

Top photo credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

November 8, 2019

The most popular post here at WITS is a very early post from Sharla Rae on writing descriptively about hair. This post is so amazing, we pulled it up from the archives and buffed it up a bit for you. What's included? Everything from basic descriptions and colors to word choices and hairstyle names. and descriptions.

Let's have a hair party!

A few basic do's and don't's.

The #1 thing about hair descriptions is Do Not overuse them. You do not want to be known as "hair girl "or "hair boy!"

#2 on the essential List: Hair descriptions are a part of the character so make them work harder by using them to describe the person “inside,” not just what the person looks like outside.


  •  A tomboy might have a very short, non-nonsense haircut. Then again, she might hide long tresses under a ball cap, because secretly she’d like to be noticed as the girl she really is.
  • A man who works as an executive might conform to a short, and very tailored look. Or, he wears expensive suits but he wears his hair a little too long because on the weekends he caters to his passion and joins his buddies for motorcycle road trips.
Hair like this? Always a don't.

Alternative Generic Names For Head Hair

Coiffure LocksStrands

Descriptive Hair Phrases

Bangs obscured her eyes like a sheepdog
Flaked with snowy dandruff
Bleached, bottle baby
Braid like a thick black rope
Bundled at the nape
Bun resembled a cow patty
Cascading down her back
Chemically damaged
Coiled in a top-knot
Crowning glory
Curls foamed luxuriously
Tendrils danced on the breeze
Downy hair sprinkled her arms
Dramatic widow’s peak
Elaborately dressed with ribbons
Kewpie curls
Smelled like burnt chicken feathers
Snow drifts of dandruff
Veiled her expression with
Greased into a ducktail
Flaming locks fluttered to the floor
Frizz job, bad perm
Glossy locks lifted on the wind
Grew like a thatch of straw on a roof
Grizzled, gray hair
Hair drooped around pale cheeks
Hair like Rapunzel
Hairy as a dog
Hung like a dark river
Kinky perm
Left unbound to tumble
Like a clown wig, artificial red, plastic shine and fuzzy
Like a thatched roof
Like she put her finger in a light socket
Limp and lifeless
Long, shaggy hippy look
Lustrous as onyx stone
Marcelled into fingerwaves
Matted to the scalp
Perm fried
Prematurely gray
Puffed like a bubble around her head
Ragged bangs
Rat’s nest
Shock of hair stood straight up
Slapped her face like wet worms
Sleek and chic
Smooth honey dripped over her shoulders
Spiky Mohawk style of a punk rocker
Spilled out of the hat
Spread like feathers on a pillow
Standing on end
Stiff in front like a cockatoo
Straight as a wire
Streaked, highlighted
Stuck to her sweaty nape
Tangled mane
Tousled pixie
Two-toned dye job
Unconquered curls sprang loose
Unruly swirl
Old-lady blue rinsed hair
Vibrant color and shine
Wet with sweat
White Pigeon Wings at temples
Wispy ringlets
Wondered what rubble lay beneath that mess
Wreathed her face

Hair Texture Phrases

Baby fuzz
Bleached hair like mushy wet works
Blue feather hair of old lady
Bristle top
Broom chopped
Cat-fur fine
Cotton candy hair, fine
Dandelion fuzz
Horsetail coarse
Moldy hay
Short-cropped and stiff
Soft and lush
Soft curls and waves
Yellow straw

Descriptive Hair Color Words & Phrases


Crow's wingIndian InkOnyx

Grays and Whites

Battleship gray, dull gray Maltese gray (blue gray) Smoke
Blue dandelion fuzz MineralSnowy white
Blue rinse grayMousy (gray) Swan's wing
Faded gloryPewterSteel
FlintSalt and PepperWood ashes
Grizzled (gray)Shale
GunmetalSilver cloud


Amber (reddish)
Ash brown
Fudge cycle
Auburn (reddish)
Glazed ginger
Baked Clay Maple Sugar
Brunette Mousy
Chestnut Rawhide, dark reddish
Root beer
Dark beer Tobacco
Dark Earth
Tortoise Shell
Dark toffeeWalnut


AuburnCarrot topGarish
BrassyClown wig redRusset
BurgundyDull brickStrawberry
Burnished CopperFlameWine

Here is a wonderful link, shared with us by Erin Michelle (see comment below) from Writing With Color: Describing Natural Hair.

Professional Hair Color Descriptions

Ash blond -- Lacks red or gold highlights (verges on green tones); light mousy blond, medium and dark blond, dishwater, beige

Ash brown -- Browns lacking warm/red tones tones; light mousy brown, medium and dark brown

Black -- Different shades of black vary according to the amount of highlighting or pigmentation shadings present in the hair; black lacking all highlighting will be duller, ash shade; black containing a lot of red may appear as deep burgundy

Red -- Warm shades; berry, russet, strawberry (red-blonde), rusty orange, wine, carrot top, etc.

Towhead -- Whitish blond; usually an ash blond lacking warm tones but not always

Warm blond -- Blond with touch of gold and red; whiskey, wheat, honey, strawberry, brassy, golden etc.

Warm brown -- Brunette, dark or light brown that contains red or gold tones; varies from light to nearly black; reddish brown, chestnut, dark amber, auburn etc.

Hair Styles Modern And Historical

It’s impossible to name all the hairstyles but the selection here should be a good start. Many listed here also are known by other names.

[See of some these hairstyles here.]

Afro -- Unisex style borrowed from African-Americans; short and very curly, forming a bowl shaped profile; a pick is used to pull the hair away from the head and shape it

Asymmetric -- Hair is cut long on side of the head and short on the other.

