If you want to hook your readers, you’ll need a character that leaps off the page. A good character is believable and interesting. Firstly, be careful your character is not of music-hall-cliche stock (dumb blonde, greedy banker, uber-organized German, upper class twit etc…) – the problem here is that the reader will have met your character far too many times before to find them interesting now. As usual, turning the cliche on its head can be a good place to start getting ideas (chess-master page three girl, a banker who secretly gives away money etc…)
Also, don’t focus on describing what they look like from head to toe. In fact, their general physical appearance is not so revealing – the key is often in the interesting quirks and blemishes. Moreover, you ought to climb inside your character’s skin, get to know them intimately and let the reader see how they tick. It is good if there is something unusual about them. Here’s a sample list of questions you could mull in order to give your character depth:
Rather than describe the colour of their hair and eyes, write instead about their height.
What about their gait, posture and walk? Does he flutter, jerk, flap or glide?
If you first met this character, what would strike you most?
Does s/he resemble an animal?
What is their natural scent?
What sort of diet do they have and what has been the physical impact of this regime?
What does their best friend think of them?
What happens when your character gets drunk?
What does your character have in his/her pockets/handbag/beside table?
What is your character’s favourite joke?
Also, to make your character particularly memorable, give him/her/it a singular physical attribute your reader will long associate with them. Think of it this way, if you were going to a costume party dressed as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Havisham or Liesbeth Salander – what would you need? My guesses are, respectively: a lightening bolt scar, a deerhunter hat and pipe, an old wedding dress, and a dragon tattoo. Try to imagine what you’d need to be recognizable as your character.
May 8th, 2012 at 22:23
Some characters almost write themselves and are difficult to keep pace with. But I’m sure they’re few and far between. Thank you for the above invaluable advice. I’m going to make use of it immediately.
May 9th, 2012 at 01:20
Gertty would smell of mint tea and PalMalls
May 9th, 2012 at 12:40
Yes, smell isn’t evoked enough. Our strongest impression of characters is what they look like. I suppose because sight is our foremost sense.
May 9th, 2012 at 06:35
I LOVE using pictures to inspire character sketches, and this is a great one 🙂
Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
May 11th, 2012 at 22:59
Yes, but who is she (the woman in the photo?) You’re good. I’m hooked. Don’t leave me hanging.
May 12th, 2012 at 04:50
Elaborate; she likes things that are a little larger than live/impractical, she likes to style them and to make a statement of that style. Kocky; but I think it’s a sham. She’s a construct of her own making. I must sit down and ask myself all the other questions … Thanks for that:)
May 12th, 2012 at 08:53
She looks like a Sheryll to me. A happy-go-lucky former exotic dancer who has retired to hawaii where she now indulges in her true passion – making polished wooden jewellrey for sale at markets. The cheap perfumes and make-up of her former life have been replaced with the secent of varnish and wood oil that she carries with her wherever she goes.
Your suggestions for making your character seem real and not a carbon copy of the thousand other characters out there are very useful. Thanks for sharing.
May 12th, 2012 at 09:10
This is really interesting and informative, Sue. I’m going to pay more attention to characterisation in reading, as this has been a bit of a stumbling block, when I write. Thank you 🙂
May 13th, 2012 at 14:05
I love this. Thanks. Am Tweeting.
May 13th, 2012 at 14:08
I can’t seem to Tweet it for some reason, but I’d like to. Writers would certainly benefit.
May 15th, 2012 at 20:19
Very good advice, Sue. I enjoy reading your posts!
May 16th, 2012 at 13:10
Thank you for this. It has come at just the right time for me as I start to flesh out the characters in my draft.