Writerly Things 6/25/2020: How Important is Appearance in Characters?
Do you take the usual path? Describing a character in details galore? Draw back just a little. What’s most important about them? What sets them apart from others?
Is it Their Eyes?
Stan is at the coffee corner table and sips his Dragon fruit smoothie when in walks a redhead with green eyes. Err, boring. If all you do is list attributes, you’re leaving so much more info off the table. What if they had cat eyes? Or red orb eyes with veins bulging? That would more likely need to be explained. But normal eye color you can maybe pass on.
The shape of their eyes might be noted if it’s unusual. Maybe they have no eyelids. There could be no iris. Again, mention the eyes if there’s something different to mention. Sooner or later you’re going to veer into characters that are “other.” They shouldn’t all resemble us.
What About Their Height?
Too ordinary. Again, unless he or she is a giant. Or tiny. They could be bent with age. Paralyzed from birth. Make it count. Make them an individual. If you do, your readers will dig into the material. They want larger-than-life characters for a reason.
Look at Harry Potter. A boy wizard had never been done before. Much less one with a jagged scar like a bolt of lightning shared by his common enemy. It instantly placed an image of the boy into the readers’ minds and they came back for more time after time.
What about Katniss? In the book, she’s described with dark hair and olive skin. Only the dark hair stayed through casting. It’s her attitude and force of strength that bring her alive as a character. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do to save her sister.
In Throne of Glass, Calaena has the appearance of a human but what’s inside her brings a monster to call in times of battle. Others think she’s weak. That being female will make her no match. When they find out otherwise, it’s too late. She fights from freedom from a king that caged her and uses everyone he knows.
In Graceling, Katsa can kill a man without touching him. She is an assassin for the king but seeks a better life. When an opportunity for freedom comes, she takes it despite the companion she must travel with. Do you need to know her physical details to describe her? No, the lethal force she can use against others reveals her character to the reader. She both takes lives and saves them.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely is about a girl who is kidnapped into the land of the beast. To save a kingdom, she must overcome the curse that keeps him and his guard captive by a powerful sorceress. Can she face off with her despite her disability?
You see. You don’t need to go down to the button of their coat. Unless it’s important. A few details that set them apart from other characters are what matter. Is he a proud king? A hateful prince? Is she destined to be a slave? Or a witch to be slaughtered? Maybe she’s a Danish girl fighting alongside her Viking warrior?
However, you describe your characters, give them purpose. Show why we should care about them. Put them in the middle of the action. Make someone they care about be in danger. Destroy their world. Save their loved ones. Or let a few fall. The more reason for her to go on. Those left behind will give her something and someone to fight for. That brings out a character’s qualities.
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