Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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Defining characters by appearance

Supposing you were a witness to a crime, you might have to describe the criminals to the police. You would be building up an image for them. Here are some details that help.

Clothes: Smart, casual, working clothes, unusual, fashionable, distinctive, certain colours, ethnic, distinguishing marks on the clothes like trade marks, tears, patches, stains, etc.

Figure: Tall, short, fat, thin, broad, lean, athletic, frail, muscular, weedy, upright, bent, heavy, light, angular, wiry.

Head: Round, oval, long, wide, high/low forehead.

Face: Square jawed, weak jawed, flat faced, horse faced, open-faced.

Eyes: Colour, bulging, squinting, glasses, bright, happy, sad, staring. eyes close/wide, twinkling, sparkling, almond shaped, slit, shifty, beady, round.

Eyebrows: Thick, bushy, wispy, thin, curved, pencilled.

Skin: Wrinkled, smooth skinned, facial defects/markings, pale, swarthy, dark, dusky, fair, bronzed, freckled, dimpled, sunburnt, ruddy, tanned, rough, hairy, pimply, blotchy, florid, fresh, spotted.

Mouth: Wide, thin, happy, sad, twisted, full-lipped, cleft-lipped, pouting, grim.

Teeth: Regular, irregular, prominent, decayed, gleaming, projecting, uneven, dirty, with braces, gapped.

Hair: Neat, unruly, straight, wavy, curly, bleached, coloured, grey, unkempt, fine, coarse, blonde, brunette, black, streaked, silvery, punk, golden, silky, plaited, short cut, pigtailed, tangled, coiffured, balding.

Nose: Long, short, snub, straight, broad, broken, bulbous, aquiline, Roman, pointed, flat, twisted.

Accent: Educated, uneducated, regional, derived (school), foreign.

Speech Mannerisms: High/low voice, fast/slow speaking, lisp, stammer, fluent, halting, clear, indistinct.

Age: Young, middle aged, old, sprightly.

Movements: Quick, slow, agile, ponderous, jerky, clumsy, delicate, graceful, confident.

Personality: Nice, nasty, generous, mean, proud, haughty, kind, vain, cheerful, easy going, spiteful, loveable, distant, stubborn, timid, excitable, frantic, neurotic, calm, bold, confident, uncertain, shy.

Disabilities: Deaf, Blind, Dumb, Physically handicapped, Ill, Mentally handicapped, Having phobias or compulsions.

Props: Glasses, cigarettes, walking stick, umbrella, rings, wristwatch, bags being carried.

Being able to describe your characters in detail will help greatly in developing other aspects of their personality, and the personality will help in showing how they will react in various circumstances such as danger, a crisis, a new experience.


Create three characters using the above type of descriptions.



Describing people 1 - Describing people 2 - Describing people 3


Defining characters by circumstances

A good test of a character is to put them in different circumstances than they would normally be in, and work out what they would do.

How would Beauty relate to the Beast if he were poor? What would have been Cinderella's fate if the ugly sisters had been beautiful, or if Cinderella had been ugly?

By changing the circumstances in a storyline you will often see a range of possible character developments that may be exploited.

Every story relates to someone doing something because:


They stand to gain by doing it or


Lose by not doing it.

What that 'something' is, needs to be made clear. Sherlock Holmes stands to gain by solving crimes as it both pays him a fee and gives him something to puzzle over. Popeye only uses spinach when threatened physically, so stands to lose if he does not use it. Superman only uses his powers when there is trouble. Although he personally may not stand to lose anything, society as a whole stands to lose, and he is society's protector. Aladdin's evil uncle stands to gain by having the magic lamp. Snow White's wicked stepmother stands to lose by having Snow White around. Cinderella's family stands to lose by letting Cinderella try on the lost slipper. The wolf stands to win by finding out where Red Riding Hood's grandmother lives.

Obvious ideas like Superman losing his powers, Aladdin losing his lamp, Popeye losing his spinach etc. have been used. These are allegories for people losing power, love, friends, money, and the things that they depend on for their survival and life-style.


Give five examples of the above in well known stories.


The fear of losing one's power and position is a strong motive for doing crazy things. This theme comes up often in stories in many variations. Here are a few:

  • Losing the person one loves to another.
  • Losing all one's money or heritage.
  • Losing one's abilities.
  • Growing old, getting ill, being cast out of Society, losing rank, being defeated, not being recognised, are all aspects of losing one's control over life.

List what the following characters stand to gain and lose in the stories about them:

Oliver Twist - Noah - Rumplestiltskin - Goldilocks
Tom Thumb - Bugs Bunny - King Midas


The opposite situation is also story material. What happens to someone who suddenly gets money, love, power, strength, authority, control. It changes some for the better and others for the worse. It brings both benefits and disadvantages to the finder.


Give five examples of characters that find:

Love, Power, Strength, Authority, and Money suddenly.

Describe how it effected them.


It is important to know why a character changes when circumstances change. Aladdin may gaze at the princess but knows he could never approach her. The magic lamp gives him the opportunity to do so because money is a condition for meeting her.

Supposing Aladdin had to earn a large amount of money to meet the princess, what alternatives would he have?

Working all his life to become rich would not be a solution as he and she would be too old. He would need to become rich while still young. How could he do that? Some possibilities are:

  • Finding gold as a miner and getting a lucky strike
  • Finding treasure by chance
  • Inventing something that earns a lot
  • Getting a chance large inheritance
  • Winning a lottery
  • Stealing it
  • Being a star of some sort or other
  • Becoming a successful businessman very quickly
  • He might even be a national hero, and acceptable though not rich

Each one of these possibilities might solve the financial problem, but brings in other problems. To be acceptable to a princess, a commoner would have to have both the money and the right social background.

The theme is a common one where a previously poor person wants to break into high level social circles. The way they go about it can be humorous (The Marx Bros. use this theme several times).


Think of three stories where the main character has a change of class.

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