Here’s some great advice on bringing characters to life:
From Jared A. Sorensen’s award-winning game octaNe: premium uNleaded, the psychotronic game of post-modern trash-culture america; as posted by Thor Olavsrud at the Well of Urd
In octaNe, Jared writes:
When describing how your character looks, here’s a trick: only write down three details. Nobody really cares about your character’s exact height and weight or the color of his eyes. C’mon, really. What you should describe are the things that really stand out:
Wears a raggedy tuxedo and horn-rimmed glasses. Carries a fender guitar.
Dresses in dusty leathers and wears a jury-rigged brace on his leg. Has a sawed-off shotgun slung on his back.
Huge dude wearing wrestling boots and a red leather mask decorated with orange and yellow flames.
Has a tattoo of dice on his neck that says “Born to Lose.” Wears a cowboy hat and a big gold chain.
Small monkey wearing an orange sash and carrying a small stick.
Hot chick with spiked heels. She’s wearing a tight black cat suit that’s unzipped to her navel.
Bipedal gila monster. He’s wearing off-the-shoulder overalls, and he’s chewing a toothpick.
So here’s an official rule: You can only describe three distinct details about your character’s appearance.
Along similar lines here’s some advice from Meguey Baker’s 1001 Nights
Now, to give them flesh. Consider the senses – Hearing, Sight, Smell, Taste, and Touch. List these on your paper, and describe each in a short sentence, so:
I wear rows of tiny bells in my clothes to announce my presence, I am hard of hearing, I love music.
My eyes are warm and smiling, I have a piercing gaze, I have seen death.
Cinnamon and cloves scent my skin, I smell always of leather and animals, Strong smells upset me.
I love almonds and honey, I can make a rich and savory meal, I smoke a pipe.
My hands are delicate but stronger than they look, I can tell a good horse from a bad one by feeling it’s coat, I have deep scars on my arms.
Make sure at least one sense is described as a physical attribute, but not all.
And finally from Bankuei – Chris Chinn @ Deep in the Game
The one sentence character concept maker:
A (personality trait) (profession) is (personal goal).
A forlorn air pirate is seeking the City of Gold.
A vengeful princess is engineering the downfall of the Empire.
A nebbish superhero is trying to get a date.
A compassionate necromancer is experimenting to raise the dead, in the good way.
A remorseful god is hoping to undo the tragedy he has wrought.