I’ve been fussing about character lately and I thought for my own peace of mind I might clarify the different means by which character is conveyed. In fact, I’m going to use my own points to create a character right here, now, on the spot, just to prove that this method works! Ok. Here we go.
1. Physical description. Their looks. Height. Weight. Age. Eye colour. Hair. Dress. Etc.
I think I’ll make him short. Stout. Balding with gray mutton chop sideburns. Ruddy complexion. Beaked nose. Frowning wiry, heavy eyebrows. And jowl cheeks. Dressed in a finely tailored black jacket and waistcoat with beige breeches, all of which accentuates his significant paunch.
2. Speech. This encompasses both what the character says and how they say it. Are they loud or quiet? Do they command? Simper? Snap? Titter? Are they breathy like Marilyn Monroe? Do they speak in dialect? Have an ‘accent’? (A Scottish brogue, for instance…)
I think I’ll make this character loud, commanding, gruff & adamant. With a voice often thickened with alcohol, he says things like: ‘it’s my opinion that…’
3. Movement. How does your character inhibit space? Do they mince their steps, slam doors, gesture widely, step on peoples toes, clumsily knock over the floor lamp?
Well, I’d say its pretty clear by now that this obnoxious gentleman must park himself in the most central chair in the room, lean heavily on his cane, gesticulate with a pointed finger at whomever he’s talking to, and slap his knee whilst braying widely whenever he makes an (unfunny) joke…
Is my character starting to irritate you? He’s supposed to. I want him to be felt; visceral. And if he irritates you, he’s going to irritate the other characters he meets…and here come plot!
Sometimes my plot develops just because I’ve put two character types in a room together and then seen what happens. For instance, put this guy in a room with, say, his hot-blooded eldest son eager to gain his inheritance….or the quiet daughter who’s finally worked up the nerve to defy him…and that might be all it takes to get the story rolling…
(Watch out, though. This character might surprise you. Maybe he’ll suddenly start weeping, because ever since his wife died he just can’t cope with life very well. Or maybe not. Characters can be as deep and complex as you like. It all depends on what you need, what mix you want. And what the character will allow…It’s a dance, after all. Sometimes you lead the dance. And sometimes you don’t!)