So many people have asked me for character design tips over the past couple of years. Here’s a whole list of rules I keep in mind with my own character designs.

In no specific order:

  1. Simple is good. Streamline your design to its essence. The more shit you add on your character the more you make it about what they are wearing, and not who they are.
  2. Popular ideas of beauty are limiting. There are only so many ways to make a character conventionally beautiful before you start noticing they all have the same face (i.e. “Six Faces Syndrome”). What most people consider “ugly” or undesirable is actually features that make your character unqiue. Who would you likely remember more: A perfect-faced model or that model’s twin with buckteeth?
  3. Understand typical archetype designs and visual stereotypes to use them effectively. What are characteristics found in a “hero” character? In a “villain” character? In a “child” character? What can you do to mix them around, or play it straight?
  4. Don’t draw the lines of the character, rather: draw the character in the lines. In other words: if someone told you to draw a horse, don’t just draw a plain old horse—draw the personality in the horse. A Royal Noble Horse has a much different character from an Old Sickly Stubborn Horse, for example. There’s a difference between Hark! A Vagrant!’s Fat Pony and Tangled’s Maximus, for another example.
  5. Make your characters relatable. Making a character as wildly unique as possible (a pink-purple-blue haired goth wearing nothing but Hot Topic gear, for instance) actually is one of the most alienating thing you can do for your audience. It’s trying too hard to make your character a special snowflake. Limit this extreme to very specific characters and roles, be calculating and precise about going crazy. It will be more effective.
  6. In addition, find what makes a person special through the boring features. Not everyone has crazy tri-colored hair, but there are a lot of people who have short brown hair. Can you draw five different characters with short brown hair and make them all unique? Try it out.
  7. Silhouettes are important. Are you varying body mass? Are you utilizing basic shapes? We are able to recognize people and objects just from their shadow, and we do it so often we don’t even notice we do it! If all your characters have the same “shadow,” challenge yourself to mix it up more.
  8. If you drew your characters naked and bald, could you tell them apart?
  9. Be consistent in the ‘tone’ of your design style.
  10. All these rules can be broken according to how calculated your irony is for your story. But you need to know what to do right before intentionally doing it wrong.
Posted by:kevancoles

K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper. K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks. K.’s books explore LGBTQ+ romance in contemporary settings.

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