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February 22, 2016

Tattoos, Birth Marks, and Scars - Character ER




When we introduce a new character in a story, we (should) describe their facial features (sharp cheek bones, hooked nose, straight eyebrows, etc.), skin/hair/eye color, and body (slender, curvy, petite, tall, stocky, etc.), but we should look past the common traits and get a little more intimate with our characters.

Going beyond the normal descriptions can paint better images of our characters, and also make them not just more relate-able but also memorable.

One of my characters in a WIP had a slight gap between her front teeth and a freckle on the bridge of her nose. 
Avrianna Heavenborn (introduced in Ghost of Death) the MC in my unpublished series has a slightly crooked middle finger with a freckle on it. She got that from me. ;)
Both of my characters in my wrestling romance story have tattoos with meanings personal to my characters. 
And in my Disaster Crimes series, Beth has a scar across her chest from a tree branch that cut her in Hurricane Crimes

When it comes to your characters, think about their personality and job to figure out if a tattoo, birth mark or scar could enhance their appearance. 

For Example: a strong hero could have a scar cutting through his eyebrow. A quirky teenager could have a tattoo of Perry the Platypus. And a sexy woman could have a freckle between her breasts.

We aren’t clean slates. We have imperfections and body art, so let’s give them to our characters too!


QUESTION: Do any of your characters have noticeable tattoos, birth marks or scars? Do you?

I have a dragonfly tattoo on my arm and a foot long scar across my right side from spine surgery.



66 comments:

Denise said...

I am not a writer but I do have a pair of earrings and a necklace with that Egyptian character. I purchased them at an exhibit at the Detroit Art Institute many years ago. As for scars on my body, spinal surgery and a shattered leg left many scars.

Lidy said...

My characters are squeaky clean when it comes to ink but the MC in my witch work in progress has blue-black hair inherited from her Arawak grandmother. And her soon to be BFF, Grayson Hound aka 'gray hound' likes to dye her hair green and pink. And she's definitely the kind of person whi'd have a Cosmo tattoo or a tattoo of her favorite character from Gravity Falls.
I also have a tattoo, a rose on my back. I always wanted to to get tattoo of an Egyptian ankh and my zodiac sign but stopped at the one.

Denise Covey said...

That's interesting Chrys, but I've read books where the author doesn't describe the characters much/at all.I find it annoying, but it is becoming more widely spread. I rather like giving characters something unusual that readers will be intrigued by.
As per your previous post...visited but didn't have time to comment...so pleased to hear of the collaboration between you and L Diane!

M.J. Fifield said...

My characters have a number of scars, but I don't think I've given anyone a tattoo yet.

I personally have a scar on my ankle from that time my sister and I decided to have a race to the mailbox. The road was covered in snow and ice, and I slipped and scraped all the skin off my ankle. I couldn't walk for a week, and I've had a scar ever since, but at least I won that race... :)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Hmm, no scars, no tattoos...I did have a few extra earring holes when I was younger. Sigh. Such a rebel. :)

betty said...

I think it is good when authors do describe their characters; helps to make the stories more realistic I think :)

No tattoos here or scars :)

betty

Pat Hatt said...

I have a few characters with scars they got branded on their back, plays into things too.

Jeffrey Scott said...

I think I'm still a pretty clean slate. Certainly no tattoo's. But I do have a comet shaped scar on my wrist from when I put my hand through a window as a youth.
As for my characters, I should probably think of some kind of imperfections to give them, even if they are only high school students currently. As you say, everyone has something.

Chrys Fey said...

We've both had spine surgery. :) I never knew that.

Chrys Fey said...

Dying hair is a great identifier, especially nowadays when we can get so creative.

Chrys Fey said...

Yeah, we should describe them. Its a big fail when an author doesn't do this. How are we supposed to know what they look like if the writer doesn't say? Thank you!! :D

Chrys Fey said...

That's okay! Scars actually have more history and meaning than tattoos.

Ouch! That sounds painful. But yay for winning! LOL

Chrys Fey said...

I did have my belly button pierced. *shakes head*

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly. How are we supposed to know what their characters look like if they don't? Do we guess?

Chrys Fey said...

Oh, that's sounds intruiging.

Chrys Fey said...

A comet-shaped scar would be an interesting scar to give a character...who crash lands on Earth...from outer space.

Exactly. High school students like to be unique. They are all about tattoos, piercings and hair dye.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

One of the main characters in Book IV of my series was a mass of freckles and one in a story I am editing now has a birthmark on her face. It adds vulnerability to the characters.

Chrys Fey said...

I like that! Is her mass of freckles in a shape of something? :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't think I've ever written a character with any of those characteristics...

Chrys Fey said...

Well, now you can. :)

sage said...

I have a big zipper scar that runs down my left thigh to my knee cap... It is relatively new and still under wraps--I haven't yet had a chance to show it off yet :)

Blogoratti said...

Its interesting to read about character traits, and how everyone create theirs. I always like memorable characters in looks and personality.

Chrys Fey said...

Welcome to the scar club! ;)

Chrys Fey said...

So do I. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I try to give an impression of my characters from a flash of a sentence they would say as in Victor Standish's response to the phrase - In my beginning is my end: "If I had a tattoo, (I don't; too many scars), I would have that one."

The reader then gets an impression of the personality along with how rough his past has been.

For me, descriptions are best like the best horror films: an impression of details rather than the details themselves as in McCord's description of his beautiful new wife: "Meilori's face is almost human. And it is that "almost" that unnerve most people when they first meet her."

Great post as always. :-)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I'm chubby? Anyway nice post about character traits Chrys.

