Character Descriptions – ESP Workshop Notes

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Notes from the MinnSpec ESP Character Descriptions workshop led by Steve Vetter.

  • Why do you want to describe a character?
    • Recognize what is important
      • Eye color would not be important in a fight
      • Eye color would be important looking into eyes
  • Capture their characteristics, not their physical appearance
    • How they move
    • Posture
    • Smell
    • Adornments
      • Makeup
      • Other markings
      • Jewelry
      • Something of your own devising
  • Some physical characteristics
    • Physique
    • Skin – lots of characteristics beyond color
      • Consistency
      • Texture
      • Scars
      • Teeth
  • Create a list of your characters outside of the story. Options for the list:
    • Description
    • Their role in the story
    • Their back story
  • How much to describe characters?
    • None to a lot
      • Depends on author style and story
      • Not all characters need to be described
    • Recommended no more than three sentences
    • The amount of description should be proportional to their importance in the story.
    • For characters without description
      • The reader could put their own characteristics on the character, especially if its the hero.
        • Some in the group said they wouldn’t
        • Depends on character values and experiences
  • When to describe
    • As soon as possible
      • Character description shouldn’t be a surprise
      • The reader imagines what they look like, and then describing late breaks the promise that the reader was allowed to imagine the characters
      • You can weave parts of the description throughout the story
  • General comments
    • Character descriptions shouldn’t be a check list
    • Common trope, looking in a mirror
    • Use more precise instead of generic words
    • Proposed: secondary characters can be more bizarre so they are more memorable
    • The plot exists to show the characters.
      • That’s another meeting!
    • Research and talk to people who are like your characters if they are not like you.
    • Be observant and watch people see how they interact and move.
    • Use the enneagram chart

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