This month’s first Craft Element is Character Description, which I decided to tackle separately from Setting Description, not only because I felt that the first Writing Craft Elements post was getting a bit long, but also because describing characters has specific characteristics. Still, all the things that were mentioned in that post apply here. While researching, it also occurred to me that maybe this would be approached more appropriately if I had spoken about Character Creation first, but since Planning is the next Writing Craft Element I figure it’s not going to be that bad.
My prefered way to describe characters is by describing them while they’re in motion or performing some sort of task, since it not only lets me ‘describe on the go’, but also reveal other characteristics that do not relate to physical appearance. Even if the character is just sitting, maybe waiting for something, there’s still a lot to be said in terms of body language and the character’s thoughts, not only of the current situation, but also of the surrounding space. Sometimes even have them looking at a mirror or other reflective surface to assess themselves, like I did in a character description for a writing course I did a while back, where a character adjusted a tag on her blazer that revealed not only her name but also her job.
As when describing space or actions, describing a character can’t be just a laundry list of characteristics, or else the reader will be left with a generic– and thus unremarkable– character, or even a bunch of meaningless traits. Be specific (‘blazer’ does provide a different mental image than simply ‘jacket’), choose important details that reveal character.
Even the spaces that a character inhabits and the objects they use can reveal traits, not needing for you to tell the readers directly. Let’s return to Alice’s room: if she has posters of her favourite rock bands on the wall, but still has stuffed animals on her bed, then that tells us something about her age and interests. And it’s never too much to stress how much a character’s thoughts and the way they look at the world are important to characterization.
In the end, we come back to Show, don’t Tell. Don’t tell us the character is nervous, show us through body language and their thoughts. Don’t say a character is kind hearted, show a situation that showcases it. Don’t say that a character is beautiful, describe them in a way that makes us fall in love.
Now Novel, Describing characters: How to describe faces imaginatively, http://www.nownovel.com/blog/talking-character-face/
Body Language Cheat Sheet (couldn’t find the original source!), http://indulgy.com/post/THeGY1PhH2/body-language-cheat-sheet
Writers Write, Body Language Reference Sheet, http://writerswrite.co.za/body-language-reference-sheet