Character descriptions can be among one of the more enjoyable aspects of writing fiction. There is a great deal to think about when we create a new character, so its important to track their profiles.
The first thing writers often think about when bringing characters to life is their physical description. The reader is told of the character’s dashing good looks, curly blonde hair, and clear blue eyes.This is great for helping the reader to get a view of the character in their mind’s eye, but the most memorable characters are those who have unique descriptions.
The hairless man who is fat around the edges, or the woman with the bags under her eyes and a stray hair under her chin ignite the reader’s imagination and allow them a little more fun.
Zadie Smith does it beautifully in White Teeth – a favourite being the woman from the council who she says ‘even on dry days resembled a long-haired cat soaked to the skin.’ Nothing else needs to be said, and we remember that character vividly in our own imaginations!
Not to say all characters should be over-the-top or strange looking, but adding peculiar details stimulates interest, and creates depth. The main character of course, should be loved by the reader, and it is often helpful to give them typical ‘good’ looks, as they are memorable for so many other things.
While writing stories and thinking up character profiles, don’t end at physical descriptions. A good technique is to use character profile sheets that omit physical description mostly. Instead, type the main characteristics of the desired physical attributes into an online search engine like Google Images. For example, type the keywords: tanned, male, strong jaw line, blue eyes, and cap. It’s easy to select an image from there that will stimulate the imagination. This becomes the vision of the character.
With this vision in mind, it becomes easier to focus on other descriptions that create depth to characters such as: What keeps them awake at night? How do they respond to stress? What do they find amusing? What is the toughest moral decision they have ever been forced to make? And, how is their heart in conflict with itself? These are the real descriptions that bring your character to life.
Also, experiment with your character before letting them loose in your story. Getting to know characters ‘off stage’ before they act out their scenes can take things to a completely new level. This brings them to life and adds another dimension to your authentic character classifications.
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