Here’s Alina Chase, kicking off our blog series for characters. Over the next few days, we will be sharing character templates: Physical Traits, Attitudes and Personality, Skills, Schedules, and Past. Good luck!
Create One Trademark Feature
By Alina Chase
Whether you’re writing a novel or interviewing a football player for an impossibly short article, you can’t afford to babble. Every description must be relevant. Every word should be intentional.
That means choosing telling details, details that show more about a person than appearance, details that clearly distinguish your protagonist from other characters in your book and from protagonists in similar books. Especially powerful are traits that hint of contrast or conflict.
Why waste words describing the football player as tall and muscular? Unless you say otherwise, we assume that he is. Surprise us by noting how shy he is, that he sits like a girl or that his feet are so tiny it’s a miracle they can support his bulk.
And creating a single trademark feature for each character in your novel can save a lot of mental energy dreaming up, describing–and keeping track of–less distinguishing attributes. Let your readers fill in the mundane details.
Picture a woman with very wide-set eyes. It’s fairly uncommon and can be attractive. Jackie Kennedy had eyes like that. But push those eyes apart another half inch and your woman looks like a lizard. In real life, aren’t unusual features like this, and particularly imperfections, what we notice first and remember longest? So give us the unexpected!
And note how easily nature’s quirks provide unique and welcome springboards for conflict. Make your FBI agent so short that all he can see in a crowd is boobs and navels, or so tall that he’s always noticed (and then send him undercover to Japan where he towers over natives like Godzilla). Give your gorgeous heroine crooked teeth. Give your defense lawyer a lisp.
All you need is one distinguishing feature to begin bringing characters and their stories alive in a way readers are sure to remember!