Building a Character – Physical Traits and Aptitudes

I’m in the process of dispensing wisdom from Jeff Gerke’s book  Plot vs. Character. Today I’ll discuss adding physical and natural attributes to your character. By now, you’ve chosen a core personality type from the 16 archetypes (see previous posts if you’re lost). You’ve made copious notes. You know your base character inside and out. Now let’s start adding some fun stuff. 

Jeff brings up this example: you meet two people of the same personality type. One is an old man from Taiwan and another is a teenage girl from the Bronx. You wouldn’t know they were the same personality type until you hung out with them for awhile. But other things stand out about them right away: their appearance.

In real life, the first thing we notice about other people is their appearance: gender, ethnicity, age, height, build, hair, clothing, etc. These things are important in fiction, too. You might not always need to describe your character in the book, but you, the author, must know some things. Hair color might not be important, but age and gender are. Their aptitudes are also important: things like family of origin, birth order, gifts and talents, etc. These are things a person is born with that makes them a unique individual.

These physical traits and aptitudes should be used to develop a great character. Jeff offers these examples:

* a character of the ENFJ temperament (who would have a tendency to be highly organized) has a tattoo diagram on her wrist that explains something important so she’ll always have it “on hand.”

* an ESTP (a temperament that lends itself to spontaneity and competitiveness) wears the most fashionable clothing and is constantly getting compliments for his taste and style.

Look for ways your character’s core temperament would adapt to the physical appearance and background she was born with. Find the ways that your character’s temperament will express itself on the outside. For instance, the main character in my newest book is practical and shy. She’d find fashion and bling a waste of money. She wears sensible, affordable clothing that doesn’t attract undo attention and will last for years. Her vehicle of choice is fuel-efficient and low-maintenance. Her hair style is practical and low-maintenance. She keeps her body in fantastic physical shape – it would be illogical to let herself get fat, as that would make it harder for her to complete her work in an efficient manner. She’s an introvert and prefers to work alone, so her career choice flows from that: she’s part-owner of a small bakery, where she can stay in the kitchen and bake bread all day while her business partner runs the front counter and takes care of the people-side of things.

Hopefully you can see how fun it can be to integrate even the simplest of traits into an existing core personality to come up with a unique character. I’ll continue this discussion in the next post.


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