Crafting a character’s physicality is like adding the perfect seasoning to a delicious story stew. It’s all about creating vivid images and bringing your characters to life on the page or screen.
But hey, hold your horses! While physical descriptions are important, going overboard can actually harm your story. Especially in screenplays, where the possibility of getting your script produced often hinges on finding a big-name star to attach to it. You don’t want to limit your characters just to fit the current “A-list” actors and actresses.
Picture this: you’re reading a novel or watching a movie, and the characters leap off the page or screen with their distinct appearances, movements, and overall presence. That’s the magic of well-crafted physicality.
Here is a guide of some Do’s and Don’ts on how to create a character’s physicality that will make your story shine like a supernova! So, buckle up as we explore the Do’s and Don’ts of character physicality.
Here are 5 DOs in Creating a Character’s Physicality.
#1 – DO Make Physicality Reflect Personality.
Think of your character’s physicality as a visual representation of who they are on the inside. If your character is bold and courageous, their physical attributes should reflect that.
In the epic realm of “Game of Thrones,” where dragons soar and battles rage, we encounter the unforgettable character Tyrion Lannister, played by the incomparable Peter Dinklage. Tyrion’s physicality is like a secret weapon, adding layers of complexity to his already fascinating persona.
Standing shorter than most in the realm, Tyrion’s stature might catch your eye, but it’s his razor-sharp wit and cunning intellect that truly leave a lasting impression. His physical appearance becomes a badge of honour, a symbol of his resilience and ability to outsmart his adversaries at every turn.
As we journey alongside Tyrion, we learn that his physicality is not a limitation but a source of strength. He uses his quick mind and silver tongue to outmaneuver opponents twice his size. Through clever banter and strategic maneuvering, he proves that true power resides in the depths of one’s character, not in their outward appearance.
“Game of Thrones” teaches us a valuable lesson: never judge a book by its cover, or a character by their physicality. Tyrion Lannister’s example reminds us that the qualities that truly define us lie within. It’s the wit, intelligence, and resilience that shape our destinies, not the shape or size of our bodies.
So, next time you’re creating a character, think about how their physicality can reflect their personality in a unique and meaningful way, just like Tyrion Lannister. Let their outer appearance become a canvas to showcase the vibrant and captivating traits that make them who they are.
#2 – DO Use Physicality to Convey Backstory.
Carefully consider how a character’s physicality can reflect their backstory and experiences. In the critically acclaimed film “Black Swan,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, the physicality of the protagonist, Nina Sayers, powerfully communicates her backstory and internal struggles. Played by Natalie Portman, Nina is a ballerina striving for perfection in the demanding world of professional ballet.
From the moment we meet Nina, her physicality tells a tale of dedication and repression. She maintains a delicate and fragile appearance, with her slender frame and elegant movements. Her tightly pulled-back hair, impeccable posture, and meticulous attention to detail all reflect her disciplined upbringing and relentless pursuit of excellence.
As the story unfolds, we begin to understand the deeper layers of Nina’s physicality. The strain of her relentless training manifests in her tense muscles, revealing the physical toll ballet has taken on her body. Furthermore, her physicality reflects the psychological weight she carries due to her perfectionist tendencies and the pressure she feels from her overbearing mother.
Through subtle changes in her physicality, such as increased tension, bruises, and even self-inflicted harm, the film skillfully conveys Nina’s descent into psychological turmoil and obsession. Her physicality becomes a window into her internal world, showcasing the sacrifices she makes and the toll her passion takes on her mental and physical well-being.
“Black Swan” masterfully uses physicality as a storytelling tool, allowing the audience to understand Nina’s backstory, struggles, and transformation. It reminds us that the body can be a canvas that paints a vivid portrait of a character’s journey, revealing the scars and triumphs that lie beneath the surface.
So, when creating your own characters, consider how their physicality can convey their backstory. Explore how their movements, posture, and physical condition can provide insights into their past experiences, struggles, and emotional state. Let their bodies speak volumes and add depth to their narrative journey.
#3 – DO Employ Unique Physical Attributes.
Give characters distinctive physical attributes that set them apart. These attributes can be memorable and contribute to their overall identity. One notable example is the character Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Lisbeth’s physical appearance, complete with tattoos and piercings, sets her apart from societal norms and immediately grabs attention. Her body serves as a canvas that tells a story of rebellion, nonconformity, and a refusal to be defined by societal expectations. The tattoos adorning Lisbeth’s body are not mere decorations but personal symbols of her past and present. They reflect her experiences, struggles, and determination to forge her own path. Each tattoo holds significance, representing a chapter of her life, from a fiery dragon symbolizing her inner strength to the intricate tribal patterns representing her connection to her roots.
Furthermore, Lisbeth’s piercings, particularly her facial piercings and distinctive hairstyle, further contribute to her unique physicality. They act as an armour, a visual representation of her wariness towards others and her desire to maintain control over her body and identity.
