When you’re writing a story, be it fiction or non-fiction, it is critical that the reader be able to picture your characters. The more characters you have, the more important it is to remind us. If all I know about them are their names, they will be more or less interchangeable in my brain (which creates a lot of confusion in a story).
For instance: John, Bob, and Jason (which reminds me, you should always strive to be a little more creative with your names – wrote a post about that a while back). I need to know what they look like and I need you find subtle ways to remind me what they look like through the entire story. This is the part a lot of writers miss.
It’s not enough to tell me once that Bob is really tall. As a reader, I need you to remind me of it every chance you get by having him loom over shorter characters and bump his head on a low-hanging branch. The trick is in finding a balance. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve collected over the years:
- Show, don’t tell: Instead of explicitly stating a character’s appearance, integrate it naturally into the story through actions, interactions, and dialogue. For example, you can have other characters react to the character’s physical features or use descriptive language when the character interacts with their environment.
- Character self-reflection: Create moments where characters reflect on their own appearance or notice specific physical features. This can be done through internal monologues, introspective scenes, or personal thoughts, providing a subtle reminder to the reader.
- Character comparisons: Introduce new characters or objects that resemble or contrast with the appearance of existing characters. By drawing similarities or differences, readers can recall the physical features of the character in question.
- Character interaction: Utilize character interactions to remind readers of physical traits. For example, another character might touch or compliment the character’s distinctive curly hair, allowing the author to reinforce that trait in the reader’s mind.
- Narrative context: Incorporate the character’s appearance into the narrative context. If the character has a distinct scar, for instance, mention it when it becomes relevant to the story, such as during a fight or a moment of vulnerability.
- Non-visual senses: Remind readers of a character’s appearance by engaging senses other than sight. Mention the character’s distinct scent, voice, or unique physical qualities that are associated with their appearance (like soft skin, for instance).
- Emotional reactions: Connect emotional reactions or feelings to the character’s appearance. For example, describe how a character’s beautiful eyes evoke specific emotions in others, reminding the reader of their appearance while also conveying emotional depth.
Remember, it’s crucial to find a balance between reminding readers of a character’s appearance and allowing them to use their imagination. Provide enough details to guide their mental image, but also leave room for interpretation and individual reader perception.