Character Designs

I see it all the time.

An action pose of some superhero, a group shot of the cast of some new crime web comic, some fantasy hero flexing in a selfie pose… A creator displaying a character shot on social media and asking the writers, “Is my character design any good? Are there any changes you would make?”

The devil IS in the details.

But Character Designs are meaningless… without the CHARACTER.

Superficial detailsthe details a character can’t control— are irrelevant to character (and characterization). Will your character be any different if his nose is a little wider? Will he not be able to fight crime with a wider forehead. Does a hairline a little lower or higher change the fact that he lost his wife in a shark attack and now has a fear of sharks? Are British spies only allowed to wear turtlenecks?

There’s nothing wrong with having a specific look in your mind’s eye for a character, just as much as there’s nothing wrong with not having a specific look in mind.

Scrutinizing the superficial details beyond the intimate journey of a creator trying to connect to his creation, is best left to the merchandising and marketing people. Departments of bigger companies deliberate on these details looking for ways to exploit money making opportunities (and these days, avoid offending people). These people don’t care what the character is about, they see no deeper than the superficial details—their interest is only in public snap judgement.

In the animation and video game industries entire art departments work to bring characters visually to life. If you’re really hung up on the superficial details, you’re better off asking an art director, not a writer (someone specifically trained in all the elements of visual design and communication)…

though even someone analyzing your character design from a purely visual standpoint would benefit from understanding who the character is and their place in the story.

99% of the time, opening yourself to critiques of this nature is an exercise in wasted energy.

Just think, how many actors have played Batman or James Bond? People will always harp at casting choices, but at the end of the day, the superficial details of the package have little meaning—it’s the actor’s portrayal of the character that counts.

Instead of getting caught up on these elements, focus on the character’s personality, arc, and integration into the plot and story.

Personal detailsthe details of a character that reflect personal choiceare important to character. Every personal detail: clothes, hair style, cigar type, facial hair, etc., every one of these personal details is a chance for the writer to reflect the character’s personality and tie the character into the story. A good writer lets no opportunity go to waste.

But again, if you post an image of a character and say, “what do you guys think”, there’s no way anyone can suggest ways to express the character’s personality without intimately knowing the character and story.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

(Unless you’re fishing for promotional reasons) when you reach out with character designs—genuinely looking for feedback—it means you’re unsure. You haven’t really thought your character through or properly connected them to their story.

If you didn’t develop the character enough, don’t turn to a public to do your heavy lifting. Developing a character is a core job of the writer.

Picking and grasping at whatever sounds like it works to you is a surefire way to develop a mediocre character… lazy writing is never successful writing. Not to mention, what if your character is a hit and winds up staying with you for the rest of your life? Do you really want to look back and feel that the character you’re most known for, was developed by internet feedback?

Either you had the character to begin with, and didn’t need the feedback OR the feedback created the character and you riding on someone else’s effort. Go back and make it your own.

If you’re genuinely stumped on a character detail, can’t make a decision between two or more possible directions, clue the people you ask for help into the story and character. And if you’re really serious about the character and story, bring an editor onto your project. This is what pros do. An experienced editor who is paid to read, analyze and suggest ways to maximize your character’s/story’s potential is worth a thousand random internet critiques.

After all, when was the last time Chris Claremont, Alan Moore or Frank Miller posted a character shot of their new IP and asked twitter “Is my character design any good? Are there any changes you would make?”

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.