Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Weaving small character details into your book – like how they dress, what their phone lock screen is, or what posters they have on their walls – can help bring your characters to life. These small details add texture and depth to your characters without you ever having to info-dump.
Here are 6 small details you can use to add texture to your characters:
1. What is your character’s phone wallpaper?
I have a silly picture of my boyfriend pulling a face as my lock screen, and my wallpaper is a picture of my cat nibbling on the corner of my debut novel, Cupid’s Match! If you look at my phone, you can determine a few things about me; that I’m probably in a relationship, that I’m a cat person, and that I’m an author.
There are probably a few things a reader could deduce from the phone wallpaper of a character in your book, too! What would your character set as their wallpaper?
2. Novelty mugs!
As a fan of novelty mugs, myself, I’m always dropping novelty mugs into my books! In my cupboard at home, I have a mug shaped like an octopus that I bought after a fun day at a sealife sanctuary, a couple of Harry Potter mugs, a Cupid’s Match mug, and a writer mug that my partner gave me as a gift! These all hint at aspects of my life / personality!
Do any of your characters have a novelty mug that you could use to share something about them?
In Cupid’s Match, for example, immortal matchmaker, Cal has a ‘World’s best boyfriend’ mug in his office – which leads to few questions seeing as he is forbidden to fall in love!
3. Photos/posters/decorations/ ornaments: how have they personalized their space?
The way a character has personalized their space can tell us a lot about them – from posters on the wall (that might tell us about their music tastes), to photographs they hold dearly (which can show us a snapshot of a memory without info-dumping), to trophies, to books they read, to personality (are they messy? Tidy? Interested in aesthetics? Studious? etc.).
What can a dead plant, or a sketchbook, or a guitar in the corner of the room, or a pile of unopened bills on the table, tell us about a character?
Think about how your characters might personalize their space (like bedrooms / offices / lockers) etc. Peppering a few of these details into your setting can make your characters feel real and your places feel lived in.
4. Attachment to an object!
Maybe a character has a locket they always wear around their neck. Maybe a character always carries around a certain book in their school bag, or has a signed baseball from their childhood displayed in their home. Maybe they have a photograph snuggled into the back of their wallet. Or a baby blanket in their drawer with a mysterious name stitched onto it.
If a character is attached to something, it stands to reason it’s important to them. And if a reader can sense that it gives them a hint of a character’s backstory. So what is important to your character?
5. Tattoos and scars: physical attributes.
Do any of your characters have any tattoos or scars that can tell us anything about them? A scar could be used to hint at past trauma / a battle / a fight etc. And people often get tattoos for things that are important to them.
In my serial fiction novel, Devils Inc., for example, the main character has a tattoo that links her with someone she lost.
When it comes to film and tv, costumer designers put a lot of thought into how a character should be dressed because costume can convey a lot about a character. So it’s worth thinking about when writing your book, too! How do your characters dress?
Is your character fashionable? Quirky? Do you want to convey that they don’t care about their appearance? Do you want to convey that they’re free-spirited? Or conservative? Are they suddenly dressing different than usual (to attract someone, maybe? Or perhaps they’re upset and don’t care anymore?)? Etc.
You can use your character’s wardrobe to convey aspects of their personality, and to reflect how they’re feeling at a given time!
These are a few of the small details I like to think about when adding texture to my characters!
Do you have any details you like to think about when making your characters feel more real?
LAUREN PALPHREYMAN is a writer based in London. She is best known for her supernatural teen romance series, Cupid's Match, which has accumulated over 50 million hits online and was published by Wattpad Books / Penguin Random House, October 2019. Find her on Instagram @LaurenPalphreyman and on Twitter @LEPalphreyman. Get hold of her debut, Cupid's Match, here!
Get your copy of Devils Inc. here!