Picking Physical Traits

by Alys
(America)

Question: I have all the personality (major) decided on for my characters but when I go to choose their out words appearance I can't decide. I'm a very visual person, so I prefer to see what I want I front of my eyes rather then in my head. First, I tried to let it go, assuming it would come as i wrote, to no avail. Then I tried googling because for me, Google usually has everything. When that came to a frustrating end, I tried dress up games where I just focused on the hair/eye color. That didn't end well either. Any tips or suggestion so I can finally say he/she has this in this and not have to leave blank spots in my writing?


Answer: You might try looking through photographs. I recommend magazines such as National Geographic which show people from many cultures as they really are rather than the phoney air-brushed photos in fashion mags.

All you need are a few traits per character that makes them truly unique. The trouble with things like eye or hair colour is that they are seldom distinctive. I mean, there are millions of people in the world with brown eyes or blonde hair. So brown eyes is only a distinctive trait if no other character in your story possesses it.

Looking at photos of people, or perhaps people on the street, you can start paying attention to what traits make them stand out. It can help you get ideas for your character. For instance, you might find photos of two people that resemble your character and take one or two traits from each. Or you can take a photo of someone in a different country or time period and tweak their traits to fit the setting of your story.

It's also the case that some physical traits suit certain characters better. For instance, if you are writing about a ballet dancer, it would make sense for her to be slim with good muscle tone. If you're writing about a computer geek, it would make sense for him to be pale and chubby (since he spends all his time indoors in front of a screen). Other times, you might want to deliberately work against expected traits. Maybe your computer geek works out in his apartment because he's lonely and wants a body that will attract women. Maybe your ballet dancer is overweight and is fighting to overcome the prejudice of her industry.

In this way, you can use the personality traits you've chosen to determine the physical.

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