How-to Tuesday

How to Bring Your Characters to Life: Part 7 – Molding Your Character’s Physical Appearance

Every week, we update our current how-to series about creating realistic characters, entitled “How to Bring Your Characters to Life,” providing a handy activity to help you turn your characters into realistic “people.” Last week’s post was about adding quirks to your character’s personality to make him or her extra unique. This week, we will finally work on creating your character’s physical appearance.

Molding Your Character’s Physical Appearance

Many writers begin with deciding the physical appearance of their characters. However, this can often lead to characters whose personalities are simply stereotypes that match their looks, such as a mean and popular blonde cheerleader, a stern grandfather who wears sweater vests and has a grey beard, a scrawny and pimpled class nerd, or a handsome and muscular dumb jock.

So for this how-to series, we asked you to focus on your character’s personalities first. Now that you are very knowledgeable about your character, you will be able to be more creative about how your character looks. You probably already have an idea in your mind about your character’s appearance, but know you will focus on making this idea thorough and believable.

Keep in mind that your character’s appearance will have a strong effect on his or her life and personality. If your character is good looking, he or she will more likely have more friends and popularity than a character that is not good looking. However, you can put a twist on this assumption by creating a character that is good looking, but very shy and therefore not popular. Or you could create a character who is not attractive, but who is very smart or funny, and therefore very popular. Consult your earlier notes and think about how you could make a physical description that both fits the character you have been creating and also surprises the reader in a way that still makes sense.

Activity #1

Listed below are some key physical features you will need to decide for your character. Think about your character and make notes for each feature. Write at least one to two sentences in response to each item. Make sure that the responses match with each other, and if you decide to make anything unusual, explain why. For instance, you create an athlete who is very fat, explain why, such as having to take a break from training because of a sports injury.

  1. Ethnicity (feel free to use a mix of ethnicities, but make sure that they make sense for the time period and country that your character is living in)
  2. Natural Eye Color
  3. Natural Hair Color
  4. Natural Skin Color
  5. Skin Type (acne, wrinkles, smooth, oily, perfect complexion, freckles, etc.)
  6. Height
  7. Weight
  8. Body Shape (athletic, skinny, fat, average, curvy, very thin, very muscular, etc.)
  9. Most Unusual Feature (big ears, long toes, oddly shaped nose, thick eyebrows, etc.)
  10. Your Character’s Favorite Feature (This is what your character likes most about himself or herself, such as their eyes, smile, muscles, skinniness, etc.)
  11. Your Character’s Least Favorite Feature (This is what your character dislikes or feels most insecure about in himself or herself, such as a large nose, big feet, crooked teeth, acne, wrinkles, short height, lack of muscles, etc.)
Activity #2

You will also need to create a personal style for your character. When your character reaches for a jacket on the way out of his house, is it a black leather motorcycle jacket, a comfy zip-up sports hoodie, or a wool tweed blazer. How your character chooses to dress says much more about their personality than the features they were born with.

For instance, if you create an Asian character with platinum blonde hair, explain why she chooses to dye it, such as to look more like her favorite pop star. If you have a character that has tons of tattoos and piercings, explain why he chose to get them, and what each tattoo or piercing signifies to him. If you have a mother in her forties who wears skimpy dresses or very short shorts, explain why she chooses to dress that way, such as a midlife crisis, or insecurity after a divorce.

Consider the following questions about your character, being as descriptive and specific as possible. Write at least two to three sentences in response to each item.

  1. What is your character’s overall personal style (rocker, goth, preppy, sporty, dressy, etc.)
  2. What kind of clothes does your character wear at work?
  3. What kind of clothes does your character wear at home?
  4. What kind of clothes does your character wear when spending time with his or her family?
  5. What kind of clothes does your character wear when spending casual free time with his or her friends?
  6. What kind of clothes would your character wear on a date or special formal occasion?
  7. Does your character modify his or her body at all (hair dye, nail polish, makeup, tattoos, piercings, plastic surgery, etc.) and if so, how and why? Be specific and descriptive.
  8. If your character had to pick only one outfit to wear for the rest of his or her life (aka all-time favorite outfit that he or she is most comfortable in) what would it be?
  9. If your character could drive any type or model of car, what would it be and why?

Missed any of our previous installments? Check out Lekha’s “How-to Tuesday.”

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