A Body of Information

On this week’s Firsts in Fiction, Steve and I discuss the physicality, the biology, of our characters, and how that adds to their depth and history. You  may download it here, or stream it below. Enjoy!

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Muscular_System-wikimedia-meyers-public-domainImagining your character’s physicality means thinking about more than their physical appearance alone. Yes, the color of their eyes and hair is important, but not as important as what they have control over. Yes, some people change the color of their hair and eyes, but ask yourself how they present themselves beyond these things. How do they wear their hair? Why? Do they wear make-up? If so, what kind? Perfume maybe? Are they meticulous in the care of their nails? Do they insist on wearing lotion? Do they have tattoos? Piercings? If so, what? Choice is always more interesting than chance.

However, all of that doesn’t tell us nearly as much as their biological make up. Think of how we can look at the rings on a tree. A careful study of their rings can tell us their life history. We can see the dry years and the wet years, the years of fire, and the years of regrowth. In the same way, we need to imagine what our characters’ years have done to them. What injuries have they sustained? Illnesses? Injuries? What scars have they left on our characters. Have years of work in construction hardened their hands? Do they have rough callouses from playing drums in a band?

We interact with our world physically, so this dynamic is very important. We use our five senses to find our place in this world. Think of sight and sound, smell, of taste and touch. Which of these conjure up memories of our characters’ histories. Positive memories? Negative? To this day, the smell of rain on asphalt takes me back to when I was in third grade, waiting in the rain for my mother to pick me up after school. For years, I couldn’t eat M&Ms because I’d had a bag shortly before contracting one of the worst stomach flus I’ve ever had.

Life happens, and it happens to our bodies. Think of your character’s history and what it’s done to them. Have they spent years conditioning their bodies? As an athlete, do their joints move with fluidity? What’s it feel like to exert themselves? Do they have a nagging injury that slows them down?

These are all considerations that should be made when thinking of your character. Put them in action. Have them do something, and think of their internal make-up and how it feels to work. Think of how their muscles burn, or itch, or stretch, or ache. Try writing a few scenes from your character’s perspective as they move through their day, and pay special attention to how they physically feel as they do it.

Until next week, from Steve and I, good writing.


10 thoughts on “A Body of Information”

  • We talked about this in class. Sitting a writing as you call it the “grocery list” isn’t something that is going to keep readers interested in what you are writing. They are not going to be able to get involved in the book and make a character that kinda goes with what you are writing and what they are thinking of. Making people read a book that doesn’t have a good character base is like locking an adult in a white room and tell them to make up a game it doesn’t work.

  • I’ve read many books where the author tends to grocery list features and it just isn’t as real as when the author describes features using real life situations. I honestly hope that i can learn to describe a character without boring the reader because I want to intrigue the reader.

  • This has helped me out quite a bit with detailing my characters. I am decent at creating characters, but cant really detail them that much.

  • I am excited to use these skills for my character, some things I’m good at describing, while others I have trouble with. Plus I have a more structured idea on how to word the feeling of the character now.

  • I never know what details are important to use for my character I always see a specific person in my head and sometims I just can’t get it down on paper. In good at details just not so much with characters.

  • It’s difficult to give depth to a character most of the time. I know my problem is that I try and write down as much as I can while it is in my head, and never go back to add all the details.

  • I feel that when i were to make characters and talk about then throughout the book.not grocery listing them but just going with it as i write the reader might feel as if theirs to much information about the main character and not so much whats going on around. Its just a matter of balancing things out

  • It bugs me when I’m reading a book and the writer has grocery listed the character. It takes me out of my reading bubble and I don’t feel part of the character anymore.

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