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Someone made a comment about my method of description. It got me thinking about what I do and why I do it.
It starts with tagging
Many of you know I outline and when I’m getting the ideas down, none of my characters have names. Just as in a logline, my characters are: 16 yo misfit, honest cop, alien cop, vic, ex-girlfriend, obvious enemy, best friend. I use place holders for each character I need.
I outline the now and the history, giving most characters a common background. I’ve discussed before how a shared history can bump up the drama and motivations between all the characters. It may seem like work but once the history is in place, the rest takes care of itself.
appearance is about climate, lifestyle and how they thrive
A character’s appearance can be chosen by weather, time for hygiene, what they eat/drink. I have a cop in my latest WIP and he works hard—sometimes too hard—so he’s not clean shaven, his shirt has stains of sweat, fast food and coffee. It doesn’t bother him because he’s too focused on what he needs to do next. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and because it rains a lot, he wears a fedora and a trench coat. For the record, he’d never make it as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Tags must be unique to each character
The trick is give each character individual traits. All of them can have brown eyes but one. All of them can be dark haired but one. All medium build but one.
For example, my cop is the only character with thinning mousy hair, blue eyes, trench coat, and fedora. He may share other features with the rest but I don’t focus on them.
How they say it
My cop uses a brutally honest manner without an internal editor. He thinks he’s a people person as he storms around invading pretty much everyone’s personal space.
Early in the story he’s given a secret that he has some major trouble keeping. If it wasn’t for his partner, he’d have blabbed right away.
not actions but reactions
I tag his emotions (reactions) with specific actions. He pokes a finger in faces when he’s angry, expels breath like steam when he’s trying to maintain control and blinks surprise when others don’t see him as the person he thinks he is.
Who wouldn’t love a forthright, honest man, who would do anything to protect the innocent.
(freebie) Characters bloom a little more with each revision
Every time I go through my WIP everyone becomes more unique and assertive. Feedback–thanks everyone–has helped make each character their own person.
What about you? Any tricks to characterization you’d like to share?
Update: still nothing from Nelson PD. I plan to phone and see what I can glean from the assistant that passed on my request. Feeling all shy again. *sigh*