These physical attributes become a part of Lisbeth’s allure and mystery. They pique our curiosity and invite us to delve deeper into her complex psyche. By employing these unique physical attributes, Larsson not only creates a visually striking character but also adds layers of depth to her personality and backstory.
Lisbeth’s physicality challenges societal norms and expectations, making her a symbol of empowerment for those who dare to defy conventions. She breaks free from traditional notions of femininity and embraces her individuality, becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Lisbeth’s physicality reminds us that appearances can be powerful tools for storytelling, adding layers of complexity and intrigue to a character’s narrative.
#4 – DO Utilize Physicality to Symbolize Transformation.
Physical changes can be used to symbolize character growth or transformation throughout a story. In the hit series “Breaking Bad,” the character Walter White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston, undergoes a remarkable physical transformation that reflects his descent into darkness and the emergence of his alter ego, Heisenberg.
At the beginning of the series, Walter is a mild-mannered, unassuming high school chemistry teacher. His physical appearance aligns with his meek persona, featuring glasses, a clean-shaven face, and unremarkable clothing. However, as Walter becomes entangled in the world of drug manufacturing and crime, his physicality undergoes a radical change.
As his moral boundaries blur and his confidence grows, Walter begins to adopt a more rugged appearance. He grows a scruffy beard, lets his hair grow longer and messier, and wears a distinctive black hat. These visual cues signify Walter’s transformation into Heisenberg, his alter ego and criminal mastermind.
The physical changes in Walter’s appearance symbolize his departure from his former self and his embrace of a new, darker identity. They reflect his growing assertiveness, calculated approach to decision-making, and his willingness to embrace a ruthless persona in order to achieve his goals.
Throughout the series, Walter’s physical transformation serves as a visual representation of his evolving character. It not only allows the audience to witness his progression but also adds depth and complexity to his story. The change in physicality reflects the psychological shifts within Walter, capturing his transformation from a mild-mannered teacher to a morally ambiguous and dangerous figure.
By utilizing physicality to symbolize transformation, “Breaking Bad” illustrates the profound changes that can occur within a character. It reminds us that external appearances can mirror internal shifts, and that the physicality of a character can be a powerful tool for storytelling.
So, when creating your own characters, consider how their physicality can reflect their transformative journeys. Explore how changes in appearance, grooming, or wardrobe can symbolize shifts in their identity, motivations, or moral compass. Let their physical transformation captivate viewers and enrich their narrative.
#5 – DO Consider Cultural and Historical Context.
Take into account the cultural and historical context of your story when defining a character’s physicality. This ensures authenticity and adds depth to their portrayal.
In the film “Memoirs of a Geisha,” directed by Rob Marshall, cultural and historical context heavily influences the portrayal of characters and their physicality. The story is set in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s, a time when geisha culture flourished and traditional Japanese customs were deeply ingrained.
The physicality of the geisha characters in the film reflects the cultural and historical context of the time. Geishas were known for their distinct appearance, characterized by the elaborate kimonos they wore, the intricate hairstyles adorned with ornaments, and the iconic white face makeup. These physical attributes were an integral part of the geisha tradition and served as symbols of beauty, grace, and elegance.
Furthermore, the film delves into the meticulous training and rituals that geishas underwent, showcasing their precise movements, postures, and gestures. These physical nuances were essential in conveying the refined and disciplined nature of geisha culture, rooted in centuries of tradition.
The cultural context of “Memoirs of a Geisha” also explores the hierarchical structure of Japanese society and the expectations placed on women during that era. The physicality of the characters, particularly the geishas, reflects the idealized beauty standards of the time, emphasizing poise, modesty, and subtlety.
By considering the cultural and historical context, “Memoirs of a Geisha” transports viewers to a specific time and place, immersing them in the intricacies of geisha culture. The attention to detail in the characters’ physicality provides an authentic representation of the customs and aesthetics of that period.
This example highlights the importance of cultural and historical context when creating a character’s physicality. It demonstrates how physical attributes, movements, and traditions can be used to enhance the authenticity and richness of a character’s portrayal, effectively transporting the audience to a different time and culture.
Now to the 4 DON’Ts in Creating a Character’s Physicality.
#1 – DON’T Rely Solely on Stereotypes.
Avoid relying on stereotypes when creating a character’s physicality, as it can perpetuate biases and limit character depth. Challenge conventional expectations to create well-rounded and authentic individuals. Steer clear of predictable appearances, such as the “dumb jock” or “nerdy glasses-wearing” character types.
In the movie “The Hangover,” there’s a character named Mr. Chow, played by the hilarious Ken Jeong. Now, while Mr. Chow is a memorable character, we can’t help but notice that his physicality falls into some tired old stereotypes.
