Posted On October 9, 2017 by Print This Post


“Show, don’t tell” are words imprinted on every struggling writer’s brain, but it’s not always clear how to do that. When I first read Sandra Tilley‘s debut post for Romance University, the first character that came to mind was from television, not a book: Fonzie. He owned that leather jacket, the slicked-back hair, the swagger – and, of course, his motorcycle.  The clothes and the confident way Fonzie presented himself gave us a good picture of what he was like. Read on to see how clothes and cars helped Sandra flesh out her characters.


Writing CHARACTER DESCRIPTION is a struggle. How many times have you been reading and the main character stops in front of a mirror and fluffs her sassy blonde curls and puckers her full red lips into a sexy pout? We know she is sassy, has curly blonde hair, and full red lips.

I’m not saying you should never use the mirror device. However, rather than telling about your character, you can really show your character.

The Mini Cooper convertible came in too fast, leaving music in its wake. She unfolded long, bare legs and planted her Espadrille wedges on the pavement and tossed her baseball cap into the back seat. Blonde curls spilled out and down her back. She shot him an easy smile, engaging teeth and lips and the reddest lipstick he’d ever seen.

Now we know she is sassy, has blonde curly hair, and red lips. And if she had to unfold her legs, she must be pretty tall, too.

There are three very different male characters in my book, and I wanted to avoid describing them as badass or yummy or conceited, etc. I wanted my readers to sense these guys’ masculinity. So I asked myself what they had in common that set them apart. Cars and clothes!

In THE GHOST AND MRS. MILLER, Libby Miller has not one, but THREE men in her life: Neil Miller she marries, Jesse King she hates, and Eli Anderson shares her secret. Check out their cars and clothes and see if you think they help characterize Libby’s three guys.

Neil Miller is Libby’s cheating dead husband:

Neil’s best friends, Eli and Jesse, were stars on and off the football field, whereas Neil was more of an asterisk. Even as a ghost, his wardrobe remained the same: light blue oxford shirt and khaki slacks. Besides his red-headed assistant, his love was a BMW 7 Series.

Excerpts from The Ghost and Mrs. Miller:

Libby addresses Neil. “Any way you can change that light blue shirt? It makes you look washed out.”

 Neil snorted. “Really, Libby? I’m a ghost and you want me to worry about a shirt?”

The street light illuminated Neil’s shiny, white BMW, precision-parked with measuring- tape accuracy between two white parallel lines. I eased my five-year-old SUV close to his back bumper. Too close. Neil would freak if he saw my unwashed family car almost kissing the bumper of his worshiped 7 Series.    



Jesse King is Neil and Libby’s childhood friend who was the high school football star and Big Man on Campus. Perfect teeth. Perfect hair. Perfect prick. Even his jeans were sharp.


He crossed a black shiny loafer over the knee of his perfectly creased jeans. Jesse sprawled in his chair like it had been custom made for his body.

Jesse escorted me to his black Corvette, where prominently displayed on the front was a tag that declared, “It’s great to be the King.”



Eli Anderson is a childhood friend and world-class prankster turned Captain Elijah Anderson of the Birmingham police department:


 Eli unfolded his tall, solid frame from his bright yellow Hummer. The perfect vehicle for a guy we called Tank in high school.

A short-sleeved forest green polo shirt stretched so tight across his chest I could read the trademark without my glasses, and his cargo shorts had never felt the heat of an iron.


And then there’s the car of another character–Libby’s stalker:


              A low rumble reached my ears and vibrated all the way down to my bottom planted on the ground.

Emily cocked her head to the side.

“Sounds like a sick muffler.” I scrambled up to get a better view of the curve. “Or a Sherman Tank.”

            Emily joined me. “Sounds like we need to call the EPA to me.”

Neil came into sight. “A 1980’s Pontiac, Bonneville like your Uncle Rollyn’s.”

A dirt-colored vehicle long as a city block slowly rounded the curve. When the young driver saw us, he tugged his baseball cap lower and hit the gas. Rusty polka dots etched into the chrome of the once shiny bumper were half hidden by black, oily smoke billowing in its wake.

            Emily held her nose. “Phew. I hope those fumes aren’t toxic.  Have you ever seen that car before?”

            “Not in several decades.” I’m no alarmist, but the guy and his car creeped me out. “Am I imagining things or did he hide his face when he passed us?” 

“I couldn’t see very clearly through the exhaust cloud.” Emily rifled through her mail. “I’m sure he’s working for someone around the lake or else he couldn’t have gotten through the gate.”

