Every writer has favorite parts when it comes to developing their story. When starting a new story, one of mine is making out my character sketches. Most of the time this starts early on as I come up with a story idea or plot, and the images of the characters will slowly develop before I actually sit down and write them out.
I have to admit that what the characters in my stories look like depends a lot on who they are inside. More often than not I form a mental list of who they are. Flaws, likes, dislikes, fears, careers, family, friends—making them real, 3D. Giving them quirks…maybe they bite their fingernails when nervous, or slide a charm along the chain of their necklace. Or they alphabetize their spices, color code their sock drawer, use a certain word when stressed. I like to give them everyday quirks that we have in real life, maybe some a bit exaggerated, but in the long run this will make them stand out on the pages to the reader.
Why you ask?
Because my hope when I’m writing is to bring the words and the people on the pages to life. And you can really only do that if your characters come across as real, believable. For that to happen they have to be just like us, flaws and all. In the long run, it’ll make it easier then for the reader to feel what my characters feel, see what they see, smell what they smell. I want the reader to care—I want them to like the characters so much they’d claim them as a friend, or better yet, a member of the family—or in the case of the villain, hate them and dread when they appear in the scene, but at the same time look forward to it so that they can study them to learn why they are who they are.
Now that you know how I go about giving my characters a bit of personality, are you curious as to how I come up with their physical description?
I think each writer has their own way of going about this too. Some just pick features out of thin air—pert nose, freckles, square jaw, scar above their left eye, tall, short, curvy…the list goes on. For me it depends. I might leaf through a magazine, surf the web or even flick through the channels on the television until someone jumps out at me. Sometimes I use bits and pieces, other times the complete picture. Then there are those times that my characters are there in my mind, but fuzzy. As the story grows and develops, so does their picture.
For instance, when I started writing Some Like it in Handcuffs, my hero Judson and my heroine Sunny were shadowy figures in my mind. The only thing I knew was that Sunny was blonde and Judson was gorgeous…lol. As I wrote and the story, plot and conflicts developed from my quickie outline, the fuzzy spots of their physical descriptions filled in. But when I started writing the sequel, Some Like it on the Run, I pictured Sunny’s brother Derek long before I began an outline or plotted the story. To me Derek Kennedy has all the best features of Gerard Butler (((YUM))). Now another one of Sunny’s brothers (who will get his own book too) is a clone to Johnny Depp…(((BIGGER YUM))). See how I can work it to my advantage…hehehehe?
But that doesn’t always mean that what I have in my minds eye and what I use to describe my characters is what the reader will see when they’re reading. But in regards to my hero, as long as they get the hunk-factor…I’m happy
It makes writing a bit more interesting and now that you know my secret, I bet it’ll make your reading all the more thought provoking.
What about you other writers out there? How do you come up with your character descriptions?