The more a writer knows about his characters, the easier it is for him to find the voice of the character. This is especially helpful during the early stages of character development, before the character becomes as real to you as your mother. Inspiration for Writers provides a Trait Chart that includes the most important traits to help you visualize your character, both physically and emotionally. Print a copy for every character.
Full name: Surely, different types of people come to mind when we hear the names “Bubba” and “Thurmond Elton Radclift, III.” Writers must carefully consider both the first and last names of their character, as well as his or her nickname. Consider the character’s age, ethnic background and social status in naming your character. You can find names in a quality book of Baby Names (with meanings, preferably), the telephone directory, websites, or other books that list surnames by ethnic origin.
Date of Birth/Age: Writers should carefully consider assigning a character a birthday. You may want to check your character’s sun and moon signs, as this helps in fleshing out the character. Keep in mind important historical occurrences on both the birth date and during the character’s developing years of life. For example, people who lived through the Great Depression have a different outlook than younger generations.
Address: Does the character live in a large city, the suburbs, a small town or deep in the country? Does he or she live in the United States or elsewhere? If in the States, which region? What is the economics of the neighborhood/area/region?
Height: Descriptions like “tall” or “average” work fine, unless the height is a defining characteristic of the character.
Weight/Body Build: Go further than your character’s exact weight. Describe whether he or she is stocky, slender or “had a figure that . . .”
Hair: Keep in mind the character’s ethnic background. Of course, you don’t always have to assign typical coloring to your characters, but if you don’t, you’ll need to explain. You may also want to mention the length, the style, and the type (curly, wavy, straight).
Eyes: Besides the color of the character’s eyes, also include the shape, length of lashes, shape of brows and anything else peculiar to this character. This is a good place to be creative in listing the eye color. Instead of “brown,” try “copper” or “chocolate.” Instead of blue, be specific: sapphire, aquamarine or crystal blue.
Peculiar Physical Traits: List any peculiarities of your character’s appearance here. Does his left eye twitch when he lies? Does he chew his lip when apprehensive? Does he smoke? What does he smoke and how often? If he wears eyeglasses, what do they look like? Does he have any moles, scars or birthmarks?
Health: Does your character have any health problems or weaknesses? Does she walk with a limp, have a plastic jaw, suffer from migraines? Arthritis? How is her blood pressure? Is she a walking heart attack, or does she run five miles every morning before dawn? How does she feel about her health? Is she a hypochondriac? Or has she never been to a doctor in her life?
Smell: Everyone has a smell. It can be the clean smell of deodorant soap, the strong smell of a specific perfume or aftershave, the musty smell of old age, the tell-tale smell of stale beer. A character’s smell can change from scene to scene, but try to imagine what he typically smells like on an average day.
Voice: Does he have a deep, resonant voice? Does she have a throaty voice or a squeaky voice? Does his voice crack? Does she usually shout or whisper? Can he carry a tune? Is his tone pleasant or grating? Does she speak with perfect grammar or slur her words? Does he insert an expletive between every second word? Does he have a distinguishing laugh? Does she talk rapidly or slowly?
Usual Walking Style: Does he limp? Is he always in a hurry and run everywhere he goes? Does she skip? Wiggle?
Mannerisms: What else distinguishes this character from everyone else? Does he greet people with a hug? Do his hands move when he talks? Does he snap his fingers regularly? Does he shrug his shoulders? Does he slouch? Have military posture?
Sense of Style: What type of clothes/shoes/accessories does the character wear? Does he have a favorite flannel shirt he wears every Saturday? Does she apply makeup before breakfast? Is his dress impeccable or gaudy? Trendy? Casual? Classic? Expensive? Second-hand? Matching? Scuffed?
Eating Habits/Mannerisms/Tastes: Does he slurp? Burp? Gulp? Eat on the run? Prefer steak or hamburger? Sushi or spaghetti? Eating out (and where) or at home? Big meals or small? Is he polite or piggish?
For additional tips, worksheets, and discussions, order your own copy of the The Plain English Writer’s Workbook.
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