I know that sometimes it can be difficult to pull a likeable/believable character out of thin air. I was going grey, thinking of ways to break this process down. Sitting on the couch, musing, the answer hit me! Ok, it wasn’t that exciting, and I didn’t get grey hair–especially not over that. Maybe over what I want for breakfast, but that’s another dilemma. Anyway…
Step 1: Conquering the Five Senses
When you meet a person for the first time there is always something that stands out. It could be the way that person walks, stands, sounds, their hair, a food particle stuck between their teeth (hey it’s probably happened to everyone at some point in time) etc. The point being you usually see the person before there’s any interaction.
Imagine that you are walking into a grocery store, on your left is a display of oranges. An elderly woman with a slight hunch, draped in a pink shawl, picks through the oranges. By covering the basics, age and gender, the rest of the description comes rather easy. She probably has grey hair, wrinkles on her hands, tired eyes yada, yada, yada. Or she could have dyed hair, if so what color? Is it long or short? Braided, in a bun, a ponytail or free? What color are her eyes?
You don’t have to explain every aspect of your character’s appearance. If you do it will become cumbersome. However, it’s important for you to think about these things. The more real the character is to you the more you will develop him/her and relate this reality to your readers. Keep in mind that not every detail has to be told at once.
Once an image has been established, imagine what your character will sound like. Will he/she speak with proper grammar, an accent? What about his/her voice? Is it raspy or does it have a nice melody to it?
The sound of your character will help build a background for him/her. For example say the old woman, Sandra, has a raspy voice. Why does she have a raspy voice? Well, Sandra could be a smoker. Maybe she had cancer, maybe neither of those things. She could have been at a rock concert with her grandson, Eric, screaming her lungs out and headbanging.
Keep in mind that vocals are not the only sound that can be described. The way a character moves hones in reality or displaces it. If Sandra walked with soft rhythmic steps, we accept it. We’re accustomed to it verses if she roared by like a hurricane.
Ah, yes, what does Sandra smell like…mm, kinda creepy and gross. Smell isn’t a sense we use everyday to describe someone. Most of the time we don’t register someone’s scent unless it is particularly pleasant or unpleasant. Adding such a description during an appropriate time can help close the reality gap that exists when writing.
There are different kinds of touch. Therefore conjuring words to describe a teen groping session, unless appropriate, won’t do. Think of a hand shake, or bumping shoulders with a stranger.
As Sandra backed away from the orange stand, she bumped into a woman. The movement was slight, but the lady winced as Sandra’s sharp elbow made contact.
Well it’s part of our senses and not really used in writing except under certain circumstances. Mostly, it’s used to describe what the character is experiencing.
After apologizing to the lady Sandra unwrapped a stick of gum. Popping it into her mouth, she savored the spicy flavor.