Concrete Detail

Erika Hayes, Author – Write like a reader, read like a writer and edit like a beast!

Lets get physicalThat title got you doing one of two things, raising your eyebrows with a sly smile on your face or humming a tune by Olivia Newton-John.  Maybe both!

When building characters we must at some point come up with an image of how they look.  In fact, it isn’t unheard of for writers to chose the actor they want to play the role.  Then use this image to help build the physical image of a character.   This happens to me later after I have taken some time to really examine the way my characters look.  I am not talking about the list,  you know, my protagonist is an athletic male, 27, six-foot-four-inches, thick brows edge emerald green eyes,  his face is often scruffed with a sexy beginning of a beard, deep black hair with rippling muscles of a Navy Seal.  His teeth are meant for toothpaste commercials but that sly crooked smile is what hooks a girl…

Okay, wait, what was I talking about?   You know what I am talking about. The list, the things we fill in at the beginning of a character profile sheet.  While important, and that is a physical description that most writers get through then stop.  However, let me ask you this when you are writing your characters do you take time to see him or her in your mind’s eye?  Do you study the way he/she stands? Kneel? Where do they put their hands?  How they carry themselves, do you think of how they sit?  Does he sprawl across the space he is in, in an act of dominance or perhaps because he has no choice?  Does he lace his fingers together and bring them to his lips when he is thinking about something, someone?  What movements can you pin to your character that will help tell their story?

May I suggest, when you are creating your characters, from the beginning, study them.  Write in the character’s file how he stands when he is interested in a woman, does he lean back or into a potential love interest?  When confronted with danger does he crouch down, reach for his weapon, throw himself into the danger?  How?  When he reaches for his weapon where are his eyes?  Try and describe the physical responses he has to these kinds of stimuli to the smell of good food, the smiles he does to charm someone then how does his body look when trying to charm someone, will he lean in, or lift his hands where are his hands?  Do his feet shuffle, does he lean against the wall and place his boot on the wall?   Does he cross his leg and rest it on his knee?  Looking at your character in this way can also help you to discover his personality.  Is he closed off?  How do you know?  Because he often has his arms crossed in front of him? Is it the way he tilts his head back often?

The idea in this exercise is that I am able to get a better picture of how to write my characters movements, my current protagonist often rubs her shoulder when stressed.  It is something her love interest will pick up on and eventually it will be something she becomes aware of when only he is around.  This can believe it or not build tension.

You need these movements to help establish your characters.  They will help your reader see in their mind’s eye what you do.  How do you find these tick, mannerisms and movements?  I can tell you what I do.  I go out, in public and observe people then I write down things.  Here is an example: He touched his lip pushing back his smile as he watched her cross the room. (I see this man as shy.)  If I have a character that is shy, I may add this to his “movement’s list” in his character file.  If I have trouble describing something that is happening I usually go to this list to try and find how he may react to a situation.

I hope this helps you in your quest for character development!  Get out there and find some movements you can use for your favorite character.


2 thoughts on “Let’s Get Physical

  1. Golda says:

    How fun. I never thought about how much detail goes into a character’s development. When reading a good story, I can definitely see a full picture of the character. In a not-so-good story, I don’t even remember who the characters are, while I’m still reading.

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