Illuminating the Characters – Building the Character Sketch

Whether you are writing your novel, a short story, or a novella, shaping up the character can make or break the success of your novel. As the plot is important, so important is how the characters are defined. When it comes to shaping the characters, some important things are to be taken into consideration. Characters are the ones who speak for us, set the mood, carry the theme, carry the emotion. But they only exist when we describe them on the page. What they become, on the page, is up to us.

Factual Information

When we describe a character, factual information is not sufficient, no matter how accurate it might be. The characters should appeal to our senses. The phrases like tall, middle-aged, etc. bring no clear images to our minds. Most of the people sense characters through visual clues, it makes a lot of sense to describe our characters using visual images.

Adjectives can strengthen a detail. Brown eyes alone don’t do the trick. Are they light brown, dark brown or hazel eyes? If the adjective also suggests a metaphor, like forest green, emerald green, etc. there is an association(positive or negative) created by the reader as they visualize in their mind’s eye, the vehicle of the metaphor – forest or glittering gems.

Overusing the Adjectives

When it comes to using adjectives as descriptors, its common to find the ones which are overused. For example, Frizzy hair, Bulging muscles, etc. The phrase should not be only accurate and sensory, but also fresh. Often the easiest way to avoid an adjective-based cliché is to free the phrase entirely from its adjective modifier. 

Making the details more specific

The adjectives used to describe the character like frizzy hair can be made a lot way better by using specifics such as a military buzz-cut, prickly to the touch. This description will create a clear, stronger picture than using the bland phrase frizzy hair. These description helps create an image and they also suggest the background and the personality of the character.

Revealing the inner lives of the characters

Characters must reveal their inner self in the story. Their lifestyle, the car they drive, the bike they ride, what they will pack for the trip on the weekend, the brand of watch they wear, etc.  The best way is to make a list of anything and everything to reveal the lives of the characters.

The description that is not direct can also be effective

Let your character show emotions like squirming, shouting, laughing, etc. in different circumstances. Choose the description in such a way that it reveals the traits of the scene you are creating. If the characters are divorced, how will they divide the assets? Who gets the lake cottage—the stepson or the daughter?      

This way, the thrill, the suspense is always maintained and characters are sketched well.

Describing the character’s surroundings

In order to describe the character’s surroundings, don’t stick only to their present lives. The best way of shaping up the characters from their earlier lives in their past to how they got to their present to how they are moving ahead towards their future.

Another way the surroundings can be described are the dreams. Dreaming can become a tool of use to describe the character’s surroundings and the life they are living or dream of living.

Action-based descriptions

Verbs are the best to describe the actions of the characters. Well-placed verbs can sharpen almost any physical description of a character. Strong verbs like bowed forward, brow sloped, hair hovered, etc. form a basis of a perfect action-based description.

Actable actions are important elements in many fiction and nonfiction scenes that include dialogue. In some cases, actions, along with environmental clues, are even more important to character development than the words the characters speak. Writers of effective dialogue include pauses, voice inflections, repetitions, gestures, and other details to suggest the psychological and emotional subtext of a scene.

Use of concrete, sensory details to describe the characters

Writers probe the characters’ inner lives through what characters see through their eyes. A writer who describes what a character sees also reveals, in part, a character’s inner drama. In The Madness of a Seduced Woman, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer describes a farm through the eyes of the novel’s main character, Agnes, who has just fallen in love and is anticipating her first sexual encounter, which she simultaneously longs for and fears. In short, describing the characters is as much important as the plot of the story. If the story has a perfect character sketch, the novel with the strong buildup of the characters, be it the protagonist or the antagonist, or the supporting characters in the plot,  it will definitely strike a chord with the readers and make it a success.

This is the cover feature which first appeared in Storizen Magazine September 2019 Issue