I enjoyed going shopping with my mother when I was a young girl. I loved it not because she bought me things (although that was an added bonus) but because I loved the mannequins. At eight years old I was creating characters without realizing that was what I was doing. With the help of my imagination the giant faceless dolls became people. I gave them names, faces, personalities, people to see and places to go. The person who dressed the mannequin helped make it easy for me to envision the people I created. We as writers do the same for our readers when we develop the characters that walk the pages of our books.
When developing a new character, think of a nude mannequin waiting to be dressed. The way a person dresses can tell you a lot about their personality. The clothing you pick for your character helps the reader envision what they look like. What colors would your character wear and why? Maybe a loud boisterous character would choose colorful clothing such as a bright orange sweater, a pair of bootleg jeans and a pair of zebra print stilettos. A more demure character might choose to wear a navy blue pea coat with a grey angora cowl neck scarf, a dark grey pencil skirt and black leather knee high boots.
Is your character a teenager, a housewife, an athlete a hipster? Once you answer this question, you will find it easier to pick out their attire. The way you describe their hair will also help bring them to life. Does the girl in the pea coat have blonde silky hair that she secures tightly in a ponytail at the back of her head? Does the lively girl have short brown hair with golden highlights that frame her face? Speaking of faces, what does theirs look like? Have you ever found yourself staring at a mannequin envisioning their features based on the way they are dressed?
Once you know their style, their features usually will present themselves. Are their eyes circular in shape? Can you describe their nose? What about their smile? Is it vibrant and contagious or non-existent?
Anyone who dresses a mannequin has an idea of a person in mind. Their execution of style is what entices the buyer to purchase what they are selling.
Let’s make this a writing exercise. Imagine you have an unclothed mannequin in front of you and it’s your job to add clothing, accessories, hairstyles, facial features and personality to the lifeless figure. You want the potential buyer to be able to clearly envision the character you have created.
******** My character**********
Name –Lydia (Where do you get your names for your characters? Is there meaning behind them?) Something as simple as a name can lure readers in.
Age: 18 (Your main character’s age will generally constitute your target reading age, eg. Young Adult readers would most likely connect with a character that is within the fourteen-to nineteen age range).
Features: (It is important to include features in your descriptions, this allows the reader to feel like they have a good sense of what the character looks like) Dark wavy shoulder length hair, Hershey kiss eyes, a smile that stretches like a rubber band, a star shaped birthmark under her eye and a slender figure with the exception of her rounded derriere.
Quirks if any: ( Quirks are a way to make your character become relatable to the reader) Lydia has a terrible habit of cracking her knuckles.
Voice: (Imagine what your characters voice will sound like. Is it raspy? Is his or her speech fast?) Lydia’s come hither voice makes her a favorite with the opposite sex.
Attire: ( The clothing your character wears can help define what type of person they are) Lydia slipped on her tightly fitted rainbow decorated t-shirt and tucked her stretchy denim pants into her knee length Chuck Taylor sneakers. She liked that her style was unlike anyone else’s and often referred to her sense of flair as “punk rock and roll”. She’d rather set a trend than follow one. Once someone started to imitate her style she would change it. She hated that the girls in school began wearing fingerless elbow high gloves because that meant she could no longer wear her favorite accessory.
Hopefully, I created a character that you can now see. The next time you are shopping, take a moment to look at the mannequins. You might be surprised at how inspiring they can be.
Think of one of your favorite characters, what was something that made them memorable? What steps do you take when creating a character?