How important are character tags, descriptions, the stats of your characters? Very. In a nutshell, how tall or short, how hefty or slim, whether he wears Hawaiian shirts or three-piece suits, whether he uses a cane or smokes incessantly, chews gum, or she has eyelashes longer than a crocodile's snout.
There's been a lot of talk going around that many--perhaps too many--characters found in genre mystery novels of all sub-categories and beyond are peopled by tall, handsome, virile, young men and long-legged, lovely ladies all solving crimes via big brainy heads usually below scarlet or auburn or blonde hair. Then there are those characters that defy all the 'standards' as their authors (creators) may well be far more concerned in depicting an aging character, a scarred character, a character with physical difficulties, an illness, a limp, a problem with constant pain. Or just plain age and what comes with it.
So while the hero and heroine have routinely been the beautiful people, I believe this is changing more today than ever before. As many of us authors are aging, so are our characters. What interests we have as senior citizens, we want to convey via our characters, which requires a seasoned veteran with an accumulation of scars. In fact, these scars are his or her badges and are worn as such.
Then too there is the need to make every character distinctive from the others. Each should have his or her own gait, speech patterns, non-verbal cues, psychology as well as dress and perhaps superstitions. When you introduce a character and he is chewing on an unlit pipe, wears a watch on a fob, carries a cane and dresses in suit and hat the reader gets a mental picture with each detail that surrounds a hero in your book. If another character has a wooden leg, all the better. Then another is a young intern wtih a scalpel and a stutter.
Characters are made colorful for a reason. Two police officers sharing the same squad car should be as distinct as Laurel and Hardy. Or at least Cagney and Lacey.
Each officer depicted on my Titanic in my work in progress all wear the same uniform but they are made as different as night and day. One may be wound too tight, the other too easy-going, a third a coward. Two miners in the same coal mine again must be night and day. The items they carry on them helps, these props and tags. One has food and drink on his mind, the other home and family as they work to dig out the coal.
So while it may seem on the surface unimportant how tall or short, how slim or hefty a character is, in fact it is extremely important. One more caveat. If you do introduce a cane or a special watch or a scalpel given to a surgery student as a gift from dear old dad, you may want to think of them as needing to be remarked upon more than once, and even make them from time to time props that will be used to save a life later in the story, possibly the one carrying the item having to use it as a weapon when back is against the wall. The old saw is that if you introduce a dog, don't forget where you last left her and do not create those sorts of convenient babies we see on TV sitcoms and soap operas as children who are only seen when the script calls for it.
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