While asking yourself these questions and statements, don’t feel obligated to add each answer to your description. Don’t over explain for the sake of word count. Just add enough meaningful details to establish your character(s). Create plenty of depth so your reader feels they’ve seen/met your character(s) before.
- Imagine a character standing and facing you, so you easily see her from head to foot. Notice:
2. Proportions of
- Torso (neck, shoulders, chest, waist, stomach, hips)
- Arms and legs
- Hand and feet
3. Anything in their stance indicative of their personality?
4. To a great extent, clothing is a response to the natural environment and social world in which a person lives. What we choose to wear and how we wear it also expresses personality. A character’s clothing can tell us about the following:
- Physical features of environment
- Time of Day
- Social Constraints
- Is the character dressed for work, recreation, religious observance?
5. From looking at the attire, would you say this person unconsciously got dressed, or did they consciously “dress” in the morning?
6. What decorative elements are visible in their appearance?
7. Does anything about their clothing restrict their movement?
- How they stand?
Just as you noticed the general proportions of the body, as you walk closer; notice how their head and face are proportioned:
8. Size and shape of the head, forehead, cheekbones, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, jaws, ears
- Is it balanced?
- What is pleasing?
- What is remarkable?
9. Look at the skin on the face:
- Texture : smoothness, scars, finely lined or creased from frowning, squinting, or smiling
- Tone, especially eyelids and jawline
- Distance between the eyes
- How deeply set are they?
- Are the outer corners higher than, even with, or lower than the inner corners?
11. The muscles around the eyes reveal most about a character. Some people literally look at the world wide-eyed, while others narrow their vision. For most people the two sides of the face are very different indeed, one far more open or alert than the other.
- Does the character look happy?
- What other word would be more precise?
- How does the character look at the world?
- How much tension is apparent around their eyes?
- How expressive are the eyes?
- Are differences in the two eyes subtle or not?
- Does the character see clearly?
- Do they distort their face to see better?
- Wear any kind of corrective lenses?
12. Look at the mouth. Does the mouth relax into a Mona Lisa smile, a straight line, or a frown?
- How much tension is apparent in their jaw?
13. When you consider the following emotions, see which of them play over the character’s face readily, slightly, fleetingly, or not at all:
14. Repeat the emotions and notice how the feeling was made evident. Which muscles moved?
If you extend your hands with the palms up, imagine the palms of the character’s hands resting on yours.
15. How do their hands feel?
16. How large are their hands?
17. Do they have any rings on their fingers?
18. Do they have any scars anywhere on their hands?
19. Look at the backs of her hands:
20. Shape and length of her fingers
21. Shape and length of nails
22. Care of nails and cuticles
23. Turn over their hands.
- When you look at the palms, what do you notice?
24. What assumptions can you make about this person’s life based on their hands?
- How much manual labor have they done?
- How pampered have they been?
- What care do they take of them?
25. In the end, what is the most noticeable about their hands?
26. Let go of their hands and look down at their feet:
- What, if anything, are they wearing on their feet?
- How are the shoes fastened:
woven straps, ties, buckles, velcro?
- What material are they made of?
- How stylish are the shoes?
- How comfortable are the shoes?
- How well are they cared for?
- Are they polished?
- Worn down on the heels? Soles?
- How are the shoes fastened:
27. As the character continues to face forward, slowly step around to look at their profile.
- How do they stand?
- Is their body in basic alignment?
- If out of alignment, which part is thrust forward – head, shoulders, hips, or feet?
- Is there anything obvious from the side that you missed looking straight at them?
28. As you continue walking behind the character, how are the hips and shoulders proportioned?
29. From the back, take a closer look at the character’s hair:
- a person may take great care fixing the hair around the face, but is the back of it a mess?
30. Continue walking around the character. Is one profile remarkable in any way from the other?
31. What odors or scents emanate from the character?
- How pleasant are these smells?
- Do they relate to work or play?
32. As you face the character again, imagine you see an aura of energy about her. What kind of energy does she give off?
33. Some people are calm and cool; others are calm and warm. Some people radiate anger that is like dry ice – so cold it burns; another’s anger is explosive but short-lived, like dry kindling; anger in others smolders for unbelievably long periods of time. The energy contained in – and radiating out from – love, joy, fear, anger, and sorrow can be just as dramatic. These five emotions are not the only ones, but they are the primary ones.
- Which of those primary emotions demonstrate and energize this character, even in repose?
34. If you ask the character to walk with you, how do they walk?
- Head, shoulders, hips, or feet first?
- How large are their steps?
- How graceful are their movements?
- How fast do they walk?
- Where do they look while walking?
35. How would you describe how this person walks through life?
36. How willing are they to dance?
- What kind of dancing do they do?
- How well do they dance?
37. If you ask a question and the character answers, what qualities do you hear?
- Rate at which they speak
38. How comfortable are they when talking?
39. How much silence is in their speech?
40. How comfortable are they with silence?
41. How comfortable are they with singing?
42. How well do they sing?
The next series of questions focuses on a character in a setting. The same prompts could be used for different setting in the story. Imagine walking with a character as they enter a building or room in the story:
43. Does the character pause before entering? Why?
44. How carefully does the character enter the space?
45. Do they seem to fill or be dwarfed by the space?
46. Do they dominate or fit in with the other characters in the space?
47. Do they seem comfortable in this place?
48. What is the first thing they do?
49. What do they seem to value here?
What follows are more general questions about the character’s role and growth in the story and their relationship with others.
50. Is the character a seeker or a victim at the beginning of the story?
51. Does this change during the course of the story?
52. What goals does the character have?
- Do these goals change during the story?
53. What has the character gained by the end?
54. How has the character dealt with obstacles along the way?
55. Which traits have been most balanced? Most imbalanced?
- sense of humor
- common sense
56. What does the character say about themselves?
- Are they reliable?
- How do you know this?
57. What are their best characteristics?
58. What are their weaknesses?
59. Do they have any special talents?
60. What is their relationship with others in the tale?
61. A character’s speech can reveal the relationship between themselves and the person to whom they are speaking.
- How does the character speak to other characters in the story?
- What do we know about them from this behavior?
62. Who does this character love?
- How do their actions convey support and care for those they love?
63. What do others say about this character?
- Are they reliable?
- How do we know this?
64. Think of ways in which the character is the same as others in the story.
- In what ways are they different?
65. How would they argue with another character, using words, sounds, and space?
66. How would they express their affection for another character using words, sounds, and space?
67. How do relationships alter between this character and others during the story?
68. Visualize how the character would stand in proximity to all the other characters in the story.
- when the story begins
- during the height of the action in the middle of the story
- by the end of the story
Best wishes in your story-telling,