Character writing ideas: marks, personality, contrast

Jul 28, 2020 at 10:00 am by nemirc

Last time I shared some thoughts about visual design and backstory of the characters. This time I want to go a little deeper into using biography elements to write other parts of the characters.

Still in the visual representation, the biography and background can be used to figure out things about the character's outfit. For example, a man who always wears T-shirts and jeans and a man that wears long-sleeves and jeans may have some differences in personalities. Likewise, a man that will wear one of those one day and another one the next, can also show different personality traits.

However, the outfit can also be part of a culture, if your characters belong to a group where everybody dresses more or less the same way for whatever reason (like my example of the alien from last article). A change in outfit at some point in the story could also convey a clear message without the long explanations. For example, in The Incredibles, Violet always dresses with dark colors, and has a very grim appearance, but at the end of the movie she is wearing a more cheerful outfit and her face has a completely different look, and that contrast is more powerful than lots of text.

Another visual thing could be scars or skin elements. A tattoo could be a skin element, and even if it has a backstory you don't need to explain it, maybe just keep those backstory elements in mind when writing the story. Scars, on the other hand, can serve as visual storytelling. One of my favorite movies is Gattaca, and there's a scene where Irene asks Jerome (Vincent) about the scars on his legs, and that's a reference of the movie introduction where he has a leg-extension surgery (the scars are the result of that). In the movie Face Off, Sean Archer has the scar of a bullet, and that is referenced throughout the entire movie, until the end when he decides to remove it.

Sometimes, when you are writing your story you need to ask yourself "would this character say this?" or "would this character say this using these words?" and that's defined by your character's personality, and also the kind of language the character uses. If you and me were told to write a few lines of a character saying a specific thing, chances are your lines will be different than mine because we will say them differently, even if the message is the same, and I believe that can add an extra layer of complexity to the characters. You certainly don't want all your characters to speak the same, use the same words, and think the same way. There's obviously an exception to every rule, including this one, though. If your characters are part of a cult, then it makes sense they think and speak the same way.

Above I mentioned visual contrast.

When working with multiple characters, visual contrast could be a great tool to add, well, contrast between the characters. On one side, this can be used to add variation to your cast, but you can also use it when there's confrontation. In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Buffy is very short, and most foes are at least one head taller than her.

In Just Let Me Go, Amelia is also short (150 cm tall, to be precise) and Amelia being so tiny compared to the enemies will add extra sense of danger, which is a good thing for a horror game (the image below uses a placeholder enemy, since they are not ready yet).

Another important part of writing is world building, but that's a subject for another time.

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