1. Cailinfios
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    Cailinfios Member

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    How seriously do you take your characters appearance?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Cailinfios, Jan 27, 2014.

    So do you get really into you characters appearance - and I'm speaking beyond hair and eyes. I'm talking skin shade, height, birthmarks, weight, body type... and of course clothing.

    Personally I want to know as much about my character as I can. I love going through google images to find the perfect jacket or shirt or pair of shoes for my character. I wrote out long descriptions on what they look like.
    Though I never bother to put all of this information in my stories - I try to limit in-book character descriptions to basic hair and eyes, skin colour, and a vague idea of their clothing style, I love knowing all of this. I feel it makes my character a lot more real. For example, my MC Siena has freckles all the way down her arms. This doesn't come out in the book, cuz it's not important to the story, but I feel it is important for the author to know their characters in-depth.
     
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  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I do think you end up visualising your characters, to the extent that you might see a picture, or see somebody in person, who seems to be 'just like them.'

    I also think it's fun to decide what your characters will probably look like, what they wear, what they like for breakfast, etc. But these are just lists, really.

    What will really make your character come alive is when they start to DO things. Speak, walk, stand, sit, interact with other characters - feel happy, nervous, angry, puzzled, motivated, lazy, etc.

    They may see themselves one way, while other characters see them in an entirely different light. A vain man might believe he's god's-gift handsome, but women ignore him. Or the opposite. A shy fellow feels he's unattractive, but women (or a certain woman) find him intensely attractive—and he doesn't understand why.

    The only way you will know your characters in depth is when they actually HAVE depth. And that won't occur until they are inside your story, reacting to events and other people, deciding what they want to do with their lives.

    Sometimes physical characteristics and clothing will change to accomodate your story. Make sure you allow for this to happen.

    I'd say don't spend too much time building a list of character traits. Just throw them into your story, write like mad, and see how they develop!
     
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  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't bother because the truth is, I can never visualise my characters. Either my own or from books I read. I feel them, I know them, but I do not see them. Even if I'd planned out the exact appearance of my characters, it would be promptly forgotten by me and not really part of the character.
     
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  4. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    I visualize in my head but I don't become precious with it. I understand that people will have their ideas. So i give only what is needed unless it effects the plot. Ie they are heavy and cant fit through an escape route. Gollum for example: we all know the Peter Jackson look, but the animated film of the 70/80's gives a much different look. Same source material but different interpretation. All they had in common was the eyes and feet. Both plot points, eyes for fear and feet for paddling the boat.

    So in general no, unless it is vital to progression of plot.
     
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  5. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I let a few basic features of a face come across in the book, because the stereotypes people attach to them creates an impression of the character's personality; we form opinions of people that way in real life (albeit subconsciously), so it makes sense to do it in a book as well.

    But there's definitely a limit. Readers will create an image of your character in their heads which may be completely different to yours, and describing them the way you want them to be can create a bit of a clash which causes confusion and pulls them out of the story.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2014
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  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like to have a generally good idea of what they look like, but mainly because of the actions/physical predicaments they get into where I need to understand the logistics. But no, I don't put much of that into the actual writing unless it's necessary.
     
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  7. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the Doctor Who fanfiction I'm writing, character appearance is incredibly important because of how plot relevant it is whenever two of the main characters are forced to change appearance.

    On the other hand, character appearance is nowhere near as important in the serial killer novel I'm working on, so I haven't mentioned anything in that one yet, and I ever come up with a third project at some point, I don't see myself focusing on appearance very much in that one either.
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I used to do this a lot -create character sheets involving major description down to birth marks and favorite pj's, I even drew my characters and their wardrobes. Probably a hold over from my love of 80's Fashion Plates. lol. But I stopped. I now go with a vague, man-in-the-fog shape. The more I shape him in his scenes the clearer he gets. And the better he fits his surroundings.

    The flexibility allows me to dress him according to what I need for the given moment. Not just to bring out his character, but the overall story. One time I mentioned my mc Martha noticing a boy "He’s got Wedgwood eyes; perfect blue, perfect white." - which said more about her than him. I love Nabokov's quote - Caress the detail, the divine detail. But rather than list a character's attributes giving the reader a clear physical image, I like to dole out the physical along with the emotional.

    Even if a handful of writers had one person to describe - say Jude Law - and a handful of readers had not seen the image inspired by the description, not everyone would picture Jude Law. No matter how precise the description. You can aim for clarity but things do get lost in perception and the readers own imagination. The best way to ensure the clearest visual is never ignore the inner character. I've known obnoxious beauties, beautiful beauties and ugly people who are so lovely that I've stopped noticing their physical appearance - much like I stopped being impressed by the obnoxious beauties.
     
  9. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    @Mckk - Thank you, you've made me so happy. I thought I was the only one who did this, and it can make me look worse when I'm a writer. Still, thanks for being another one out there who doesn't see characters. :D
     
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  10. Cailinfios
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    Cailinfios Member

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    I think you guys are missing what I'm saying. A lot of posters think I include all the information I come up with in the story. I don't. I hardly go beyond "A black-haired man who reminded me of a fox walked into the room." I just like to KNOW what they look like - for myself - because I have a difficulty with coming up with personality. I believe that clothes reflect personality, so I try to think of clothes that would suit the MC. That helps me properly visialise the characters personality. That way when I have a scene, I don't imagine my MC wearing a summer dress in one scene and spiked black jeans in another.
    I want to know if anyone else does this.
     
