First in Fiction – Characters – Aaron Gansky

photo credit:
photo credit:

Thank you to author, teacher, Aaron Gansky for this post. Check out Aaron’s webpage at

On this week’s Firsts in Fiction, we discuss the physicality, the biology, of our characters, and how that adds to their depth and history. You may download it here, or stream it below. Don’t forget to subscribe via iTunes, or by visiting feedburner here. Enjoy!

Imagining your character’s physicality means thinking about more than their physical appearance alone. Yes, the color of their eyes and hair is important, but not as important as what they have control over. Yes, some people change the color of their hair and eyes, but ask yourself how they present themselves beyond these things. How do they wear their hair? Why? Do they wear make-up? If so, what kind? Perfume maybe? Are they meticulous in the care of their nails? Do they insist on wearing lotion? Do they have tattoos? Piercings? If so, what? Choice is always more interesting than chance.

However, all of that doesn’t tell us nearly as much as their biological make up. Think of how we can look at the rings on a tree. A careful study of their rings can tell us their life history. We can see the dry years and the wet years, the years of fire, and the years of regrowth. In the same way, we need to imagine what our characters’ years have done to them. What injuries have they sustained? Illnesses? Injuries? What scars have they left on our characters. Have years of work in construction hardened their hands? Do they have rough callouses from playing drums in a band?

We interact with our world physically, so this dynamic is very important. We use our five senses to find our place in this world. Think of sight and sound, smell, of taste and touch. Which of these conjure up memories of our characters’ histories. Positive memories? Negative? To this day, the smell of rain on asphalt takes me back to when I was in third grade, waiting in the rain for my mother to pick me up after school. For years, I couldn’t eat M&Ms because I’d had a bag shortly before contracting one of the worst stomach flus I’ve ever had.

Life happens, and it happens to our bodies. Think of your character’s history and what it’s done to them. Have they spent years conditioning their bodies? As an athlete, do their joints move with fluidity? What’s it feel like to exert themselves? Do they have a nagging injury that slows them down?

These are all considerations that should be made when thinking of your character. Put them in action. Have them do something, and think of their internal make-up and how it feels to work. Think of how their muscles burn, or itch, or stretch, or ache. Try writing a few scenes from your character’s perspective as they move through their day, and pay special attention to how they physically feel as they do it.
Until next week, from Steve and I, good writing.