Characters are often the first thing a reader falls in love with. Building a detailed and dynamic character can be difficult. Thankfully, there’s plenty of ways to practice.
As an exercise: Pick someone you know in real-life. Describe them as the main character in a story. Think about how they act, walk, talk and any habits or quirks they have. You can also try writing them as a villain for an added challenge.
Then: Insert them into a short story. Try rewriting a fairy tale to feature them or even putting them in the place of a character in a show or book you enjoyed. How does the story change to accommodate them? How do they solve some of the conflicts of the story?
Describing characters isn’t always easy, so to help out, I present the Character Description Crawl.
Name. Count the letters in your character’s first name and multiply by ten. Write that many words.
- If your character has black hair write 50 words.
- If they have brown hair write 75 words.
- If they have blond hair write 100 words.
- If they have gray or white hair write 125 words.
- If they have an unusual hair color (pink, green, vines instead of hair, etc.) write 150 words.
- If they’re bald sprint for 5 minutes.
- If your character has blue eyes write 50 words.
- If they have brown eyes write 75 words.
- If they have green eyes write 100 words.
- If they have grey eyes, write 125 words.
- If they’re blind or are missing eyes, sprint for 5 minutes.
- If they have mismatched eyes, complete both challenges for their eye colors.
- If they’re shorter than average, sprint for 5 minutes.
- If they’re average height, write 10 minutes.
- If they’re taller than average, sprint for 15 minutes.
- If they have notable scars or injuries, write 25 words for each one.
- If they have piercings or jewelry, write 50 words for each piece. (Earrings only count as 1 piece if they are matched pair).
- If they have additional features (horns, wings, robot characters, animal characters, etc.) sprint for 5 minutes for each feature.
- If they have tattoos, write 75 words for each tattoo they have.
Rate their traits on a scale from 1-5 with 1 being the lowest. Complete each assignment that number of times. For example, if a character is a 3 on the honesty scale, complete the sprint 3 separate times.
- Honesty: Sprint for 5 minutes.
- Calmness: Write 50 words.
- Generosity: Write 25 words.
- Responsibility: Sprint for 10 minutes.
- Respectful: Sprint for 5 minutes.
- Aggressiveness: Write 100 words.
- Clumsiness: Write 25 words.
- Timidity: Write 50 words.
- Gullibility: Sprint for 5 minutes.
- Sloppiness: Sprint for 10 minutes.
Protagonist or Antagonist
If your character is a protagonist or supports a protagonist, sprint for 15 minutes.
If your character is an antagonist or supports an antagonist, write 250 words.
Finished? Let me know how many words you ended up with!
I’m one of those people that freezes whenever someone asks me about myself. Questionnaires, applications and interviews where the phrase ‘describe yourself in three words’ make me cringe.
Which is exactly what we’re doing today: describing ourselves.
Specifically, you should describe yourself as a character in a story. This should go beyond just physical descriptions but also include things like your voice and any tics you might have. Mannerisms can tell us a lot about character.
Go for it! Set a timer and in ten minutes come back and share your self-description.
Although it might seem like the easiest and simplest thing in the world, setting descriptions are full of pitfalls. Ever notice how every single beach is sandy when there are plenty of rock beaches? Or the ocean is always somehow salty and tangy? Living in the desert, I promise, the sun does a lot more than just beat on you unmercifully. In fact, you also have to contest with the wind, which can be arguably worse than the sun on occasion.
That being said, setting is one of the best places to involve your sensory details. Not just sight but taste, touch, sound, and smell.
As an exercise: Write 500 words on your setting, taking a hundred for each sense.
Think outside the box on this! Besides grains of sand from your beach, what else might your characters be feeling on their toes? What other ocean smells are hitting them? This is a good place to get in some research (and research is a good excuse for a vacation) if you’ve never been. Look up travel guides and conservation facts about areas you’d like to base your settings on. Find out details about specific environmental factors that would impact those senses.