6 Qualities to Keep in Mind About Characters
Writers, whether for books, television or movies, seem naturally drawn to creating beautiful characters unless they believe there is a very good reason to do otherwise. Sometimes the story needs an ugly duckling, or someone with such a deplorable personality they can’t possibly be attractive (unless it’s as contrast). But if you, as the writer, will watch people at a mall, airport or other crowded venue, you’ll realize how few actually attractive people there are. A majority of the population are plain, simple-looking. If your book is to be believable, your characters should follow suit. Make sure that physical features are consistent with that person’s ethnic origins, unless there’s a good reason for exceptions.
Secondly, don’t introduce your characters with an extensive physical appraisal. Readers get lost in a list of physical attributes. Sprinkle them through dialogue, action, other characters’ reactions.
Remember, appearance goes beyond actual physical visualization of characteristics; it includes how the character walks, carries himself, stands, moves. Are they graceful? Fast? Slow? Purposeful? Hesitant? Comportment can indicate a lot about a character’s personality, too.
How do your characters dress? The period and locale will determine the general costume, but personality is still easily realized through their choices. Clothing can indicate social status and what the character feels about that; or how about what they do to earn a living? Is their clothing austere, or ostentatious? Prim, or provocative? What kind of accessories, if any, do they wear, and why? In the current trend of writing Steampunk, types of clothing are especially significant. Same goes for a Fantasy Quest, sea voyage, anything Historical (here research is essential).
This word even contains ‘character’ because through these habits and behaviors our ‘character’ is revealed. When designing and writing about your character, be sure to keep these in mind and, more importantly, be consistent.
What facial expressions does your character exhibit? Are they self-conscious about them, or are they natural, or does it depend? If the character is physically demonstrative, how is this characteristic conveyed?
Do they use their hands a lot, or is the person’s entire body an instrument of expression? Do they often handle or caress objects? Are they calm, or fidgety? Do they make physical contact with other people, or deliberately avoid contact? Do they observe conventions of social distance (the space people leave between each other according to their social status and relationship)? Do they establish and maintain eye contact — and is this a sign of forthrightness, or an effort to dominate others — or are they evasive about it?
What implements do they carry and use—pocket knife, compass, pocket comb, wallet, pocket watch? Are these objects practical, like tools, or are they talismans—rabbit’s foot? Does this person rely on instruments, or on thoughts and ideas, or on both?
The way a character speaks tells volumes about that character. It can determine how and where they grew up, what type of job they work, where and how they currently live, types of friends, social status, religious beliefs. Think about what their tone of voice sounds like. Is it smooth, gruff, harsh? Are they quiet and soft-spoken or loud, brash, out-spoken? Is their pitch high or low—or does it vary depending on the scene? Do they mumble or enunciate clearly? Are they taciturn, or voluble? How else is their personality conveyed in the way they speak or how talk or think to themselves? Are they kind, or cruel, in their speech? Respectful, insolent or condescending?
Do they have an unusual accent, or do they try to suppress it, and are they successful all the time, or does the accent prevail when they are emotional or unguarded? Is their general mode of speech an effort to hide or overcome their origins? If they must speak a foreign language, are they fluent, or merely competent, or not even that?
Environment is a double-edged sword. It can indicate a lot about a character as well as influence the way the character dresses, speaks, behaves. Once you’ve decided your character’s appearance, dress and behavior, make sure their environment meshes. If something is out of place—unless you as the author intend it for some important reason—change what stands out. Make sure the character’s dwelling suits their social status and lifestyle, speech and dress. How does their dwelling reflect the character’s personality? How does their workplace do the same? Is the personal environment functional and practical, or is it expressive of the character? Do their possessions convey a simple lifestyle, or one devoted to acquisition of goods?
Remember, the way personal items are displayed in one’s home or workplace reveals much about the person. There are three general categories: things displayed ostentatiously (certificates, trophies, autographs), things displayed unselfconsciously for both the person and for visitors to see (vacation photos, knickknacks), and things displayed solely for the benefit of the space’s occupant, not its visitors (mementos, notes from loved ones).
6. Family Background
Everyone is well aware that childhood experiences, numbers of siblings, parental involvement or lack thereof, school experiences and friendships/bullying and more all have profound influences on the adult character of a person. The same should hold true for your fictional characters.
Consider familial relationships growing up as well as currently, friends before and now, enemies, coworkers, neighbors, merchants where the character shops often, the movie ticket seller, the cab driver… You get the point, I’m sure. In designing a character, keep all relationships—past, present and future—in mind. How did they influence the character’s current appearance, behavior, mode of dress, social status, living locale/style? Do do they currently influence these things and how will these influences affect your character’s future?
What other categories can you add to this list? What do you consider when designing a character?
For a peak at a new character in the Seraphym Wars series, order my newest release, Prophecy, due out tomorrow.
For centuries the residents of Solsyl lived in peace and harmony with the planet. Then the dragon-demons arrived, causing the Great Shuddering. Majikals from everywhere scurried to find shelter from the evil while humans hid. Laud regretted his rash decision of exiling the demons on Solsyl and asked one of his advisors, a member of The Conscientia, to protect his people. Jeremiah Holyfield agreed to leave the peaceful world of Revrum Natura for a life of constant strife and fear on the newly renamed planet of Dracwald. But Narciss, ruler of Tartarus and King of the demons, desperately wants what Jeremiah has sworn to protect—a Prophecy of Narciss’s future doom. And Narciss refuses to take no for an answer. But Jeremiah discovers allies along his path and even true love, which he never dreamed possible.
But forever is a long time to protect something without ever letting down one’s guard.
Available September 16, 2011 as eBook.
The first book, Odessa, is currently available as eBook or Print. For a personally signed copy with a print of the map of Dracwald for $13.00, send me an email: myrnawatts (at) gmail (dot) com