When coming up with a new character, or trying to introduce him (or her) to the reader, writers often focus on what he looks like, or perhaps how he talks. What color hair does he have? What color eyes? (fiction, as a whole, is very obsessed with eyes, and I totally fall prey to this, as well) What kind of clothes does he wear? When he speaks, is his voice loud or quiet, slow or fast?
Less frequently, I think, writers talk about how a character moves. And yet there’s so much information that can be gleaned from this. I notice this most often through watching actors on TV and in movies—of course, those are more visual media than literature, but while writers can’t “show” a character the same way a TV screen can, we can describe him.
There are so many things to consider when sketching out a character in a scene, or in general. His clothing might tell us a little about him. His hair color and eye color tell us even less. But how does he stand? How does he walk? Does he hunch and look up at people, even those actually shorter than him? Are his hands constantly fiddling with things, or are they straight by his sides, or jammed in his pockets?
When he sits, is he slumped in his chair, or straight-backed? If slumped, how so? In a wide, casual way, as if completely comfortable, or as if he’s so exhausted he can’t manage anything else? Or is he slumped because it makes him seem smaller, less threatening?
Even if we want to talk about eyes, there’s much more interesting things to talk about than color, which is pretty much something we’re born with and tells us very little about who we are. More reveling is how our character’s eyes react. Does he stare? If so, how so? In a threatening way? In a creepy way? Do his eyes twitch? Does he blink more often than normal—less often than normal?
Of course, you can’t overload a scene with every single little tic. That would quickly get excessive and boring. But too little of these physical descriptions, and characters start feeling less like actual human beings and more like chess pieces.
Next time you watch TV, study the way a good actor/actress embodies their character, telling us things about him or her with the way they move or stand.
Have any recommendations for good shows/really fantastic actors? Personally, I love the way Natalie Dormer plays her role (it’s a tad spoiler-y, so I won’t say which role) in Elementary, and I’ve only just started Hannibal, but Hugh Dancy is pretty brilliant as Will Graham.