more a writer knows about his characters, the easier it is for him to
find the voice of the character. This is especially helpful during the
early stages of character development, before the character becomes as
real to you as your mother. Inspiration for Writers provides a Trait Chart that includes the most
important traits to help you visualize your character, both physically
and emotionally. Print a copy for every character.
name: Surely, different types of people come to mind when we hear
the names "Bubba" and "Thurmond Elton Radclift, III." Writers must
carefully consider both the first and last names of their character, as
well as his or her nickname. Consider the character's age, ethnic
background and social status in naming your character. You can find
names in a quality book of Baby Names (with meanings, preferably), the
telephone directory, websites, or other books that list surnames by
of Birth/Age: Writers should carefully consider assigning a
character a birthday. You may want to check your character's sun and
moon signs, as this helps in fleshing out the character. Keep in mind
important historical occurrences on both the birth date and during the
character's developing years of life. For example, people who lived
through the Great Depression have a different outlook than younger
Does the character live in a large city, the suburbs, a small town or
deep in the country? Does he or she live in the United States or
elsewhere? If in the States, which region? What is the economics of the
Descriptions like "tall" or "average" work fine, unless the height is a
defining characteristic of the character.
Build: Go further than your character's exact weight. Describe
whether he or she is stocky, slender or "had a figure that . . ."
Keep in mind the character's ethnic background. Of course, you don't
always have to assign typical coloring to your characters, but if you
don't, you'll need to explain. You may also want to mention the length,
the style, and the type (curly, wavy, straight).
Besides the color of the character's eyes, also include the shape,
length of lashes, shape of brows and anything else peculiar to this
character. This is a good place to be creative in listing the eye
color. Instead of "brown," try "copper" or "chocolate." Instead of
blue, be specific: sapphire, aquamarine or crystal blue.
Physical Traits: List any peculiarities of your character's
appearance here. Does his left eye twitch when he lies? Does he chew
his lip when apprehensive? Does he smoke? What does he smoke and how
often? If he wears eyeglasses, what do they look like? Does he have any
moles, scars or birthmarks?
Does your character have any health problems or weaknesses? Does she
walk with a limp, have a plastic jaw, suffer from migraines? Arthritis?
How is her blood pressure? Is she a walking heart attack, or does she
run five miles every morning before dawn? How does she feel about her
health? Is she a hypochondriac? Or has she never been to a doctor in
Everyone has a smell. It can be the clean smell of deodorant soap, the
strong smell of a specific perfume or aftershave, the musty smell of
old age, the tell-tale smell of stale beer. A character's smell can
change from scene to scene, but try to imagine what he typically smells
like on an average day.
Does he have a deep, resonant voice? Does she have a throaty voice or a
squeaky voice? Does his voice crack? Does she usually shout or whisper?
Can he carry a tune? Is his tone pleasant or grating? Does she speak
with perfect grammar or slur her words? Does he insert an expletive
between every second word? Does he have a distinguishing laugh? Does
she talk rapidly or slowly?
Walking Style: Does he limp? Is he always in a hurry and run
everywhere he goes? Does she skip? Wiggle?
What else distinguishes this character from everyone else? Does he
greet people with a hug? Do his hands move when he talks? Does he snap
his fingers regularly? Does he shrug his shoulders? Does he slouch?
Have military posture?
of Style: What type of clothes/shoes/accessories does the character
wear? Does he have a favorite flannel shirt he wears every Saturday?
Does she apply makeup before breakfast? Is his dress impeccable or
gaudy? Trendy? Casual? Classic? Expensive? Second-hand? Matching?
Habits/Mannerisms/Tastes: Does he slurp?
Burp? Gulp? Eat on the run? Prefer steak or hamburger? Sushi or
spaghetti? Eating out (and where) or at home? Big meals or small? Is he
polite or piggish?
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