You see, Mr. Chow is portrayed as this over-the-top, hypersexualized, and eccentric dude. He’s got the flashy clothes, the flashy accessories, and even a flashy hairstyle. Oh, and let’s not forget his broken English and exaggerated mannerisms. It’s like they took every Asian stereotype in the book and crammed it into this character.
Now, relying solely on stereotypes like this is a big no-no. It perpetuates harmful and offensive portrayals of Asian characters. It’s not cool to reduce someone’s identity to a bunch of clichés and one-dimensional traits. We need to move beyond these tired tropes and give characters more depth and authenticity.
“The Hangover” may have been a hit, but it faced criticism for falling into these stereotypes. It’s a reminder that as creators, we have a responsibility to challenge these stereotypes and create characters that break the mold.
So, let’s learn from Mr. Chow’s exaggerated physicality and use it as a lesson. Instead of relying on stereotypes, let’s strive for more nuanced and authentic portrayals. Let’s celebrate diversity and give our characters the complexity they deserve.
Remember, when it comes to creating character physicality, it’s all about breaking free from stereotypes and embracing the wonderful diversity of humanity. Let’s create characters that make us laugh, cry, and feel all the feels without resorting to tired old clichés.
#2 – DON’T Neglect Diversity.
Representation and inclusivity are essential. Embrace diversity in physicality to reflect the real world and engage with a broader audience. In the awesome TV show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” they totally rock at embracing diversity and giving us characters that break the mould.
Let’s talk about Captain Raymond Holt, played by the amazing Andre Braugher. Captain Holt is a force to be reckoned with! He’s not your typical police captain. First of all, he’s black, and he’s proudly gay. Representation matters, and Captain Holt brings it in full force.
His physicality is all about sophistication, professionalism, and keeping his cool. He’s got this composed demeanor that would make anyone think twice before messing with him. And here’s the best part: he doesn’t fall into those tired old stereotypes.
The show doesn’t reduce Captain Holt to just his race or sexual orientation. They focus on his leadership skills, his smarts, and his personal growth. It’s all about showing us the complexity and depth of this amazing character.
By including Captain Holt’s diverse physicality and his experiences as a black, gay man, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” goes beyond the norm. They tackle important social issues while giving us a character who’s relatable and inspiring.
#3 – DON’T Overemphasize Physical Perfection.
Characters with flaws and imperfections are relatable and compelling. Avoid creating characters who possess unrealistic and flawless physical attributes, as it can alienate readers and viewers. In the fabulous movie “Pitch Perfect” the amazing character of Fat Amy, is played by the hilarious Rebel Wilson.
Fat Amy is a total queen who breaks all the rules of overemphasizing physical perfection. She’s confident, funny, and oh-so-talented. And guess what? She’s a plus-size superstar!
In “Pitch Perfect,” they don’t focus on Fat Amy’s size as the be-all and end-all. Nope, they celebrate her wit, her comedic timing, and that killer voice of hers. It’s all about her personality shining through, not some societal beauty standards.
The movie flips the script and shows us that you don’t need to fit into a narrow idea of physical perfection to be loved, talented, and successful. Fat Amy proves that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s what’s inside that truly counts.
By giving us a character like Fat Amy, “Pitch Perfect” brings much-needed representation to the screen. It tells us that it’s okay to embrace who we are, no matter our size. And that confidence and authenticity are the real keys to slaying the game.
#4 – DON’T Disregard Character Development.
Ensure that a character’s physicality aligns with their growth and development throughout the story. Characters should not remain stagnant physically. In the fabulous movie “The Devil Wears Prada” the amazing character transformation of Andy Sachs, played by the talented Anne Hathaway is a great example of it.
At the start of the movie, Andy is rocking that casual and laid-back vibe. She’s a journalist with a “I-don’t-care-about-fashion” kind of look. But once she steps into the fashion world, things start to change!
As Andy dives headfirst into the glamorous and cutthroat fashion industry, her physicality gets a major upgrade. She goes from “casual chic” to “fashionably fierce” in no time. Her wardrobe goes from basic to breathtaking, with stylish outfits that make heads turn. And let’s not forget the stunning hair and makeup that showcase her newfound fashion sense.
This transformation isn’t just about clothes and cosmetics. It’s a visual representation of Andy’s personal growth and professional journey. As she embraces the world of fashion, her physical appearance evolves, reflecting her deepening understanding and love for the industry.
“The Devil Wears Prada” reminds us that character development isn’t just about what’s happening on the inside—it’s about how it shines through on the outside too. Andy’s physical transformation is a powerful symbol of her growth, ambition, and newfound confidence.
In Conclusion – let’s harness the power of physicality to breathe life into our characters, celebrate their uniqueness, and captivate the hearts of readers and viewers alike. Remember, the way our characters look, move, and present themselves can truly make a difference in the impact and resonance of our stories.
Now it’s YOUR TURN – In your opinion, which movie or TV show successfully utilized physicality to symbolize a character’s transformation?
Would love to get your input in the comment box below.