Does It Matter What Your Characters Look Like?

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There are three types of authors when it comes to character description and, just like Goldilocks and her porridge, only one of them gets it just right. Of course, this means the other two provide way too much information or not nearly enough. It’s a fine line. It’s also difficult to please all readers in this area because some prefer a lot of description in order to have a comprehensive image of the character in their mind and some prefer the bare minimum so that they can do some of the imagining for themselves.

So does it matter what they look like? I’m going to use a few Shakespearean examples to answer the question. (Shakespeare’s plays are usually a great example of everything to do with writing.) Sometimes it doesn’t. In Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves play the brothers Don Pedro and Don John. While Don John is described as a “bastard”, an illegitimate son, there is no mention of any specific cultural characteristics so Branagh decided to give his version of the story one black brother and one white brother. However, it’s the illegitimacy of the second son that is relevant, not his different skin colour. Continue reading

Developing A Genuinely Scary and Evil Villain

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I’ve written previously about anti-heroes and villains and how they seem to be the characters of choice these days, at least the characters that seem to resonate most with readers searching for complexity. So, of course, growing numbers of people are attempting to cash in on that. The problem is that we are being flooded with ridiculous caricatures that are no more scary than me in the morning before I’ve brushed my hair and had some caffeine. Every James Bond villain ever may have something to answer for this.

When we examine the more successful and enduring villains, such as Dracula and Frankenstein (or his monster – depends on which of them you think was the bigger baddie), and some of the more recent but no less memorable, such as Dexter Morgan and Hannibal Lecter, we find people and creatures who scare us but who also exhibit vulnerability, meaning that in some capacity they are scared themselves. They’re at the darker end of the light and dark scale but they’re more deep grey than black. And regardless of their villainy, there’s also something attractive about them, something tempting about them, something that draws you in, even when you know you’re probably going to end up dead if you don’t resist.

If you’re planning to give it a go, here’s a few things to consider to make sure you have readers crying in terror instead of with laughter. Continue reading