Creating Amazing Characters

The novice author goes for the physical attributes

Read the line below and try to experience how it sounds?

…. Rohit is tall fellow, six foot four. Very lean, so much so that he appears
sickly with those sunken eyes and darkened skin below the eyelids….

It is a description of a character. The description is apt and we would know
more about this person as the lines progress. But there is a problem.
Like any tall, lean and sickly person that might have crossed us in a busy
street, he sparks no interest. Maybe you would turn your head once, to see
him. And that too in a country like in India where a height of six foot four isn’t
that common. But that is all.
You won’t be interested in knowing more about him. What kind of life he
lives? Where his home is? And who are his friends?
You would rather go your way. There are bigger problems in your life than
getting to know a tall, sickly person.
Let’s look at another description, a rather similar one.

… I met Rohit at the football tryouts last December. He stood right beside
me as the coach was taking roll calls. I could hardly reach his shoulders.
When he ran, his legs could fathom in a single stride as mine did in four.
With those legs sticking out of his red boxers, we could as well use him to
scare away birds in a farm. There was just one problem though. He hardly
ran after the ball, got exhausted easily and just stood there, mid field, looking
lost and weary. That’s how he got his name – Scarecrow…

Now this is what we call characterization by action. The reader may be
interested to know why this Rohit is always exhausted? Why is he tired and
lost? And why above all that, he has come to football tryouts?
There is also an element of tension in the description. Will he be able to
make it? It’s for sure that his peers won’t go easy on him.
The reader wants to know further.

Let’s read another character description.
… I tried asking her what went wrong, but her large blue eyes kept staring a
the wall behind me, and she kept sipping on her coffee. No matter how hard I
tried, she wouldn’t look at me….

There is something wrong with a character who avoids eye contact. The
reader would be interested to know. And along the way, we also described
the blue eyes.

We don’t always need the hair or the eyes or the build to describe a
character. The characters can have physiological traits, some eccentricities.
Your next door neighbor, who says – hello, every time your paths cross.
Who never create a ruckus, looks after himself and his family and does
everything by the book, isn’t a character worth reading. But he becomes
interesting as soon as you notice blood marks on his pants, every second
Tuesday of a month, or he goes out of the house every night at three.
Eccentricities are important for any character to become worth reading.

… There was something with him and his sunglasses. He even wore them at
nights, no matter how may people made fun of him….

This character has a thing for sunglasses. He doesn’t give up even when
people are making fun of him. The reader wants to know more.

Don’t worry the drug won’t kill you. If I wanted you dead, a bullet was
enough,” She said, supporting her overgrown belly with her left hand.

What do you think the above lines tell you about the character? A really
dangerous or a headstrong woman. Adding to that she is pregnant. A
strange combination of bullets and pregnancy. Generally they don’t mix.

There are so many traits to explore and so many ways to pen them down,
but we tend to stick to physical features… Why? Let’s look at another one.
… She took so much time to dress up that my fingernails could grow an
inch…

This is called as exaggeration. Consider another one like this.

“I would never dare, even in my worst of dreams, to cross paths with Amit.
That boy had a superpower. He could send any person into coma, just by
talking to him. He talked with my dog for an hour, for crying out loud. The
poor soul had to be taken to the vet, five times last month…”

And then there is characterization by contrast. Read the following lines.

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The Nose-digging hottie – A characterization contrast

“I had no problem with my flab growing everywhere, but I went to jog just to
see her everyday. I had no courage to speak to her face, so I used to watch
her from a distance. Her hair flowing with the wind as she ran, the brown
eyes, everything about her was goddess like. That day I managed the
courage to speak and followed Zisha, to her favorite bench behind the
hedges. I was a couple of meters to her left when I saw. Her index finger,
deep into her nose, searching for stuff.
That’s when our eyes met and she stared at me so hard, that I turned around
and never cared to look back….”

The first part characterizes a beautiful woman and the second part a nose
digger. An eccentric behavior that creates interest in mind of the reader.

Characterization hack one-o-one –
Physical attributes are important, but there is more to a character than just
the body. Talk to your character, love him, support him, hate him, fight with him
and see how he behaves.

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