That’s right, folks, the perfect character in five easy steps, because, lets face it, characters are tough little buggers. I’ve killed off more than one for no reason other than that they were annoying me (I’ve only ever had one die on me, but it really wasn’t my fault. Sometimes death scenes just write themselves and there’s nothing I can do about it.)
Follow my five easy steps and your characters are guaranteed to delight audiences of all ages and make you an international bestseller*!
1) Mirror, Mirror. No matter what I’m working on or how far (or not so far) I am, I know what my characters look like. I think many of us start that way, with seeing a character in our head and saying “Hello there. Who are you and what story do you come with?” Appearance, or, more accurately, how you describe appearance, fixes an impression in the mind of the audience before a word come out of your character’s mouth. A character described as “slender” is nothing at all like one described as “skinny”, just as one described as “sexy” is not the same as one that is “beautiful” or “lovely”.
Connotation is so incredibly important when writing your characters. Just as you make assumptions on your first encounters with people in real life, your readers form opinions and assumptions about your characters in the first page or two. The thesaurus is your best friend here, as is a dictionary. Nothing is worse than looking up a synonym for “good” and then describing a doughnut as benevolent.
But that’s not the point.
The point is to use your words to your advantage, and to understand how words that technically mean the same thing can have true meanings that are worlds apart.
It’s just as important to give this sort of information in a natural way. Descriptions, just like the rest of a novel, need to flow well, or they tend to jerk the reader out of the story. If your story is in the first person, for instance, it may not be terribly wise to have them arbitrarily describe themselves to the audience. Nobody does that except on dating sites. Find ways to slip it in without your readers really realizing what you are doing. A well-placed word here or there can be hundreds of times more effective than an entire paragraph of description that a reader must slog through to find the rest of the story.
There is a great deal of freedom in your physical descriptions of your characters. They can look like almost anything you wish, as you know. Just keep in mind the impression you want to fix in the mind of your audience before you go making your hero “A rail-thin specter of a man with deep-sunk, staring eyes.”