15 May 2013

Visualize Your Characters, Part Three

This is the last part, I swear. So far I’ve talked about how you picture your characters, and how you introduce them to the reader. Now I want to just tie up some loose ends.

Including a vast, detailed description of a character on the first page of your book can seem awkward and out of place. Like I said last time, you need to find the right spot to include this information, and it will vary depending on your story. There’s a good spot in there; you just have to find it. But that doesn’t mean that you have to dump all that information on the reader all at once. You can stretch it out over the course of your novel, at least while we’re still getting to know your characters.

Give a description that helps us picture your characters right, but hold off on details that aren’t necessarily needed. If you need to include them for whatever reason, there may be a different spot for them. We may want to know how tall a character is or what hair color he has right when we meet him, but we don’t need know about the way he slouches or his nervous laugh. These are details that you can include at the right moment in your story. Maybe he has an embarrassing moment and that’s when a certain trait comes out. If you include too much information in the initial description, especially for traits that aren’t immediately noticeable, it might seem like unnecessary backstory.

While it’s important for your readers to be able to picture your characters, what they look like isn’t nearly as important as what they’re doing. You want to keep your action descriptions vivid, without bogging it down with unnecessary sighs and moans. Make your characters believable—give them individual traits or quirks that you can use every now and again. Make sure your characters have distinct voices, as every person has their own way of talking. Even a catch phrase can be acceptable, as long as you don’t overdo it (Jordan’s is “oh, for fuck’s sake,” and I actually use it in real life now, like a lot. More than he does. So I guess it's my catchphrase).

The bottom line here is that you want your characters to come off as real people. They need to look, talk, and act like a real person would. Of course, they’re still individuals and you can manipulate their personalities in whichever way you need that makes your story work. But make sure to describe them so that your reader believes this is a real person. If your character is beautiful and smart and nice and just perfect, then your reader will lose interest. This isn’t a real person. Real people have flaws. Your character doesn’t necessarily need to be aware of it (narcissism is a good flaw), but your reader does, and so do you.

So make your characters vivid and realistic. But ultimately, make them yours. 


  1. I usually find a short, early description of the character is all I need when I'm reading. Anything more I can add in myself.


    1. Exactly--once the reader has that initial image in their head, they don't need to be constantly reminded of what the character looks like. They already know.