Take it off!

If you’re like a lot of writers, you know EXACTLY what your character looks like.

Eye color. Hair color. The shape of his mouth. The curl of her hair.

You may even know what he’s wearing. You may even have been tempted to describe his wardrobe, down to the tiniest detail.

But here’s something you may not have considered:

What does he look like UNDERNEATH his clothes? Unless you write romance and/or erotica, you probably haven’t given this much thought.

One of the things that I’ve learned from being a doctor is that naked people will surprise the hell out of you.

Random chunks of flesh could be missing from their legs. They may be missing organs, and you can tell which ones from the pattern of their surgical scars. They could have a really out-of-character-seeming tattoo. They could be collecting their urine through a tube and into a bag hanging from a strap around their leg. They could have a sheathed knife taped to their back for easy access.

It’s unbelievable some of the things that you find. And the lengths some people go to in order to hide them from the world.

So here’s a character-building exercise for you.

Come up with one thing for each of your characters that is usually concealed by their clothing.

A scar? A weapon? A talisman? A pet?

How does it affect their behavior? Are they proud of it or ashamed of it? Do they try to hide it? How do they accomplish that? Is it obvious or very subtle? Who knows about it?

You may discover hidden depths in your character that you may never have found otherwise.

Published in: on December 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm  Comments (13)  

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What an excellent observation, and exercise! Thanks for this.

  2. Every so often, a Batman comic will have a scene where Bruce Wayne takes off his shirt, and we get to see the effects of his chosen lifestyle, writ large in scars.

    Unfortunately, this raises more questions than it answers, and not just because not every writer/artist combo will be consistent about it. What about all those ladies he brings home? And are we really supposed to believe that, with all those vicious scars from the neck down, Batman’s adversaries all hew to the creed of “Not In The Face”?

    • Maybe his mask has special powers? Although that doesn’t do much for his chin…..

  3. Whoa, man. Just…whoa…

  4. What a good idea! I already know about my protagonist–she’s ashamed of that ragged scar, mostly because she was very naive and clumsy when she got it. Good thing her clothes hide it most of the time. But what about my other main characters? Hmm…what would be surprising in a mercenary soldier, for instance?

    Thank you, Dr. Grasshopper.

  5. Loving this idea! Good luck on your new rotation!

  6. Sounds like there are stories here I wish you would/could share 🙂

    Great writing exercise idea.

  7. What an excellent exercise! It’s totally something authors take for granted. The religious necklace tucked under a shirt, someone whose gained and lost a lot of weight, it’s there and it affects characters. Thanks.

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