Bedhead -- Popularized in 1990s by starlet Meg Ryan; short to mid-length shaggy cut worn jelled or moussed in tossed fashion

Beehive  -- A 60’s French twist coiled at the back of the head and rising above it to form a cone shape (see upsweep)

Bob -- Introduced in 1915 this short cropped hair style was popular during the 1920’s; also called the shingle bob, the shingle, the Eaton crop. It is often cropped at the jawline and aligned close to the face.

Bouffant -- Puffy hair style’ hair is backcombed or ratted then barely smoothed, resulting in a bubble affect

Bowl -- Most commonly worn by young boys. The bang area cut straight cross the forehead as if measured by turning a bowl upside down on the head. The top layers are longer and cut along the this bowl line around the head.

Braid -- Plaited hair

Bubble -- 60’s hairstyle, short to mid-length, ratted/backcombed to appear like a football helmet or bubble surrounding the head

Butch/flattop/crewcut -- A man’s style; usually cut with electric shears; very short and stands on end at the front of the head and his shaved close to the head on the sides; sometimes called a GI cut.

BuzzModern slang for a hair shaved close to the head

Chignon -- Bun, usually at the nape or top of head; topknot

Conk -- African-American textured hair that is straightened

Cornrows -- Small tightly braided rows of hair that hug the scalp

Duck tail -- 50’s style worn by girls and boys alike; hair on either side of nape combed toward the center of the head; reminiscent of Elvis Presley, Fabian, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds etc.

Farrah Fawcett -- Long layered hair flipped or feathered back off the face with a bang that feathers or rolls off the face as well; made popular by the TV star of the same name; late 70’s and early 80’s

Finger waved -- Usually short haircut in which a stylist uses lotion and her fingers to create deep waves that circle the head. Popular in the 1920s and 30s.

Flip -- Feminine hair style of the 50’s and 60’s; long hair usually shoulder length turned up at the ends, sometimes in a roll.

Fontange -- Worn 1690’s to 1710; a towering fountain of frills and complex, lacy intertwining shaped around a wire frame and considered the height of fashion; nicknamed by disdaining men, the “tower and the comet”

French twist/seam -- Hair swept back from both sides the head (front to back) and rolled down the center of the head into a roll or tucked to make a seam

Fringe -- Curly bangs worn in the 1880’s; in 1900’s worn straight; alternate name for bangs

Kiss curls -- Seen immediately after Civil War; ringlets of curls on the cheeks or forehead

London Cut -- Short female cut popular during the 1960s and early 70s. The hair was cut over the ears, leaving a fringe in front of the ears, often brushed toward the face or straight down. The nape hair was cut along the hairline like a boys but more rounded instead of squared off like a man’s neckline.

Mohawk -- Shaved head with a strip of hair growth down the center of the head from forehead to the nape

Pads -- Late 1830’s long coiled curls over the ears (looked like ear muffs); at the back of the head they were called a Grecian knot or psyche knot

Pageboy -- Introduced in late 1930s early 40’s; long, hair turned under, usually just touching the shoulders

Pigtails -- Same as pony tail only the hair is parted down middle and each section is cinched into its own tail above or below the ear

Pixie -- Female short cut; feathered around profile of face and onto cheek, short at the nape line; usually with full bang and combed forward onto face; also called an Italian cut; permed version called a poodle cut

Pompadour -- Style of wearing the hair high over the forehead usually in some type of rolled affect; in 1940’s women used rats (nylon mash) to roll the hair off the forehead and puff it; a version of this also worn during the 1700’s and early 1800’s by most and women; name comes from a lady of this era called Madame

Ponytail -- Hair gathered together and cinched with a rubber band or barrette to make a tail at the back of the head; worn high or low; worn low it’s sometimes called a George (referring to George Washington) or a Paul Revere

Poodle cut -- Short, curly haircut

Powdered hair/wigs -- Unisex style worn from about 1760’s to 1820; after 1740 men were wearing shorter, simpler wigs and began to powder their own hair

Punk -- Usually short on top and styled with lotion to stand up off the head; often a mohawk fashion from forehead to nape; sometimes dyed bright neon colors of pink, purple, blue, orange etc.

Queue -- Pigtail, esp. that of a Chinese. (Chinese queue was braided) Men of Colonial America wore these as well, usually tied back with a ribbon and in some cases men wore a periwig styled with a queue

Roach -- Hair brushed into a roll

Sausage curl -- Long tube-like coils of hair; popular in early 1800’s; in the early 1970’s these were piled on top of the head in a cluster, esp. for formal dress for teens.

Shag -- Like a pixie, only long at the nape. Lengths vary from short to long layered cut; popular during the early 70’s

Skin heads -- Group of radical racist youths, men and women alike, who shaved their heads

Spaniel’s curls -- Late 1840’s into the 50’s; long thick curls worn by the ear (as worn by Elizabeth Barrette Browning)

Spit curls -- First seen in 1831; flat curls on women in front of the ear

Tonsure -- Shaven part of a monk or cleric’s head

Updo/upsweep -- Generic term for long hair styled high on top of head; hair might petaled (layered curls), barrel curled, arranged in a chignon, backcombed into a beehive or styled in French roll etc.

Wedge cut -- Also called Dorothy Hamill cut; short cut worn mostly by women; sides feathered off the face, back cut longer from the drown to the occipital bone, where its layered into a wedge; nape is trimmed close the head and short; a late ‘70’s and early 80’s style.

Do you see anything missing from this list? Are there modern styles we need to add? How do you decide what kind of hair to give your characters?

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Sharla Rae passed away earlier this year, but she (and her amazing lists) live on at WITS. She published four amazing historical romances. The latest, How To Fell a Timberman, is available on Amazon.

You can read more about her here.


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