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Creating memorable characters (1)

30th May 2018 | Posted in Writing


When you look at the image above, what do you notice first of all? Is it a mass of grasses?  Or an overgrown verge by the side of the road? Or do you notice the individual shapes and colours?

When I was a teacher I spent a long time helping children to paint. And one thing we’d focus on was that grass is not uniform green. Neither is the sky all blue, sand completely yellow, mud a monotone brown or a road dark grey. All these are made up of different colours, blended together. Sometimes one shade might stand out above all others. At other times there might be one or more predominant colour while the others blend to form the background.

When creating a character, is there one feature that stands out, sometimes referred to as a tag? Is it something visual? Grey eyes or perhaps a quiff of auburn hair? Coral painted nails? Thin lips that turn down at the corners?

Or what about a behaviour? Are the grey eyes narrowing slightly? Does the quiff of hair flop over one eye every time the person moves his or her head? Are the nails drumming on the table?

Could it be a smell? Marcy smelt spices and a hint of orange. Like early evening in a Moroccan souk. She turned. We can imagine the character who might wear such an expensive and distinctive cologne.

Or sound? A large man might have a shrill voice, like a parrot. Can you hear a warm contralto voice singing softly on the other side of the cubicle divider?

All these tags help shape our characters and make them unique.

However, when we describe our characters and create the key tags or features we ascribe to them, how many are visual? And is this linked to our own preference for using visual language. How often do you hear some one say, ‘Look. I’m trying to tell you….’

I know that I have a preference for using visual language so need to make a point to include non-visual language. Instead of ‘Look. I’m trying to tell you….’ I’ll write ‘Listen, I’m trying to tell you…’ or even, ‘Give me a break, will you? I’m trying to tell you…’

In the first example I’m using an auditory command (listen) and in the second a kinaesthetic command (give). We all have a preference for what we habitually use. Sometimes it’s a good idea to force ourselves to do something different. So next time you’re describing a character, add a detail that is outside your usual patterns. Who knows, it may add something to your character that you haven’t been aware of before.

If you’re not certain which you tend to use, try searching for a particular word, such as look, watch, see or listen, sound, hear in a piece of text. It may surprise you.

Once you’ve identified your preference you can use that knowledge and understanding as you edit and challenge yourself to write outside your comfort zone.

For more on differentiating between words based on the different senses, type sensory based language into a search engine. Usually at least one site will have a list of words that might be of use to you.








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