We all know characters are important to a story but even more important is portraying them in your story. So how to do that? Here comes Sherlock Holmes to the rescue!
(Now in all fairness, I’m in no way affiliated with Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle, but bear with me.)
Sometimes when we create the perfect characters, we want to tell the reader all about them. “The mirror reflected a tall, slim, black haired and green eyed guy who wore a red sweater and black jeans” or “I looked at my friend who was average height, average weight with long brown hair and beautiful earrings that matched her necklace.”
Don’t know about you but that just bores me. Yes, we need to introduce our characters, but we need to know exactly what to introduce about them.
Like I said, Sherlock Holmes to the rescue. He can take a glance at you and outline the story of your life. He doesn’t use magic or mind tricks for it, though. All he does is focus on the details.
So you have long brown hair, but those frayed edges and messy hairdo might tell you don’t pay that much attention to your looks. Greasy, dirty hair with dark bags under your eyes and a slouching posture? Maybe you’re tired or depressed. That symbol on your necklace can announce your religion and those flashy, diamond-encrusted earrings reveal your wealth.
The marks on a character can tell a lot about them but not all of it has to be true. Maybe your PoV character meets someone new and misreads something about them, which can lead to drama. And who doesn’t love a good drama?
It’s the details that really tell us about your character. Sure, basics can be important (body structure, hair and eye color, the type of clothes…), but try to find a way that tells us more than “this guy wears jeans.” If you feel like you don’t know your character well enough, you can always go back and edit once you’ve spent more time with them as you write your draft.
And as with everything, remember moderation.
You don’t need to analyze every single character and every single thing about them. Also keep it realistic. If you see your best friend every day, you probably don’t pay attention to the color of their hair, unless they’ve suddenly colored it or something.
How do you portray your characters in your stories? Do you give them distinguishing marks that show their history or do you keep them more on the “average” side, only revealing their past through their actions and thoughts?