Can you picture your favourite fictional character? Can you see the way they move, hear their voice, visualise their face? I bet you can. If you cannot build up a good picture of a character in your mind, you likely found them nondescript and forgettable, with few things that evoked a strong image in your imagination. No reader wants to read about a blend cardboard cut-out character, and I am sure no writer wants to write about one. So how can novelists create interesting, well-rounded and individualistic characters? (If you are wondering why the post starts with these photos of a gorgeous and brooding Regency gentleman, patience – all will be revealed!)
I think there are number of different areas that need to be thought about in this, so I will be taking one of them each time and doing a post about it. The four areas I will be posting about in this series are:
posture, gesture and body langauge
naming you characters
Physical appearance is the first thing we usually think about when describing someone, so I will start with that.
If you struggle to create characters that seem individual rather than bearing a description that could apply to vast numbers of people, try this exercise. Study the photos, which are pictures of English actor Alan Rickman playing Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s film Sense and Sensibility. Now I want you to write a description of this man. If you are about to write ‘middle-aged Caucasian male, slim build, short brown hair, grey eyes’, please pause! We are not trying to create one of those ‘criminal wanted by police’ descriptions. Instead, think about this: there are billions of people on earth, and not one of them looks identical (even identical twins can be told apart by people who know them well).
So what is it about Alan Rickman’s face that is that makes him look as he does? Try to think hard about this and really look at the face. Are the eyes large, small, long, stern, sad? What about the lips, full, wide, strong, curled? How do the different aspects of the face blend together, perhaps the eyes have a wistfulness, or is it the mouth that is melancholy? What overall impression does the face create? Or perhaps the elements are opposites – the bone structure strong, but his expression soft?
When you have thoroughly studied every aspect of the face, try to put it into words. Work hard to use words that are descriptive and evoke a strong image. Be creative. Use metaphors and any other form of word-play you fancy. Paint his portrait using words as the colour and grammar as the form. Really throw yourself at the task and be innovative. Don’t be scared; if something doesn’t work, you can simply delete it and try again. Here it might be useful to consult your thesaurus if you are struggling to think of descriptive language.
You can try this with any face you like. The more the merrier! This exercise is simple, but it will help you create evocative characters that will come to life in your readers’ imaginations. I hope you like Alan Rickman, because he will be returning for part 2 in this series to help us develop our character-creating skills.
Stay tuned for that, and happy writing!
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