Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Write Well Wednesday: Creating the Visual Character

I'm going to create a series of entries over the next few weeks!  This series is going to be on characterization.  Specifically, how to create multidimensional, believable characters.  I'm breaking it up into multiple entries because putting everything about characterization into one blog would make it quite long! 

Today's topic is the easiest part of characterization: Creating the visual of your character.

If you're going to create a character of any kind, you have to provide the reader with a template by which to visualize your character.  This, like setting, should be established early on to prevent the reader from creating their own idea of what the character looks like.  The most confusing thing to a reader is learning that your heroine has brown hair and eyes three books into the series.

1.  Establish the basics.  Decide what your character's driver's license would say about them.  What is their hair and eye color?  How tall are they?  How old?  These are the basic things that readers want to know so they can at least create a shadow puppet of your character.

2.  As you continue writing, provide additional physical descriptives.  Lots of readers want to know what the character's build is, what their face is shaped like, and what sort of fashion sense they have.  Depending on how important you feel a feature is to a character's personality is how close it should be to your basic description.  If your character is overweight and you feel that it's important to the story and the character's development, you need to alert the reader to this feature.  Discovering little quirks like knowing someone has a birthmark on their elbow or a gap in their front teeth lets the reader feel like they are learning about the character and the character thus becomes more like a real person.  Almost like making friends!

3.  Avoid the cliches.  Most authors think the whole character in front of the mirror thing does an awesome job of giving you the physical description (especially if the piece is written in first person).  It doesn't!  Think of a more creative way of portraying these details.  Avoid laundry lists of features!  One of the marks of a good writer is being able to pepper physical features in without saying, "He was 6'2," had sharp brown eyes, and wore an expression that matched his military buzzed black hair."

4.  Bedazzle the ordinary.  Don't just say she had pale skin.  How pale is it?  Is it like a canvas or maybe like freshly pressed paper?  What's it like? Does it glow?  Does it have a pink hue?  Is it soft or firm?  Does it remind the person looking at her of something in particular?  Maybe rose petals or velvet?  What about those black eyes of his?  How do they twinkle?  Are they bright like stars or more ominous, like obsidian?  What do they make her feel like?  Do they stare right through her or make her feel a dark comfort?  These details add additional building blocks to your character (which we'll talk about later) while laying the foundation.  Plus, spreading things out with additional descriptives helps prevent that laundry list from piling up!  However, be careful not to get cliche here either.

5.  Don't go overboard.  A little goes a long way with a reader.  Readers like to imagine when they read a story, if you feed them everything, then there's nothing fun left about learning your character.  Save certain tid-bits for later or never mention them at all.


  1. Hi A.L.,oooh,,this is a wonderful post, and I enjoyed reading it, thank you for sharing.
    I remember at the begining of my story I had that mirror thing,,LOL. Glad I took it out...hehe

    Happy Writing!

  2. I'm glad you put #5 in there. When I read characters I care more about what a character does rather than what she looks like. Just give me the brightest stars in the Constellation, I will imagine the rest.

    Looking forward to the rest of your posts in this series.