  11. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I don't go overboard with my characters appearance but I make sure that they present a nice and clean appearance.
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think I understand where you're coming from. My characters tend to "Scooby-Do" their clothing once I visualize their appearance. Notice that the Scooby-Do gang always wears the same clothes? ;) Yeah, like that. The only time it would come into play in my own inner visualizing is if the scene really called out for a change of wardrobe. That would make me picture them differently, and would probably call for some mention in the writing, but other than that, the closets are pretty empty in my world. :D
     
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  13. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    That's all fine, just pick what is needed, we can allow for readers imagination to do the rest. We only need to know what is needed to progress the plot or allow for an insight into the character. Ie If the story that arrives at funeral they wear normal clothes because they hated the deceased or something. Before that we weren't privvy to what was the fashion of the protagonist, but we now know thanks to his/her clothes the feelings they have.
     
  14. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write a lot a period novels, and appearance can play an important part in how the characters interact in society. Clothes, hairstyle, jewelery, a tan or lack of one, all work to identify a person's status and authority or inferiority. Racial characteristics can be important too, whether it is Regency London or Imperial Rome. Working all of this out in at least a fair amount of details prevents embarrassing mistakes, even if not all of it is spelt out in detail.
     
  15. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    AJ basically looks like my avatar (it's a painting of Emma Stone.) I haven't gone as far in depth as to say where she might have mole or two, but I do know her generalities: Green eyes, three piercings in the left ear, one in the right, a tattoo on her right ankle and right wrist, prefers pony-tailed hair, etc... My rule is pretty much this: if it's non-essential to the plot, I try not to think about it. If I start delving too deep into my characters traits with nonsense tidbits like the fact she pulls the crust off her bread, it will start working its way into the narrative and just cause problems down the road when it comes to editing.
     
  16. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    This is one point where clothing can add personality to a character. For example, AJ prefers jeans or denim skirts, Converse sneakers, and tee shirts/hoodies/tank-tops/etc. Placing her in a cocktail dress with stockings and heels opens the door to internal dialogue and complaints about how uncomfortable she is, social awkwardness, and so on.
     
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  17. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    in Order Of The Black (my WIP) there is some emphasis placed on appearance for the dwarfs, as it identifies where they come from, and which group of dwarves they come from, its more focused on hair/beards than actual clothes, but nevertheless, its an emphasis... the elves however, its not so much of an issue.
     
  18. iPatrick
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    iPatrick Member

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    " I love going through google images to find the perfect jacket or shirt or pair of shoes for my character."

    I also do that. Especially that I'm still learning english.
     
  19. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'll normally have 1 or 2 distinguishing features and leave it at that. I don't see why eye colour is so far up so many peoples list of characteristics to describe. There's very few people I know in real life, that I could even tell you the eye colour of.
     
  20. Storysmith
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    I tend to have a vague idea of appearance - tall/short, fat/slim, etc. For the rest I let the reader pick their own appearance - to my mind even obvious things like skin color aren't important in a lot of stories. Sometimes I will go into some depth, for example if wearing clothes that they aren't comfortable in, or if it's important that somebody be especially good looking or ugly.

    Also, if characters have nothing to differentiate them other than appearance, giving them stand-out characteristics let's you refer to them. For example, if you have a group of thugs attack your character, you may refer to them in the fight as the "one-eyed man" or the "punk with the mohawk", since you presumably haven't introduced them by name.
     
  21. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I have vague ideas of what my characters look like. This happens when I read, too.
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Probably because "the eyes are windows to the souls", as they say. In a novel, it's often that you'd describe the character's eyes - her eyes clouded, I looked into her eyes, her eyes widened and such. It stands to reason that you'd describe the eyes in some detail - namely the colour, as it's the most obvious and easy to describe - if you're gonna refer to the character's eyes periodically. We look into each other's eyes when we're in love - eye colour is usually repeated between lovers even in books. It's also a trait that's almost always positive, pretty and once more, easy, so it's easy to use it to endear the reader to the character (or to alienate them, depending on the description - but it is easily manipulated since colours already hold a certain emotional meaning to most of us depending on the context in which we see it)

    Given the saying with eyes being the windows to the souls, perhaps some people also feel like the readers will know the characters more if they know their eye colour. Even in real life, you usually only know the eye colour of people you're quite close to. Perhaps it's a way for writers to feel like they know their characters too, because it's an intimate detail that can be used generally. How many other intimate details can you think of that's 1. easy to pinpoint and describe, 2. holds almost immediate emotional significance for a lot of people, 3. appropriate in all settings and to all age groups, 4. easily made to sound either attractive or not on an emotional level and 5. preferably something in plain sight so you could describe it either regularly or at least right at the beginning? A mole behind your character's ears has no emotional significance; the way someone's hair curls is too abstract to describe well and for the reader to remember; someone's genitals, while intimate, is not terribly appropriate or interesting - nor would you be able to find many occasions to describe such lol.

    Eye colour is also usually used to denote specific or unusual traits, say your MC is the only one with I dunno, purple eyes, or everyone in the story who has blue eyes is special (as in The Giver, where blue-eyed individuals were chosen for becoming The Receiver of Memories because they see the world differently).

    Also, eyes in general are considered to be beautiful features, probably because of the way it gleams and shines, a little like a gemstone.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2014
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  23. rasmanisar
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    I find visualisation very important in accurately portraying the emotions of a character. It doesn't matter if it doesn't all get portrayed in the writing itself, because I might use a specific reaction/facial expression etc, which may seem minor by itself but is the result of a number of combined factors which are not openly available to the reader, but need to have been considered in order to make the 'minor' reaction seem as realistic and personal as possible.
     
  24. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    @Mckk I used to hear the "eyes are a window to the soul" thing all the time when I was an addict. I always wore sunglasses and my GF at the time used it in reference to say that I wore them even indoors, not to block out light, but to keep people from seeing inside my soul. (That can work interestingly into a novel by the way :))
     
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  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    but why did you wear sunglasses even indoors? How did you see anything or read!? :D
     

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