In crafting stories, our image of each character would be their outward appearance. Most of the time, we see this through the eyes of other characters, which is the way most storytellers convey this kind of information. I can only think of two instances where I expand on what a character looks like from their viewpoint.
In Contraband, I confined this to the unusual colour of the character's eyes and their power to intimidate other people. Word to the wise: your character can look like a narcissistic idiot if you have him or her looking in the mirror for the purpose of giving the reader a visual impression. Even worse, your writing may come across as that of someone inexperienced if you have the main character describing himself.
Another aspect of image is the way in which others think about your main character. Nothing says more about a person than the way others see him. Is he brisk, but polite? Is he firm, but fair? Is he businesslike, but takes time to listen? Think about someone you’ve heard about before meeting them. Didn’t the 411— or as we say in Jamaica, the bill and receipt—on them colour your opinion? It’s one thing to see how he thinks of himself, and quite another to know what people think of him. So, having other people in the story expressing their thoughts about the main character is an effective way of rounding out their personality.
Then there is the perception we attach to certain positions and people. Some of us tend not to look too far beyond stereotypes. If someone dresses for success, we may not look any further than physical evidence before we draw our own conclusion about them. Many an unsuspecting person has been scammed by well-dressed, articulate people. It is easy and natural to equate a stylish man with a certain type of behavior, and think the same of a well-heeled woman, only to be shocked by crass behavior from either of them. Politicians are a good example of this. They look good and sound good until their part in a scandal is revealed.
Another useful method is to show how the character sees himself. In Contraband, my protagonist recognizes that he’s made some dangerous choices, but acknowledges what led him to them, and bargains with himself as to when he’ll give up trading in illegal merchandise. You can’t get a better view of a character than when he takes an honest look at himself.
The way we deal with our problems also tells a lot about who we are. We perhaps work out our challenges without talking about them, or moan to whoever will listen. One approach speaks to resilience, while the other reflects a character who does little to change his situation or relies on others to help sort out his difficulties. Providing our readers with situations in which our protagonist can exercise his problem-solving abilities is another way to create a complete image of that individual.
Your protagonist's relationships also tell a lot about him. How does he treat his sick mother? Does he dote on her or is he impatient? Does he make time to visit her? If he's the boss, how does he treat his employees? Is he rude and demanding or does he say please and thank you, even though he's the one calling the shots? How does he treat his love interest? Is he charming and urbane or is he proud and obnoxious? In his dealings with people who can't repay him for his kindness, how does he act? Humble or conceited? The way we treat our associates, or those we are related to, says much about who we are at heart.
These are the main ways I use to show readers the qualities that make up my characters. What other ways do you use to give readers an accurate picture of your characters? Do you agree that an inner view of a person is as important as what others think of him?
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CREATING A TOTAL IMAGE OF YOUR CHARACTER by @JL_Campbell #theartistunleashed #indieauthors http://goo.gl/BsystC