It’s All in My Head

01 Nov

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?


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28 responses to “It’s All in My Head

  1. Jennifer Lowery~Author

    November 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Great blog! I usually have a fuzzy image in my head before I begin writing my character, then I search online and find a photo that fits the image I have. Usually I know just the person to fit my character. It’s one of the fun parts of writing 🙂

    • ChristineWarner

      November 1, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      I agree Jennifer…it is one of the best parts to getting your story in order. Thanks for coming by 🙂

  2. Loralee Lillibridge

    November 2, 2011 at 12:06 am

    It’s always fun to learn how other writers develop their characters. I often have the character in my mind before the story every makes an appearance. Cart before the horse, maybe. LOL. In my last book, I knew the hero’s inner self before his physical makeup appeared. It took a long time before I found the perfect heroine for him. As writers, I guess we’re all victims of our imagination. I wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 12:17 am

      No way, I wouldn’t want it any other way either! Love how with each story written, we go about some of the same things in different ways.

      Glad you came by Loralee!

  3. Neecy

    November 2, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Usually, I have the story percolating in my head, before I choose the characters. My male hero is easy for me. It’s the heroine I seem to spend more time on. LOL
    Isn’t that just like a woman.
    Great post,

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 1:27 am

      lol…too funny! I guess I spend more time on the hero, because being a woman I can come up with tons of quirks and traits, but coming up with manly ones takes me more time.
      Glad you dropped by Denice!

  4. Calisa Rhose

    November 2, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Mine start fuzzy a lot of times and then clear up as I write. Once in a while I get a clear image but it takes forever to find a picture to describe them by. My hero in HOME never fully cleared up to me. Sam is just who he is. I know and hope the reader will know Sam in their own way. I finally realized I can’t ‘see’ him because he personifies all Vietnam vets for me, and therefore has no absolute description for me to focus on. For the readers this probably won’t be the case, though because I’m much closer to him (as the writer) than they will be, in a different way. This is a thought provoking post, Christine. Thanks.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 1:32 am

      Hey Calisa, What you said about your hero makes perfect sense. I’m glad you took the time to stop in and comment. Happy you liked today’s post!

  5. Sharon Cullen

    November 2, 2011 at 2:23 am

    My stories always start with the characters. They live in my head for a long time before the story is actually written. So its hard for me to decide when, exactly, I have a physical description of them. Sometimes it just pops into my head fully formed. I can’t do character sketches or graphs. I’ve tried. For me the whole process was too sterile, too organized for this unorganized brain of mine. I just let them have some space in my brain and over the course of time they develop. Weird, I know. Its a hard process to describe.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 2:38 am

      I love hearing all the different ways people work! Thanks for coming by Sharon 🙂

  6. relatedreality

    November 2, 2011 at 2:59 am

    I really enjoyed reading about how your characters become creations! My characters are usually an interesting mixture of the customers I deal with on a weekly basis. There is nothing more amusing to me than seeing several (known) personalities blended into one character. I look forward to reading more of your blogs, you definitely keep it entertaining!

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 3:14 am

      Thank you so much! I appreciate it.

      You must have fun blending your customers into characters…people watching is a great way to learn characteristics and personality flaws/traits.

      Glad you found me and welcome!

  7. Brenda

    November 2, 2011 at 3:02 am

    I can see my characters clearly in my mind. I make character sketches for each and add to it as the story progresses, and as more of their appearance and personalities come out.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 3:16 am

      Very true Brenda, I add onto mine as well as they reveal themselves. Nicely said 🙂

  8. Tabitha

    November 2, 2011 at 3:21 am

    I chart my characters first and then sit and think on what they look like. Most of the time I know what I’m looking for I just have to find it. So I search the net for pictures. Sometimes I get lucky and one jumps out at me but most of the time it takes awhile. In Soul Extraction I knew right off that Nyx my villian looked like Jared Leto. He was just perfect!

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 3:24 am

      Thanks for coming by Tabitha! I read the first chapter so far of Soul Extraction and it’s excellent!
      Love it that you already have a look in mind but then you search out the pictures and match them up. Interesting way to go about it!

  9. Sheri Fredricks

    November 2, 2011 at 7:35 am

    My character’s profession will often dictate their physical description. I start with my story outline first. As I add characters, I fill in their charts, often changes many things about them in the process. As the story grows in my outline, so does the character. And by the time I’m ready to write the story, I pretty much have my characters fully fleshed out.

    Another great blog!!

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

      Thanks Sheri…great answer! Sounds like you get good detail and that’ll only benefit your descriptions. Appreciate you sharing 🙂

  10. mirriamsmyth

    November 2, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I jigsaw my characters together. Is that the best way to describe it? I have no idea, lol. It’s eyes from one person, lips from another, hair from someone else. The end result is a man/woman that appeals to all my senses, yet annoys/frustrates the crap out of me because of their personality.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 2, 2011 at 9:47 am

      lol…great answer Mirriam! I really do love to hear the different ways people create. I find that for me it really boils down to the story…seems I try something new each time.

  11. Zee Monodee

    November 2, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I always have a picture/celebrity in mind when I write a character, and I will then describe him as best as I can, and to fit his ‘look’ in the book. But readers are free to interpret the description as they want, like I once wrote a story where I pictured Sam Worthington in my mind. But the desc – sandy-blond hair, rugged jaw, thin mouth, and a nose that has been broken a few times (the hero is a former boxer) – to me that fitted Sam Worthington, but someone else told me they saw Daniel Craig in that description, so to each her own really, lol. 🙂

    • ChristineWarner

      November 3, 2011 at 12:31 am

      I absolutely agree…it’s actually kind of interesting to talk to someone who has read your book and have them describe the characters.
      Happy you came by Zee..thanks!

  12. Callie Hutton

    November 3, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Actually, the physical part of my characters I find boring. I mean, the guy is always “broad shouldered, trim waist, long muscular legs.” I enjoy the ‘person’ my characters are. In A Wife By Christmas, Max is the typical handsome hero, but he’s stiff, proper, and never did a reckless thing in his life. On the other hand, Ellie is flightly, a risk-taker, and a disaster waiting to happen. I had so much fun having her torture him throughout the story. That’s the fun part for me, seeing how my characters interact.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 3, 2011 at 12:35 am

      When describing the heroes body you are right, they are usually very similar because there is only so many words you can use to describe him, but talking about their faces or those special quirks or looks that they have is what makes them more real.
      Interesting perspective Callie…glad you dropped in!

  13. jerridrennen

    November 3, 2011 at 4:10 am

    I usually find an image of my hero to get a feel of how to describe him but as for the herione, she just appears as I start writing.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 3, 2011 at 8:36 am

      Another interesting perspective! Glad you came by Jerri 🙂

  14. Christina

    November 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Awesome to read all the different way’s writers develop their characters. I, for one, am all over the board, but usually one character and one scene pop into my head very clear and I build everything around that. Sometimes the story idea is very clear and the characters are vague. I know what I want, but I have to develop the characters and learn about them as I write. In the last case, I make notes about them as they reveal themselves to me and go back to sketch that into the beginning. Great post, Christine.

    • ChristineWarner

      November 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks for dropping in Christina! I agree, it’s been great reading how everyone goes about their writing routine 🙂


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