Chrys Fey said...

That's a great way to blend a character's personality with his/her traits.

Chrys Fey said...

Chubby? Certainly not. Who said that?

Unknown said...

I don't have any tattoos and now that I think of it, I don't think any of my characters do either! I think that giving characters distinct physical traits is definitely a great way to help readers visualize them.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I think you should know your character all the way down to their favorite color. Not saying all of that should be in the book, but the writer should know their character.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Lots of scars on my characters and some have tattoos. As for me... 4 C-sections, knee replacement, ankle reconstruction.... it goes on....

diedre Knight said...

Giving characters their personal traits is one of my favorite things! It just adds so much realism. Unless of course, you give them a third eye;-)But that would certainly garner some interest, wouldn't it?
Here's a few of my characters:
Jay has a small question mark scar on his chin.
Lefty got his name from a limp that keeps him leaning that way.
Afternoon sun often glints off of Lou’s silver tooth.
Few people know that Tony, the dreamy radio personality, wears leg braces.
In memento of a childhood game of hide & seek with the moon, a tiny flying saucer shaped scar remains in the middle of Rosie’s forehead.
Great post, Chrys!

Chrys Fey said...

Maybe one of your future characters will tell you they want a tat. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

You're absolutely right! I know all of my characters' favorite colors. :)

Chrys Fey said...

You're like me...Lots of surgeries, lots of scars.

Chrys Fey said...

A third eye would garner interest.

A question mark scar...I love that! Aw. Lefty. That's cute.

nashvillecats2 said...

I also had a spine operation years ago and it has left me with arthitis in the shoulders and at the topn of the spine. Great post Chrys.
Yvonne.

Chrys Fey said...

Arthritis isn't fun on top of spine problems.

Anonymous said...

I haven't thought of freckles, but I do have a character with a few tattoos, and another with tattoos and a scar from clef lip surgery when she was a baby.

Chrys Fey said...

That's an different scar for a character to have. So real. It's not like a scar to make a character more handsome or interesting. I like it. :)

Liz A. said...

At the moment, I have a large scab on my right knee. Which I hope will heal up soon. My characters? Hadn't thought about it.

Sarah Foster said...

Great post! I have a character in mind who will have freckles, but haven't written about him yet. None of my characters have tattoos, but that's probably because I know I would never want one.
I have about an inch long scar on my stomach from surgery and another small one on my thigh from having a mole removed.

Chrys Fey said...

Ouch. When I was a kid, I badly scrapped my knee. Twice. There is a slight scar there now.

Chrys Fey said...

I get what you mean. Writers who would never get a tattoo won't usually have characters with tattoos.

I have a few small scars on my stomach from having my gallbladder removed.

cleemckenzie said...

No scars here yet. I'm not so much into scarification for myself, but I understand why others are. My characters often have scars--mostly inside.

Good luck on your new collaboration. Here's to a lot of success.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I've never given a character a tattoo or scar, but you've made me think about it. Mmm, I think a character in my WIP could have a tattoo or maybe a scar. Thanks for the idea.

Chrys Fey said...

You're welcome for the idea, Beverly!

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, C Lee!

Lux G. said...

One really memorable tattoo---lightning bolt shaped scar on the forehead. :)

J.H. Moncrieff said...

No tattoos, but a few scars.

I don't usually go into great detail describing my characters, as I want my readers to be able to create their own picture of what each person looks like.

Chrys Fey said...

Haha! Too funny.

Chrys Fey said...

I'm surprised yu have no tattoos. For some reason, I can imagine you with some. :)

emaginette said...

I've added my share of piercings to my younger characters. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Chrys Fey said...

Piercings are something I usually don't mention for some reason. Other than earrings.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

None of my characters have physical scars, but that's an interesting idea; I might try that sometime, especially because if it's noticeable it could contribute to the story in some way.

Nick Wilford said...

I hadn't thought about adding those. It'd definitely be useful if it told us something about the character's personal history.

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly! :D

Chrys Fey said...

And scars or tattoos are great at telling stories.

Adrienne Reiter said...

Thanks for the thought provoking ideas. You give great points on such basic yet strong descriptions. Only one of my characters in all my books has a tattoo and I have a few. I never thought about that.

I'm totally using the freckle trick. What a quick route to an intimate description. Great post!

Carrie-Anne said...

One of my characters has a jellyfish tattoo on her back, and will get a tattoo of Shiva dancing on her stomach after she's done having kids. One of her cousins has a tattoo of Ganesha on her back. They're Western Hindus, the children of sisters who converted during the 1950s.

I have a bunch of scars from my car accident and subsequent seven surgeries. My last few surgeries were plastic surgeries which removed my burn scar tissue on my stomach and abdomen. My favorite scar, however, is a small dog-shaped brown scar on my right hip. I've had it since I was a baby, when my father accidentally stuck me with a diaper pin.

Chrys Fey said...

A jellyfish tattoo is definitely unique. Aw. A dog-shaped scar. I bet that was a fun one to show off as a kid.

Chrys Fey said...

A freckle is so small but can do so much for a description. :) You're welcome!

Julie Flanders said...

This was really helpful for me to read as I hate writing description of all kinds, so these tidbits are great ideas for me to play with. Thanks for sharing the advice!

Chrys Fey said...

That's great! You're welcome! :D

Chemist Ken said...

I tend not to notice those kinds of things on people I meet in real life, which is probably why I never think to give any of these markings or imperfections to my characters. I'll have to work harder to make sure I pay attention to this in the future.

Chrys Fey said...

Interesting take, Ken. I'm sure you notice those things on friends and family, though. (If they're noticeable.) :)