Play around with different ways to describe characters in stories.
Here are examples of how to make characters real and likable and how to capture readers’ interest.
What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg
“My mother was dressed in her beautiful yellow summer robe, the tie cinched evenly into a bow at the exact center of her waist, but her auburn hair was sticking up in the back, an occasional occurrence that I always hated seeing, since in my mind it suggested a kind of incompetence. It was an unruly cowlick, nearly impossible to tame — I knew this, having an identical cowlick of my own — but I did not forgive its presence on my mother. It did not go with the rest of her looks: her deep blue eyes, her thin, sculptured nose, her high cheekbones, her white, white skin — all signs, I was certain, of some distant link to royalty.”
Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron
“When my daughter kissed me at midnight that year, I missed my old life a tiny bit less than I had the previous New Year’s. Paul was becoming more and more adept at dodging phone calls from his first daughter as he busied himself with his new family, but his leaving us meant I got this little girl all to myself. A girl with his blonde eyebrows and my concern for wrongs to be righted. A little girl who liked to suck the rinds of our homegrown lemons (making faces all the while) as much as she liked to lick the honey spoon I handed her in the kitchen.”
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster. It was just after dark . . . I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.
Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom’s gestures were all familiar—the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she’d been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched, and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.”
Note from Marlene: It occurs to me that this might be what it’s like for an actor to get into character: inhabit another personna. . . make that character alive.
Your Turn . . . think of a real person. . . write about his or her mannerisms, quirks, habits, weave in physical description. Bring this person to life on the page. Just Write!