Character Creation: Physical Build and Facial Features

In my last post on writing tips, I wrote about creating characters. I gave a lot of tips and general guidelines that I personally use when it comes to making my characters, with the exception of anything on character appearance and design. The reason I left out that bit is because, when it comes to what I think and take into consideration with character appearance, I would’ve wound up writing an entire post within the already large-by-my-standards main post, and since this is taking long enough to post already, it will be broken up into parts as I write them. You can read the original post on character creation here.

This post will be detailing my tips on deciding the build and facial features of a character, reasoning behind them, and my general approach of it.

  • Body shape/build

A character’s build can change the effect an appearance gives over-all. A simple change of a character’s body type could change the way someone interprets them by their appearance at first glance, and is a factor that can be used to make your characters unique to each other. It can show things about their everyday life, such as their eating habits, whether they have physically active hobbies/jobs, and other general parts of their lifestyle. Whether or not you’re going to give your character the build of a body-builder, the exact opposite, or anywhere in between, you should have a reason for it, be it a factor to their health, an exercise routine, an active job or hobby or anything else you can possibly think of that would cause that.

A character’s build is more or less defined by their size, shape, and the reasons why they are those sizes and shapes instead of different ones, and can say a lot about them as a person and their health. Looking at a character’s build, you can assume different things about their eating habits, the amount of exercise they get, whether or not they work out or do something that makes up for that, their general physical health, metabolism, and any other thing that effects weight, body shape, etc, and these are the factors that tend to determine someone’s build. For example, an agile character who relies more on their speed for their hobbies/work/whatever they do would probably be, scaling on the higher ends of the spectrum, closer to being a fairly lithe person, as opposed to someone with obvious, large muscles and a larger build.

Because of these reasons, and the usual sticking to have-a-reason-for-everything-you-can thing I’ve got going on in my head, I suggest thinking about more than just your character’s appearance for this. Think about their lifestyle and the factors that determine their build listed above, since I encourage you to make your character’s appearances make sense when put together with the character aside from their looks. If you’re putting together a character’s appearance before you work on their personality and life, I recommend keeping your character’s appearance in mind and to try to create a sensible character in relation to the appearance.

  • Facial Features

Figuring out unique facial features for a character can be a little hard at first if you aren’t used to deciding on them, but it’s very effective for, at the very least, identifying a character visually, and I find it fun myself. Using facial features, you can make a character’s face unique with more than just blemishes, makeup, and different eye colours. While I’m not against using those things to add to a character’s look, I often see different facial features overlooked, and I suggest using both in moderation.

It’s okay to reference real people for their features – mixing and matching different types of facial features you know or have seen before, fitting them together to create a unique face for the character. Looking at and learning to describe real faces and their features can help you figure out what kind of features give the effects you’re looking to portray in your character’s appearance – there are tons of different types of facial features and degrees to which they’re expressed, and they can give even more different possibilities for the effect and mental image of a character.

You can describe and depict the different features in so many ways, combining different ones can give characters more ways to be different from each other appearance-wise. Even when characters have the same core facial features, putting them to different degrees and adding a little bit of another one can change things completely. I like to look at real people’s facial features and the effect that they have on me – be they celebrities, historical figures, my family, my friends, or random people – and figure out how different combinations would change that, to mix and match them and see what they entail. There are plenty of people in the world, plenty of photographs of them on the internet and in books to look at and observe facial features on and there’s even a handy dandy category on Wikipedia containing what makes up the face and some different types of features.

When it comes to describing faces and their features, you can make things sound different to give off different effects, as well – using different description techniques and words to describe these things, you can make a face sound the way you want even more. You can describe the same features in different ways to give off different effects, and with experimentation, it may even be fun for you, too.

Build and facial features are things that I’ve struggled with even taking time to describe in the past, or give characters different ones unique to each other, and I’m glad I realized this. Whether or not I’m displaying a character visually or describing them in words, these features help bring them to life in a more fluid manner, as well as help keep me from eventually sounding like a broken record in describing all of my characters. One little feature of the face or build can distinguish a character and often helps bring the idea of who they are without an appearance to life. I like to use a combination of physical features and the other things that make a character who they are without it to make them stick out among my others.

Do you like to give your characters distinguishing physical features, or do you prefer to rely more on other things that make them who they are? How do you go about choosing these features for your characters, if you do?

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