           “Maybe we should we call someone,” I said.

How about your characters? Can you use clothes or cars to show your readers how badass or yummy they are?



Sandra Tilley is from Orange Beach, AL. She grew up in the South and understands that y’all is both singular and plural and wears flip flops year round­­—including both days of winter. 🙂 Most of the settings for her stories are in the South, and you’ll feel the Southern Experience on every page.





Libby Miller is a good Southern girl and good Southern girls know the rules. But fate has no rules. On her nineteenth wedding anniversary, fate whips up a tornado of turmoil when Libby finds her husband Neil in the arms of his assistant. But the storm’s not over. Neil flips his BMW, and Libby comes home to find his ghost in the dining room. How is Libby supposed to grieve and move on with Neil’s ever-present, meddling ethereal presence in her life?

With her twentieth high school reunion looming, Libby finds herself torn between two men from her past. One man promises passion and a new beginning, and the other wants to pick up where they left off. Neil stirs up a maelstrom of mischief, making it almost impossible for Libby to sort through the rubble. Libby anticipates a confrontation between her two suitors–not a shadowy stalker who chooses the reunion as his setting for a showdown. In Libby’s quest for independence, she rejects the one man who can save her. Can she compromise the price of her freedom, or will it cost her a second chance at love and put her life in danger?


The Wild Rose Press:


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  1. Thanks so much for this fun-yet-useful post, Sandra! I’m looking forward to reading your book. I love reunion books, and with Halloween approaching, I’ve been in the mood for some ghost stories, too!

    I was thinking it might be fun to describe ourselves by our clothes and cars. A little tricky for me since we got rid of our car when we moved to the city, but I guess I could link my description to a city bus or a rent-by-the-hour Zipcar. When it comes to clothes, though, it’s very unromantic – I live in jeans and, while the good weather holds, comfy sandals. And I’m kind of defined by the two little girls who are usually holding my hands – the whole neighborhood knows me as their grandma!

    How would you all use cars and clothes to describe yourselves?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 9, 2017, 7:07 am
  2. The clothes and car idea came to me after re-connecting with former students on Facebook. Two memories cropped up over and over: the boys remembered my sports car, and the girls remembered my high heels.
    I still have a little sports car, but now it has a back seat for my 3 beautiful grandchildren. And the closest thing I have to high heels are my wedge flip flops.

    The 3rd comment is always how much they still love reading mythology! Now THAT makes me smile. 🙂

    Thanks for letting me visit today!

    Posted by Sandy Tilley | October 9, 2017, 8:01 am
  3. Fantastic post. I’ve never consciously considered using cars and clothes to differentiate my characters, neat idea. I love the visuals–the photos. I don’t do pull out and save visuals often enough when I’m writing. You’ve inspired me.

    Posted by Suzanne Purvis | October 9, 2017, 8:49 am
  4. Great post, Sandy! I’ve only used the “mirror” on one of my characters. It was after the heroine had been up for several days–no sleep, little food, and brain fried. She slumped past a mirror and froze at the sight staring back at her, lol! It was more to shock her into reality type of scene. Loved the photos. Wishing you all the best!

    Posted by Mary Morgan | October 9, 2017, 9:20 am
  5. Becke, I would describe myself as a dented van that has seen better days, LOL, beat up yet still has some roar in the ole engine.

    Sandra, I just loved this post! So imaginative. I thought of my sons when reading about his wrinkly shorts. I don’t think either one of my grown-up sons knows what an iron is.

    Fantastic descriptions and I wish you the best on your novel(s)!

    Posted by Cheryl | October 9, 2017, 9:31 am
  6. Great post Sandra! I love your fresh perspective on this. You have artfully used this technique, and the fact that you do it consistently with all the main characters makes it even more powerful. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Kay Harris | October 9, 2017, 10:59 am
  7. Fantastic post and great examples. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Jennifer Wilck | October 9, 2017, 11:07 am
  8. I can relate to Cheryl’s dented van description. I just hit Medicare age so lately I’m thinking of myself as sort of a Model T! Although, to put a better spin on it, I kind of the like idea of channeling a classic ’58 Chevy Impala, turquoise and white and shiny!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 9, 2017, 11:40 am
  9. Thanks for hanging out with us today, Sandra! I hope I’ll get to meet you in person one of these days!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 9, 2017, 10:27 pm
  10. Nice job! Love your descriptions : ) These kinds of details and descriptions make the characters more vibrant and the reading much more interesting : )

    Posted by Ginger Monette | October 10, 2017, 11:22 am

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