This tip may stem from the fact that I’m primarily a visual learner, but nonetheless, humans in general do usually take in a lot of information from what they see. So use that to your benefit when trying to flesh out your characters by collecting photos of people who look like them. Essentially you’re casting the story as if adapting it for film, except you don’t have to limit yourself to actual actors, nor people who are still alive or still the right age for the part. You can cast Mae West as she looked in 1935, or some unknown civilian captured in a photograph from 1898, or someone in a modern stock photo. The important thing is that their face makes you think of your character.
Why is this any more useful than writing out a detailed description of your character’s appearance, sans photograph? Well, because if you’re like me, you don’t think of everything when you picture an imaginary person. You know their hair color and eye color and their height and build, but how clearly can you see their smile? Do you know which little wrinkles it brings out in other parts of their face? What shape are their eyebrows? Is their hairline low or high? You don’t have to copy every single physical aspect of the person in the photograph and stick it onto your character, but looking at the details of someone’s actual face in a picture makes you think about how human faces look, and what kind of realistic details you might mention. Most importantly, I find that casting the story with photos makes the characters become more alive to me while I’m doing the writing. It gets easier to picture how they’d move, what habitual gestures they’d make, how they’d dress, and so on.
Pinterest, by the way, is a handy place to collect these photos. You can make a board for your story (mark it private if you don’t want others to see it) and start pinning pictures on it, adding your own notes and captions. You can also include pictures of the setting: the city or part of the world where it takes place, or landmarks your characters visit. Or pictures of fashions they might wear. Or really any photos that spark thoughts about your story. Let your visual-learning abilities help your creativity. Just a caveat: it’s really easy to waste hours on Pinterest, so pace yourself lest you fall into a rabbit hole of procrastination.
More story-inspiration thoughts tomorrow!