P. Ryan Reyes

Finding Inspiration

One of the most important aspects of writing a story is to have characters with strong identities. Many writers view this purely through the lens of what they do best, through dialogue. Some writers form their character’s identities through their actions and how they progress (or hinder) the story. However, the suggestion that will be presented is one that writers generally spend the least time on. This aspect is visuals or, more specifically, the appearance of their characters. The advantage of spending a great amount of time laboring over the appearance of your characters is that their descriptions can lead to inspiration throughout the writing process. However, as with any endeavor in writing, designing a character must be done intentionally and should not undermine the story you are trying to tell.

When designing your character, use free assets as a base for which to explore their appearance. Do not be afraid to start your design process with references or inspiration from multiple sources. It also isn’t a sin to have parts of your character be homages to other works; say you’re making a dark fantasy novel, and your main character has silver hair and gold eyes. That is not you ripping off Geralt; you’re paying respect to a classic. However, you need to make it your own at some point, and to help with that, free resources like HeroForge, which are generally used for Tabletop RPGs, can help with roughing out a three-dimensional design for your characters.

Creates Familiarity

As you build out the visuals of your character, like the example given, the intricacies as to why the character exists or conducts themselves should start to come to you. Let’s say that this example character is named Lewis Gardener. Given how I designed Lewis, there is now this bond between myself (the designer) and the character. Adding aspects to the design, like Lewis’ cigar, can help you as a writer flesh out the humanity in your characters or, in a way, the lack thereof in specific instances. The more time you spend in resources like HeroForge on a character, the more you become familiar with the tiny details. These tiny details should be like spices in your recipe, where they add much-needed flavor when not overused.  

Primary Source of Detail

While having a completed character design is important, don’t restrain yourself if you feel the itch to write. Your character’s design is only a tool to help enrich the text. For example, Lewis has a prosthetic right arm; if I’m writing a fight scene where another character is attacking with a knife, it would be in character for Lewis to use the solid metal plates to deflect the knife in a form of defense. It adds a layer of depth to your writing if your characters use what you’ve given them in creative ways to resolve conflicts, which makes your characters feel alive and makes you a better writer. Looking back to the idea of intentionality, if you give a character something cool in their design, allow them to have a moment with it. It is gratifying to both the readers and you as the writer to have an established feature of your character set up earlier in the story pay off in some way down the line. For example, say that our pal Lewis finds himself in a bind and needs to pick a lock to escape some danger. In this scenario, it would be explained earlier in the story that Lewis is good at covert operations and was always prepared for the mission to go south; here, it would make sense to utilize an aspect of Lewis’ design to solve the problem, where it can be said that he kept his lockpicking kit in his leftmost vest pouch. Do not let all of your design choices go to waste. Find honest and believable ways to integrate them into your story, as they help ground your character.

Helps Track Storytelling

One of the great aspects of having a visual representation of your character is that as you write your story, your character visually changes. In most instances, your character will not end the story as they began it. In a fantasy story, the main character can start as a bubbly and naïve teen who has never seen their blood, yet end up as this fully armored warrior who has lost the light in their eyes with a decade’s worth of improperly healed scars. Visuals, in this sense, can help convey storytelling. Something as simple as your main character acquiring a different kind of sword can visually showcase a part of their hero’s journey.

Helps Create Distinction

Spending time visualizing your characters also helps you distinguish between certain characters. Take, for instance, a series like Halo, where the general types of military units are strictly uniform with helmets and body armor. How would you separate or create a distinction between the soldiers in a squad, especially if you can’t see their faces? Besides giving them unique personalities and character quirks, you can describe how each soldier has different equipment or has taken the liberty to make unregulated alterations to their armor. Taking the time to create distinction will help your readers keep track of what is happening and not get lost in the vague details.

Helps Generate Dialogue

It is said in life that pointing out something about how someone looks is very rude, and in a social context, that is very true. However, your characters need not be held to the same standard. Instead, have your characters notice what makes the other unique. Suppose you describe in a sci-fi setting a character with a giant Cyclops eye implanted in the middle of their forehead, and your character that has never stepped out of his rural town says nothing about it. In that case, you’ve missed a key character moment. However, be wary of pointing out every detail. Remember that your character does, in fact, live in the worlds you create, and if said previous Cyclops eye is common everywhere, then have characters react that way. This helps flesh out the world, too, as it could explain that bizarre or taboo things in our world are commonplace in this other setting just by having a dialogue exchange that perceives it as the “norm.”

What Will You Do?

The time for creating is now! Be encouraged to write the story you want, even if it’s only for you. Visualize the story that most interests you and your tastes, and when you have that in mind, visualize the star of that story. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist or even original by nature, plenty of resources are available to bring what is in your brain into something you can see. Endeavor to be challenged today. Godspeed to you all!