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Character Description

As I embarked on a new project, I was happily trolling through catalogs and stock photo sites looking for images of people for my characters. Most of them were just too darn pretty. I like more interesting-looking people, which is probably why I prefer British television to American television.

My solution was to create an image folder full of face, nose, eye, ear, hand, feet, and body shapes. I added hair, eye, and skin colors. I plan to do something useful with that file, because my nonfiction is a lovely distraction from the fiction I'm supposed to be writing. 

If you make your own file, choose an item from each category and create a composite, download a photo, or tear one out of a magazine. You could take two separate photos and merge them together with the top of one person's face added to the bottom of another's.

Character descriptions are one of my biggest challenges. We are advised to avoid using food metaphors and laundry lists. So, the goal is to do this exercise for each character then sprinkle the descriptions in as needed.

While looking at the photo or composite character, take a moment to write a few sentences of description about each part of his face and body.
Then ask:

1) What is his most prominent pleasing feature, the first thing you notice?

2) What is his most prominent displeasing feature?

3) What features are different from everyone else?

4) Skin is rarely perfect. What imperfections does he have: scars, birthmarks, moles, freckles, odd growths, or sprockets of hair in inconvenient places?

5) What unusual tics does he have: twitches, snorts, blinks, fidgets, hair twirling, lock tugging, scratching, adjusting clothes, or tugging at collars or sleeves?

6) How does he hold himself? When he enters a room, is he meek or bold, comfortable or uncomfortable? Does he try to hide in plain sight or sprawl so that everyone is forced to accommodate him?

7) How does he walk? Does he waddle, shuffle, strut, or rampage?

8) How does he breathe, loudly or so softly you're not sure he is breathing?

9) Since the descriptions are through the prism of your character's point of view, how does this character's overall appearance strike him? Does he find the person attractive, unattractive, classy, or dowdy?

10) How does your character feel about the other character? Is he indifferent, interested, bored, annoyed, happy, attracted, or repelled?

Try developing a list of fresh descriptive sentences for each character and keep it nearby when you are writing scenes. Scratch them off as you use them. It can help you avoid repetitive descriptions and laundry lists.

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