In my Basic Description tutorial I did mention characters briefly. However here is some more details when writing your characters.Note: Most of my tutorials while they cover “writing”, they are more geared towards Fantasy writers. Beautiful People
- One flaw I see in new writers is that almost all of their characters are “beautiful”. They bear no birthmarks (unless in the shape of some magick chalice or other “prophesied” symbol etc), no scars, no pock-ed skin. Their hair is always shimmery and silky, skin flawless and with glistering sapphire (or other “gem” coloured) eyes.
Just to be clear when I use the word “beautiful” here, it is just a word that helps to describe the issue. After all, everyone’s idea of beauty is different. If all your characters are skinny, or muscular, or all have long hair, or short… whatever your personal image of beauty is, I guarantee it will feature heavily in your writing.
Now there is nothing wrong with having “beautiful” characters, especially if you write fantasy because that’s what it is Fantasy! But don’t over do it. Not every character should have “flowing hair” and “radiant skin”. Also, don't read this and then make all your minor characters mundane to compensate.
Everyone, even the most beautiful people in the world have flaws and faults. Give your character some, of at least SOME of your characters flaws and faults – these are what make people different!Here’s some additional points in the same veinJewels
- Try to limit the number of gem-coloured references. Sapphire or emerald eyes, ruby lips are okay and can sometimes work. But they have been done to death so it can be easy to fall into the trap of using them in place of more suitable words. Also, don’t use them immediately. Maybe you introduce your character as having watery green eyes… only when angered does the true iridescent emerald of the iris’s show. See?Skin
- Try and stay away from “alabaster or milky skin”. Fantasy writers love pale skin, whether it’s because we often enjoy reading vampire novels where almost all caucasion vampires are deathly white or whether Snow White was pivotal for you, just try and rein in your obvious and cliché adjectives. The same applies for dark skin – using the description of “chocolate coloured skin” is pretty crude. Also, does your world even HAVE chocolate? If it's a historical novel, you may find chocolate had not been created in the time period you’re working. Try and use a reference that makes sense both to your reader and to your world/characters etc. Minor descriptions
- Do not get locked into describing the same five points (eyes / hair / skin / height / age). We are not defined by our looks and if we were we certainly wouldn’t be just these five! Firstly, build on these. Don’t just do colour of the hair, what about length, texture, style?Example:
The woman had long blonde hair in curls and tied up in a ponytail. It was shiny in the candlelight. Example:
The woman’s wild tresses were pinned high on her head yet still fell to the middle of her back. In the candle light her hair looked almost golden. Like all highborn ladies, the hair was brushed with a 100 strokes each morning until it shone.
Here we have a colour, a style, we can tie in her status and a little of the culture of that status and then the texture/condition. Major descriptions
– Before writing anything, think about your characters (this includes minor characters too). Put down the main points but what else? Do they walk tall and proud? Do they shuffle? Do they have a limp? If so why? Are they missing limbs or digits? If so, why? Do they have curvy bodies, in women is this seen as a sign of fertility? In men is it seen as a weakness? Is their skin marked, scarred, are these accidents/birthmarks or tribal markings to show reaching of an age?
Do they have rough hands from working in a forge? Are they always tanned from working outside? Do they have ink stained fingers if they write a lot? What about bad breath or does their hair smell of jasmine?
Do they have a gutteral gruff voice? Is that because of where they are from or because they smoke a pipe often? Do they sing? Are they mute? Do they have an accent?
Remember what I mentioned in the Basic Description tutorial – USE THE SENSES. What do they LOOK like? What do they SMELL like? What do they SOUND like? What do they FEEL like?
Now move to mannerisms – quirks. We all have them. Whether it's checking your bag twenty times to make sure your keys are definite in there. Or cracking your knuckles. Or how about humming if you’re nervous? 3-Dimensional
– Make your characters 3 dimensional. Start small and build up. If you are not sure how, look at the above. When you get to mannerisms, expand that. Why does your main character crack his knuckles? Did his father do it and he’s picked up the habit? Does he like doing it to remind him of his father now passed away? Why does your female character hum when she’s nervous? Did she used to go that as a child to drown out the screams between her parents when they argued?
It is a lazy writer who only makes notes on the basic descriptions. Basic is fine for minor characters, however even minor characters should have something about them.
Remember these little quirks can add a whole new dimension to your characters and bring out personality / issues / back story. These can then spiral out into NEW ideas whether for the story you are writing or maybe another. Example:
I have a character in my novel, he is a Port Master who takes the tithes from the ships when they dock. He is in the novel for one small scene. I give minimal description but during the scene it comes to light he is taking tithes that he does not record in the log book. He justifies these as he has been robbed several times and each time, the amount lost has been docked from his wages. By stealing monies, he is protecting his wage.Props
– You can bring out a character with props, not just mannerisms and descriptions. Does your main character carry a cane? Does your heroine smoke a pipe? Are they drunkards, always seen with a flask tucked in their waistband? Tip : Try to steer away from magic pendants, rings or chalices. Don’t Tell Me Your Character’s look
– I am your reader. I do not want to read a whole paragraph about the looks and quirks of a character every time one is introduced. The rule of thumb is give two pieces of description when you introduce a character and build the picture slowly throughout the story.
So, we meet a traveller on his way to the next village. For a young man he is walking with a severe limp usually seen only in the elderly. On his feet the tatty boots are falling apart from the long journey he has undertaken and are no longer giving him protection against the stony path.
From this we learn he is young, he has travelled far, maybe he is poor and has been unable to buy new boots, looks scruffy? Already from this you will have an image in your head and I have not yet told you his eye or hair colour. Don’t assume the main descriptions need to be the usual five! Be different when introducing a character.
As a reader I want you to show me your character. I want to see the desperation as he fights to stay out of the tavern. I don’t want you telling me he’s a drunk. I want to see the young woman hiding behind her veil, with only the scars in her eyes to tell me she is no longer the beauty in the realm. I don’t want you to tell me her face was slashed by a scorned lover so she hides it.
Take the time to learn about your characters before you introduce them to your readers. Let them grow and develop.Don't Pigeon Hole Characters
– So you have created a character and planned him/her to do something specific and to be a certain time of character. If you stick rigidly to this, you may find your writing becomes stagnant and stunted. One reason for this is your character will naturally evolve and change and develop as you write. If you try and keep your character pigeonholed to the original design, you are not doing your writing justice. Many writers state that characters do sometimes appear to change in a way they never expected and this can change the writing.
Don't get me wrong, you are still the writer and a character should not dictate your writing but you must understand your work will evolve and your characters may change from what you originally started with.People Watching
– Finally, if you want to write good characters get out and People Watch. This is great if you have to wait for buses or travel on the train or be in any place were there are random people walking, sitting, talking etc. The different looks of people can inspire you. Maybe you haven't got the image of your realm lord or queen.
Take the time to watch how people move, walk, talk, stand as well as their general looks. See how they favour one hand over the other, how they react when talking or watching other people. Human behaviour is a wonderful inspiration for characters.
We react in ways we don't even realise, body language etc – it's all things as writer should be aware of and people watching can help.NOTE: Do not be obvious, staring at people can upset, annoy or intimidate people so remember to be subtle.
NOTICE TO ALL WRITERS
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