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Writing Tutorials: Describing a Character, How to Describe and Create Characterization
Describing a character allows the reader to picture someone in their mind's eye
This hub is one in a series of on-going writing tutorials...
This hub will guide you through the reflective process of developing and describing a character. I will offer you a variety of elements to consider which affect characterization. As the author you are responsible for guiding your readers into a stimulating relationship with the characters you create. By describing a character you are helping the reader picture someone. Someone whole and with depth.
Describing a Character
Imagine you are writing a narrative. You should want your reader to feel personally connected to the characteristics and traits of your subject. Your descriptive words, tone and voice are the writing skills that will make this happen. You want to be vivid in your portrayal in order for your reader to capture your personal vision. The beauty of reading is analyzing the characterization of interesting characters. The writer is the artist that will illustrate this vision through descriptive and carefully crafted words. However, you must keep an important step in mind. You cannot describe a character until you have built the character. I will guide you through the steps and questions you need to reflect on as you begin the process of evolving your thoughts into a character your readers will want to follow, analyze and interpret.
Note - I will use the term "character" for both fictional and non-fictional subjects. Therefore, you can apply these descriptive techniques in the development of character descriptions in autobiographies, biographies and in creative writing.
How to Describe a Character
Characterization: Building the Framework
The Framework of a Character - Don't ignore who, what, when, where, how and why. The simplicity of these question prompts can lead to the development of an interesting character. You can choose how to best use the prompts. Here are some ideas,
- Who - Who is the main character and who are the supporting characters? Who does the character influence?
- What - What is the purpose of each of your characters? What role do they play? What conflicts do they encounter or provoke? What relationships do each of the characters have? What abilities or attributes affect the plot? What conflicts do they need to overcome? What motivates the characters? What internal conflicts does the character have? What external conflicts does the character have?
- When - When do the various characters emerge into the storyline? When will your character have an epiphany?
- How - How does the reader perceive the character? How do the characters perceive each other?
- Why - Why is each respective character important to the story line? Why is a character having a conflict? Why do characters influence each other?
Describing Character Traits and Motivations
Gathering your tools and details -
What makes a person?
• Physical appearance
• Personality traits
Transforming details into an image...
What does a character look like?
Physical appearance and style of your subject are considered descriptive - even the mundane. This includes unusual or unique features. Can you use a simile or metaphor to describe these features? For example, Her lips were as red as cherries. Her black hair glistened like a raven. He was a governmental tower with his stoic demeanor and height.
Consider the following when developing the text for descriptive traits,
• Height - really tall or short - ordinary and common
• Hair length and color - shiny, dull, multi-toned, intense, cropped or long
• Freckles, dimples, braces, glasses, prosthetics, hats or canes
• Clothing and style - well dressed, grungy, free spirited, disheveled. What message or image might the subject be trying to deliver with their style?
• Movement - is your subject graceful, clumsy or awkward? Or ordinary and without charm?
• What adjectives best describe your character?
Books on characterization techniques from Amazon...
Who is the character? Why is the character important?
Personality traits and experiences are additional character questions for you to consider when developing a description of a person. Why is your character the way he or she is? You should consider the cause and effect of these experiences. (Your who, what, when, where, how and why questions might be helpful here)
• What makes this person unique?
• How would you describe their personality?
• Does your character have special abilities, virtues or attributes?
• Are there specific physical or mental conflicts that challenge your character? Examples - Handicaps or disabilities from birth, disabled war heroes, the emotionally or physically abused traits of a victim.
What experience might your character have had that leads to these descriptive words? What have they witnessed? What where the circumstances? Setting? Age?
• If you are writing about a homeless child that has witnessed domestic abuse -His dark eyes flashed violent rippled reflections of unfortunate wisdom and broken innocence.
• If you were writing about a family matriarch that was nurturing, strong and influential -Deep furrows created crossroads of wisdom and strife across her pale skin. The lines softened with her gentle smile and soothing eyes. Her cane supported the evolution of her burdens as she caressed the rose in her lush and colorful garden.
What are character motivations?
• What purpose does your character serve? Occupation? Goals? Challenges? Conflicts?
• How does the character's relationships affect his or her purpose? Do the relationships enhance the character or hinder the purpose the character is seeking?
• Is your character considered the antagonist or protagonist? How will your reader know the character's role?
Character: Antagonist or Protagonist?
What conflicts does your character endure? Is the character a self induced victim such as an addict? Or, do external factors provide the conflict? Does your character have any control over the conflict? What barriers must the character cross in order to achieve goals?
As a writer it is up to you to present your character in his true light. As readers we should "get to know" the characters we read about. I have found that the best readers, writers and even actors and directors develop a relationship with the characters they read, write and act or portray. So, if you the writer can guide your readers into developing a mental relationship and understanding of a character you have surely used descriptive writing.