Visual Character Design

Readers like characters that they can get attached to. That’s a simple fact. The process, however, of creating a distinctive, well fleshed out, sympathetic character, is not simple. There are a lot of things involved in bringing a character to life. They need back-story, personality, flaws, virtues, desires, goals, fears, and their own way of looking at the world. They also need a description, which is harder than it sounds.

And why is that? Because, as with every other type of description, balance is an issue. Spend two pages on the description of one building and you risk your audience yawning and skimming, maybe even putting the book down. Only mention that the building has a door, and no one can be sure what the place looks like.

The same goes for your character. Listing him as having brown hair, brown eyes, and light skin begins to form a picture, but nothing concrete. Say: spiky brown hair, slanted brown eyes, a long nose, and skin that burns instead of tans, and you’re better off. This guy still isn’t very distinctive. Add a scar or a tattoo, a distinctive piece of jewelry, but don’t add them for no reason. Tie it to the story.

An example of this, Katniss Everdeen wouldn’t be the same without her mockingjay pin. It seems fairly irrelevant to the first book. It serves well as a device to bring in some back story and to set Katniss apart from the other tributes coming into the hunger games. But in the context of the trilogy, it’s much more significant as a symbol of defiance.

Another example, Atticus O’Sullivan from the Iron Druid Chronicles has tattoos on his right arm, and a singular necklace with an iron medallion and a handful of powerful charms. Both are important to the story. The tattoos are part of his magic, and the necklace is partially protective, and partially a druid’s toolkit.

One way I recommend working with the visual aspect of a character is by drawing him out. If you’re bad at drawing, like I am, you might need some help with this. Start with a body blank. Here’s a link to a male blank. Here’s one to a female. You might need to alter them in paint (or equivalent program) a bit to suit your needs. I guess you could even do the whole thing in the computer. I print them out and use colored pencils.

The one thing I haven’t found is a similar blank for a child. I had to make one myself. It’s rough and cartoonish compared to the two I linked above, but it works for both boys and girls.

Image by lamichaud

Image by lamichaud


Here it is uncolored. If you share this, give credit where credit’s due. Thanks!

child body blank


~ by lamichaud on January 22, 2013.

2 Responses to “Visual Character Design”

  1. Thank you! It’s really cool that you created your own. I will definitely be using these.

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