Writer’s Craft: Cruel Claws: Describing the Killer’s Hands by Rayne Hall


To increase suspense in a scene where a dangerous person is about to do something nasty, slow down the pace and describe their hands. This is perfect for when the evil overlord signs the order to exterminate the children, or when the torturer readies his instruments.


This technique works especially well in thrillers. Show the killer’s (or the suspect’s) hands, especially when the point-of-view character is helpless to do anything. This will send creepy shivers across the reader’s skin.

Are the hands bronzed or pale, wrinkled or smooth? Are the fingers long or stubby, bony or pudgy?


Describe the colour and texture of the skin. Wrinkled, calloused or smooth?  Show the way the hands move. Perhaps you can use a simile, comparing them to something else – fingers like spider’s legs, precision movements like a surgeon’s – but only if it suits the story.


Spend a moment on the nails. Are they prawn-pink or nicotine-yellow? Splintered, dirty, or perfectly manicured? Is the varnish chipped, or does it display the latest fashion in nail art?

In many people’s subconscious, long fingernails create unease, so consider giving your dangerous character longer than average nails. However, male villains with very long nails are a cliché of horror flicks, so don’t overdo it.


Use the same technique for a dangerous animal or fantasy monster. Describe the front paws, their texture, colour, shape and movement. Are they webbed, scaled, furry or naked? Focus on the claws: straight like rapiers or curved like scimitars? Translucent like white glass, or black like glistening obsidian?


Even more chilling is the experience of being touched by those hands. Do they feel cold, warm,  icy or hot? Dry or damp?  Rough or smooth? Soft or hard?


Here are some examples from my published fiction. Please don’t copy them, but they may serve as inspiration for your own ideas.


His fingers glinted with rings.

His calloused fingers brush my neck.

… and patted my wrist with flabby fingers.

He clamped an icy hand around Jean’s arm.

Four bony hands clawed into Estelle’s flesh

She took the beaker from his manicured fingers and sipped.

The chief druid’s hands clasped her arms like iron grips.

His hard hand pulled me away from the table.


A single sentence about the evil person’s hands can increase the sense of danger or evil greatly. However, you must choose the right place to insert it, ideally when the hands are about to do something cruel. The point-of-view character must be able to see (or feel) them.




If you’re a writer and want to discuss this technique, please leave a comment. I’ll be around for a week and will reply. I love answering questions.

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