Tattoos in Modern Writing: What they say about characters.

We’ve all seen them, marked finely in little details, bold lines, or colorful pictures. Tattoo’s are the way many people show an individual side of themselves with a piece of artwork permanently on their bodies. They can be something as simple as a butterfly on the ankle or a wild tribal on the shoulder blade, to a full out sleeve or back mural. The body has become a canvas for the tattoo seeker, and the tattoo seeker has become a walking piece of art that inspires intrigue, or even disgust.

When brought into the world of novels and writing, tattoo’s can become a powerful aspect of a character.

There are already many famous marks or tattoo’s that are associated with equally famous characters. To name a few:

  • The scar from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  • The runes on the Shadow Hunters in the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
  • The bow and arrow mark on the Dark Hunters from Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • The Dragon Rider marks from Eragon by Christopher Paolini

And there are many, many more examples.

If the reader pays attention, they will discover that these marks and tattoo’s have a great significance in all of these stories. Harry’s scar is what makes him famous–the scar -is- Harry. The Shadow Hunter’s runes are like kanji in the Japanese language, each having the essence of meaning of words like courage, bonding, healing. The bow and arrow is the mark of a dark-hunter, but also a dangerous point which can be used against them.

The tattoo, like the character’s personality, can be that spark you need to light the flame of a story. It can also be the log to keep one burning.

Let me show you. Take a look at the tattoo below:

Source Unknown

 This is actually a pin from one of my Pinterest boards that specifically focuses on tattoo’s and art.

Now, this exercise is one of my favorites, and I’ll show you how to do it in just a second, but first I want to tell you what I see as I’m looking at this now.

His name is Gregory. Twenty-four, Ashen Grey eyes, black scruff around his jaw. He is expressing loyalty by holding his arms behind him. Calmness. But there is a fire in his chest that is covered by the tree from his forest. It is the Wolf Tree.  In his veins pumps the blood of a beast, one with eyes of copper and long claws sharpened on the bones of his prey. He is their leader, head of the pack. The tattoo represents this. His tolerance for human society is short like the short of a fuse because his sister was murdered on her third birthday, prey to the gunshot that should have hit him. It is a silent guilt, one that the others do not speak of. It is hushed among them…

And all of that is on the fly.

The point is, the tattoo is an inspiration. And your are the one with the power of words that will weave that inspiration onto the threatening white page.

If I were to go back over that, I would change some things. I’m sure my grammar needs a lot of work, I’m sure I could dive deeper into the rest of his story and give him a purpose, a path of healing, a path of vengeance–it would be up to me. But the point is to get it down. Ignore that little voice in your head for now, and write what comes to mind when you find an inspiring picture of a tattoo like this.

Get it down. Because it’s better to have something to work with than nothing at all.

Tattoo Exercise

Task: Find a picture of a tattoo that inspires you. If you would like to share, post your snippet and a link to your picture in the comments.

What do you see?

Who is this person?

How old are they?

What is the tattoo of?

Why do they have it?

Is it important?


What is his world?

What does he love?

What does he hate?

Does he give his name freely?

What is it?

+ Add Questions of your own.

What are you waiting for?



  1. […] so in an incredible way. I have participated in one of her activities and another one is already drafted. I currently don’t dare to look into more of her posts as it would probably animate me to […]

  2. […] then I – again –  felt inclined to do an exercise from WriteTheWhite, this time about characters with tattoos. In her post Sherri used a picture of a young man with a tree tattoo covering his chest and […]

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