on Writers in the Storm:
I think we can all agree that characters are the heart of a novel. We build worlds around our story’s cast, spend dozens of hours plundering their psyche to understand needs, motivations, and beliefs, and even envision complete backstories. Then, of course, we go on to produce tens of thousands of words about their vulnerabilities and strengths as they rise, fall, and rise again on the path to their goal. We also revise, dedicating yet more hours to ensure readers understand and care about our characters as much as do.
Yes, it’s fair to say we work hard to make sure our characters live and breathe on the page. But here’s the irony…in all that effort, many of us overlook or underutilize another important area of character description: their physical appearance.
It’s true, a character’s features and physicality can be hard to convey. We may not have a strong mental picture of them ourselves, or if we do, how to sum it all up economically. After all, at the start of the story when we need to provide details on a character’s appearance, we’re also juggling everything else we must show like the action, setting, circumstances, plus the character’s motivation, underlying problem, emotion, and so on.
So we find ourselves asking, does the character’s looks really matter? Isn’t it what’s inside that counts?