What’s in Character – Physical

04 Mar

Last time we gave your new character a core personality. If you have completed your research on your character type, you should have several pages of material that will help you in the days to come. However, there is much more to a character than their core personality. Today, we will give them some physical characteristics. As we work through this topic, remember that physical appearance is only the window dressing for your character.

When the chromosomes came together to create your character, there were two sets. make a decision as to whether your character has an X and a Y or two X’s. Depending upon your story, a different gender for your character can change the whole look and feel of the story. Writing cross-gender can be interesting for the writer. Some writers feel more comfortable using their own gender for the protagonist. It seems natural and can be somewhat easier. However, we’re not talking about you, we are talking about your character here. Other writers feel the gender of a character makes no difference. I agree that actions during the story can be accomplished by either gender. However, we are talking about the effects of gender on character development. Based on the personality type, how would the character be different, other than plumbing, if they were a different gender?

The potential race of your character can play a huge role in the way they see and interact the world. Once again don’t just consider race alone. How would the core personality respond to the effects of being a different race. As with gender, any race can act and interact any way the writer wishes. Stepping outside stereotypes can be very interesting and beneficial to the uniqueness of the story. I know of a particular author that chose to write about a Dark Elf, one of the most despised creatures in all fantasy. That character is now one of the most recognized and popular in the genre. Differences in racial morphology, especially if you are writing fantasy, can give the character a very unique perspective. More of morphology later.

The age of you character comes in two distinct varieties, actual and projected. Both can play differing roles in character building. Actual age should be considered during many character building stages. It is especially important to consider when building the layers which include life experiences and traumatic events. A child experiencing the death of a friend may deal with it differently than an adult. consider the core personality as well and things get twisted even more. For instance, how would a thinking extrovert child react to seeing its best friend killed in a drive-by shooting? Now make you character an adult sensitive introvert. How would they respond?

I will say two things about physical attractiveness. First and most important, attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Ever hear that before? Second, and this relates directly to the first one, a vast majority of people are average looking. That’s by definition. So, consider not only how your character looks, but what they find attractive in others. Most of us see our own physical flaws more clearly than anyone else. We also tend to not see or ignore the physical flaws in those we care about. Decide how your character’s personality type will view their own physical appearance. How will they react to those they find unattractive. Will they react with pity, arrogance, compassion, etc.

From the writer’s point of view, the general attractiveness of the character is not as important as the actual physical features. Face shape, body shape, eyes, hair, ears, complexion and any combination thereof can influence the character and the reader. What do you see when I give this description.

The man was a barrel with legs. A large round bald head sat squarely on his shoulders. A roll of fat protruded on top of his collar where his neck should have been. The roll disappeared into four chins in front with a thin black mustache and goatee framing thin lips.

How would you react to this character? How does this character see himself? Now place this physical description on a few different personality types and see what you get.

Now let’s add one more layer. Take this man ad put him in a $1,000 three-piece suit and $500 shoes. Does your view of him change? Now let’s say he is wearing a long purple robe with a jeweled crown on his head. How about a Speedo and a sunburn? Ouch, that even hurt my eyes. Sorry.

How the character dresses and how they groom themselves can also be affected by that pesky personality type. Are they meticulous? Are they flashy? Are they a slob? Why?

Okay, so far we have given the character a base personality. We have determined their gender, race, and age. We have decided on their physical appearance and what physical attributes they find attractive. And, we have dressed them appropriately for their personality. So far, so good. These are some of the tags and traits the writer can use to help the reader see the character.

I caution you. If you stop here, like most writer’s do, you miss the things about a character which are most important to your character and potentially, your story.

In the next post we will add other natural environmental factors such as birth order, family issues, education, talents, love language, and self-esteem.

If you are building a character as we go along, please let me know how it’s going. I would love to know. Also, if you would like me to dive deeper on any portion of this exercise, I would be happy to do so.


Posted by on March 4, 2013 in What's in Character


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 responses to “What’s in Character – Physical

  1. char

    March 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Wow! I love all the insight into characters in this post. Looking forward to the next one.

  2. Dennis Langley

    March 4, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks. The next coupe posts are going to add even more layers. I’ll also be explaining how I went through this process with one of my characters..

  3. ltownsdin

    March 6, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Hi Dennis! Lots of good info and reminders here. Your examples are great!

    • Dennis Langley

      March 6, 2013 at 10:46 am

      Thank you. Character creation for gamers is what started me on the writing path.

  4. 4amWriter

    March 7, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Fun excercises and ideas here. As I read through your post, I realized that I don’t break down characters quite so methodically. They appear to me as fully developed people in my imagination, and I never question it. Now that’s just the physical description I’m talking about. As far as personality and behavior traits and motivation, yes, I definitely peel off the layers and dissect the character.

    • Dennis Langley

      March 8, 2013 at 8:18 am

      It’s interesting you say that “They appear to me as fully developed people…”. Most of my characters start out when I see them in my mind doing what they do best, playing out a scene. Some of those initial scenes will make it into the story and others will be a spring board for further development of the character.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: