Creating Characters – Part 1

by juliusmsanz

There’s one thing that I cannot go by when I’m creating characters: I have to see them.

That’s right, first I need a template of sorts for my character, and only after that little step I begin to create their personality and everything else. I don’t know if you fellow writers and readers go about it the same way, and I’m definitely interested in listening to different perspectives. Most of the time I just walk around the street or look at some pictures searching random words, just trying to find something that clicks. Yeah, that’s the right word.

It can be a homeless man, it can be a middle-aged woman carrying her groceries, it can be anybody, most of the time it isn’t a very coherent process, but it finds a way to work. If I don’t see it, then I don’t create it. And the funny thing is this: I never thought much about me being a more visual person.

So when it comes the time to write about the character’s physical description I know exactly what to write, sometimes I tweak a thing or two to fit the rest of the character, but mostly it’s a two, three-minute process to write down everything I remember, just so I cannot forget the next time I’m working on the story.

And while being able to see the character you’re writing about is important, it’s not really a must to get you started. Hemingway was never big on character descriptions and look how great his works are! A while back I read The Old man and the Sea, and I don’t think he wrote that much about how the characters looked. There are even more extreme versions of that process, I just can’t remember them right now.

Another point worth noting is this: the more you focus on physical descriptions, the more you can set yourself to fail. Sometimes we like to idolize your characters and try to make them as perfect as they can be. That’s somewhat of a mistake. You might not notice it at first, but you’ll end up with ridiculous expressions to describe your character. The reader might like to know that your female protagonist is pleasing to the eye, but they won’t like to read a monologue on how sexy and drop dead gorgeous she is, or the multiple and nonsensical descriptions you make every other page. It’s just not needed and doesn’t really do much for the story nor the character.

It’s good to know and be able to imagine, justĀ  don’t shove the character down our throats. I really dislike that.

So let’s review the basics: if you want to work on physical descriptions, write down the height, weight, hair and eye color, if the character is muscular, slim or overweight, and if he/she has any distinguishing features, like birth marks, or burnt skin due to an accident. Tell me about the skin if it’s relevant and you want to give more depth, but don’t do it just because. Don’t try to give an embezzled tale of the character, tell it like it is, and let the readers decide on how that character truly looks like.

I’ll even give another example. Remember Lovecraft? His stories were good and while he described things to no end, you really just had to imagine the horrors mentioned. Sure, he told us how they looked sometimes, but it was often in abstract terms. I clearly remember that I picked one of his monsters completely different from what other people illustrated. But you’re not writing mostly about monsters; you’re writing about people.

If you’re not good at writing about how your character looks, then don’t, play it to your strengths. That doesn’t mean you can never learn though.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!

Have a nice day!