Characters, sometimes more than the story, can be the pride and joy of some writers. Whether they’re in stories, poems, songs or even essays, characters can mean something very deep to the writer. It is also a well-known occurrence that readers strongly relate themselves to powerfully and exquisitely written characters.
On the other hand, flat characters have long lost any fascination in most writings. Nevertheless, it is still obvious that no matter what the character is, they cannot exist until the writer formulates them and writes them down. From there on, there are many factors that decide whether a character is evil, villainous, quirky, witty, pious or a mixture of these elements.
Sometimes, it is the characters that are pivotal to the story or plot itself. Many writers have also reported that there are certain characters that seem to take on a life of their own, pulling the action of the play, story, or poem one way or another, and perhaps not where the writer initially wanted it to go at all.
However, it eventually is the writer who has to do most of the work in developing characters and making the names and descriptions come to life. Below are a few tips on how to write character descriptions in order to enliven the people within one’s literary creation:
- Don’t Rely too Much on Physical Attributes
While the physical description is the first factor that comes to mind when describing characters, the physical tributes are actually downplayed by many writers. It’s the actions, thoughts, and words of the character that count more.
When one does describe physical attributes, subtle details are often more important in embedding the character into a reader’s mind. For example, describing limbs as tree branches would conjure up images of thinness and crookedness in a way that simply stating these attributes would not.
This would also leave it more to the reader’s imagination about whether they would like a character or not. Who knows, smoldering coal eyes might remind someone of a comfortable fireplace, whereas the same metaphor could have negative associations with another reader.
In this way, the interpretation of characters is left open, making them more receptive to the character.
- Choose Physical Details Only When They Are Strong
Just one or two physical attributes can sum up all you want to say about a character. This attribute could be a mannerism, such as the smoothing of a mustache, an item of clothing such as a yellow hat, or a body part, like a snake-like nose.
Such attributes can reveal a character much more than a few dozen bullet points about the character’s clothing details, which might change with the turn of a page.
As an example, one doesn’t really know much about what Holden Caulfield looked like in The Catcher in the Rye. However, that iconic character was well-defined by his appreciation of the red ‘deer-hunting’ hat with the ear flaps. This symbol could then be interpreted in many ways by readers, especially students of literature.
The hat, or other items such as a few words or phrases that Holden Caulfield was apt to use, were more effective in describing and developing him as a character than a few hundred lines about exactly what he wore, how thin or fat he was, or what his facial features were.
- No Need To Limit Time Periods
The early descriptions of many famous characters throughout the history of literature usually start with the character’s adolescence or childhood. This is especially true if the character was the protagonist or important to the protagonist.
Some examples of such characters are Antoinette, or Jane Eyre’s mad Bertha, from Wide Sargasso Sea, Jane Eyre herself, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and the three main characters of Wuthering Heights.
This literary device is not mere coincidence. In fact, the development of a character right from their childhood is of special importance because the childhood or adolescence is what shapes every human being to some extent. Hence, early years need to be shown in order to grasp the reader’s attention, and also mark the places where an adult character’s traits might have started developing.
- Provide A Background
Fleshed-out characters aren’t just described by their physical traits, or even their personalities, but also by their surrounding and several other details. These include occupations, hobbies, homes, frequently visited places, etc.
One might notice that when certain short stories or novels begin, the writers tend to describe the setting first. Perhaps the focus might alight upon an embroidery ring, a highly polished gun, or a crazy collection of cushions. By the time the character associated with these items comes in, the reader would already have made some headway into being familiar with them.
The description of surroundings is also useful in another way. If your character isn’t blossoming in the environment that seems to fit them, put them out of their element and think of what they would do there. As an example, a prime Victorian lady could be reduced to poverty, just like Sara Crewe was in A Little Princess.
When a character doesn’t fit into an environment but has to make it work anyway, the reader is gripped by curiosity about what would happen next. At the same time, the writer would have quite a lot to work with as opposed to being stuck in a rut with a boring character that does exactly what is expected of them.
Writing literature is no less of an art than painting pictures or making sculptures. The writer should focus on creating characters and stories that are gripping, challenging, and yet interesting all at once. The tips above would hopefully be of help in writing and developing characters in the best possible manner.
Katey Martin is a Professor of Liberal Arts at UK Essay writing college. She has been in the teaching profession for more than 10 years. She also blogs and covers various topics related to education. Have a chat with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.