You can have best plot, but if you don’t have interesting people doing all of these interesting things, your plot goes plop. There are a lot of ways to create characters that are unique and individually specific (the key to interesting). One of my favorite means is to give my characters some physically unique feature that ends up being a description of that person. For example, in my novel Prince my antagonist had gout. It symbolized his rigidness and stubbornness. Also, in my soon to be released fifth novel Pietas, my antagonist is short. Throughout the manuscript it demonstrates how underdeveloped he is a person. He is as diminutive in his humanity as he is his stature.
In Siciliana, my protagonist Giuseppe Albanese is double-jointed. He is called Snodatu by his brother-in-law because snodatu is the Sicilian word for double-jointed.” This feature comes in handy in getting himself out of a jam where he can save his life, as well as his brother-in-law.
More importantly, he is constitutionally moral double jointed. This is by far his biggest flaw and gets him into the biggest pickle ever since Smalls hit his step-fathers Babe Ruth baseball over the fence into the beast’s yard (for all of you fans of the move The Sandlot). I demonstrate this indecision throughout the book so it is clearly a trait of his. When hunting pheasant with his brother-in-law, he can hit everything. But when two birds fly out together he doesn’t fire because he couldn’t decide which one to fire upon. Even dining with his uncle Snodatu cannot decide between getting the pork or the chicken. All of this feeds into a character flaw he most overcome to truly be the story’s hero.
Snodatu’s brother-in-law is Paolu Aglieri. He becomes Don of the seaside village of Sciacca. But he sold his soul to the devil for this favor, which he soon finds out is a bad deal. Once the covenant is made, Paolu becomes bald and later he finds out the hard way he is also impotent. He changes his name to Don Sciarpa, which is the Sicilian word for scarf since he ties a scarf around the top of his head to hide his baldness.
While there is nothing wrong with a man naturally losing his hair because of age, having your hair removed from you, typically by shaving, was commonly done to slaves in ancient history. In the Bible, God describes the slavery and bondage of the Jews in Babylonian captivity as the uncovering of their head to their shame. Don Sciarpa is now the devil’s slave, and this is humiliating. To show this, the devil removes his hair, and just as with the old day Jews, it was to his public shame.
Don Sciarpa and his wife find out together that his deal with the devil made him impotent. She leaves him over this. In general, Don Sciarpa is impotent in that he is completely powerless regarding his situation. He is helpless and the remainder of the story for him is his efforts at redemption, in other words, getting out of the contract.
We all know that physical distinctness help make for individualistic characters. But if you give someone a peg leg and someone else an eye patch just for the variety of it, then you missed out on some great character colorization. Unless you write pirate stories, haphazard peg legs and eye patches make people look different, but until they demonstrate how they act differently, you’re missing out on some great character making tools.