While we’re Chatting about Characters …

Just wanted to touch upon character “depth and development” a bit more today . . . give more of that proverbial food for thought.

WPchrac4When it comes to detailing our characters (villains included), we want to provide:

♥  enough facts and features to paint a vivid picture    ♥  layers to create complexity and intensity.

We don’t, however, want to offer so many details and components that we deliver an abstract depiction, one that lends itself to an unbelievable and/or non-“seeable” person.

Consider the factors most relevant to your characters, those that make them come to life for your readers.  Do we need to know every facial feature?  Of course not.  Just those that impart details that build on—add dimension to—the character/villain.

For example, let’s take a gander at types of:

eyes – monolid, hooded, almond-shaped, close-set …

♥  Ronald’s sad kelp-brown eyes scanned the reception area.

lips – thin, wide, full, bow-shaped …

♥  Her perpetually pouty lips drew into a tight line when she noticed the ever-irascible Detective Smith had entered the lobby.

noses – fleshy, turned-up, narrow, flat, Roman, bumpy …

♥  The intern’s ski-slope nose had an odd jagged scar running down the left side.

chins – double, pointed, long, fleshy, scarred, pimply …

♥  Unable to meet Jason’s intense crow-black eyes, the man spoke to his strong square chin.

eyebrows – S-shaped, thin, rounded, tattooed, hard-angled, soft-angled ….

♥  Roger eyed the professor’s thin plucked eyebrows and absently noted how they seemed eternally arched.

What about arms, legs, body shapes?  There are so many options available!

♥  thin, slender, slim, short, flabby, zaftig, curvaceous, shapely, voluptuous, colossal, fat, skeletal, tiny, large, vast, frail, fragile …

What about the clothes and jewelry characters/villains wear . . . or don’t wear?  Telling or not?

♥  Sam Evans III zipped up his Alexander McQueen satin bomber jacket and glanced at his Luminox titanium watch.  His arc-shaped lips pulled into a frown.

♥  Lenny looked at his Timex watch and a loud sigh pushed past flabby lips.  Anxiously, he adjusted the collar of his loud-print polyester shirt.

♥  She tossed the diamond-encrusted watch onto the corner of the handcrafted desk as her slender frame sank back into the plush contour chair.

If you have an overabundance of attractive or secretive characters, take it further.  Attractive in what way?  Pretty?  Handsome?  Comely?  Secretive in what way?  Reserved?  Reticent?  Cagey?  What differentiates them?

Having edited numerous manuscripts, it seems that characters are often taken for granted by the writer.  He/she knows what the they look like, but the readers don’t because the delivery is lacking.  Hence my “nudge” for more selective—appropriate—word choices.

WPchar2Get to know your thesaurus.  It offers a wealth of alternatives to the flat and mundane.  Consider those words the colors you can utilize to paint your characters alive.

Clumsy Characters = Chaos

Perhaps a little dramatic a heading, but the fact is that if characters are described/portrayed in a vague or awkwardly constructed fashion, the result will lend itself to chaos, also known as confusion.

What’s makes for vague or awkward characters?

Those that have:

minimal descriptions  ♣  they all have eyes and are either male or female, but there’s not much more to let us know what they look like

similar descriptions  ♣  all have dark eyes and are tall

identical speech patterns  ♣  they utilize the same jargon/slang or sound the same

alike reactions  ♣  their eyes open wide with confusion or fear (regardless whether they’re detectives, criminals, boys, girls, teachers or waitstaff)

stereotypical personalities/appearances/mannerisms  ♣  they read like characters found in countless dramas, novels, soap operas

little or no depth  ♣  come across as vapid or weak (there’s no backbone or spirit, not even a hint of personality).

If characters come across as dull or lackluster, readers won’t be inspired to continue reading.

Make your characters compelling, appealing.  There should be “something” about them—something that attracts us to them as readers (or “viewers”, as we do visualize the scenes).  Or repels us.  If you’re going to have a villain, make him or her chillingly evil or sad, or compassionate—but memorable.

Think of fictional persons who’ve captured our/your attention: Columbo  /  Steve McGarrett  /  Alex Delaware  /  Jack Torrance /  Macbeth  /  Hamlet  /  Elizabeth Benet  /  Jessica Fletcher  …

WPpaint1The writer in me always likens the creation of a character to the painting [completion] of a canvas.  The final picture should captivating, powerful. 

Generally, we like [love] characters who are trustworthy and supportive, keep promises and play fair, and have objectives [and missions] we can relate to or empathize with, among many other attributes.  Additional likable qualities: they love animals, are helpful, stand their ground, and fight for unfairness [without complaint].  And it never hurts if they’re really good-looking and fit, funny/witty, and [relatively] brave.  Think: personality.  What makes a character tick?  What makes him/her resonate?  Think of everyday folks who have that je ne sais quoi.

That said, don’t go overboard and make characters overly good or villains excessively bad.  We all have failings, but we all have virtues.

Give your central character(s)—the protagonist(s)—an intriguing skill/talent or pastime.  Maybe your hero/heroine is a detective with a remarkable track record.  He/she has many friends, can fight well (has fists like a prizefighter) but only engages in a skirmish when absolutely necessary.  He/she is attractive, tall, slim, and fit/toned.  But so are lots of detectives.  So provide dimension.  Perhaps he/she scuba dives on the weekends and volunteers at a homeless shelter two nights a week?  Perhaps he/she takes cooking classes?  What’s your character’s history and background?  What motivates him or her?  Paint that detailed/vivid picture!  Give that character something to make him/her, yes, stand out.

And don’t forget to give your protagonists the odd challenges.  Let them feel and express feelings.  Dilemmas and issues occur in real life that feed on/off emotions; the same should hold true for fictional characters.

More on character development in the future.  Happy painting!