When creating a head, think about every last facial feature, as described next, but when describing a species to an audience, it’s often best to comment on the most important features rather than overwhelm with detail. It’s even better to do so while describing a character’s mood at the moment, as evidenced by the effect of that mood on those features.
Below are some features to write about and the options that are easiest to describe with a word that most will recognize; if we have to explain a facial feature too much, maybe it’s better to just go with something easier to envision and convey. An example of this problem is the word “monolid,” (listed below in text about eyes) because while we’ve all seen this, we’ve likely never heard the word.
Other names can be used in our files but not in our writing because they’re of Earth origin, like “Roman nose” or “Cupid’s bow,” unless Earth figures in our work; we’d need another name, but then no one will know what we’re talking about and we’ll have to describe it. To see images of many features listed, do an internet search.
|Face/jawline||round, oval, square, heart-shaped|
|Brow||prominent (often caused by deep set eyes) or shallow (monolid)|
|Eyebrows||rounded, arched (and to what degree), mono brow|
|Eyes||round, slanted, deep set, up/down turned (at the outside corner), wide/close set, hooded (as if hidden behind overhanging eyelids all the time), protruding (the opposite of hooded), and monolid (the opposite of deep set, where the brow appears less prominent, as in some Asians)|
|Iris||shape (vertical/horizontal slit, round, cat’s eye, crescent) and typical colors|
|Cheekbones||sunken/indented or high/prominent. Low is average and not typically mentioned|
|Nose||straight, long and wide (like blacks), hawkish, snub, thin and pointed, bulbous, upturned, aquiline, broad with large nostrils, and the basic large nose|
|Mouth||average, wide, small, full or thin lips (sometimes each is different), rounded/pointed/absent Cupid’s bow|
|Teeth||straight, crooked, missing, stained, pointed, serrated, poisonous, tiny, large, and multiple rows (like a shark)|
|Chin||protruding, cleft, thin and pointing, round, square, jutting, receding (i.e., almost no chin), and long (often points forward)|
If you can’t draw, then your decisions may look different than you intended when someone like an artist you hire assembles them into a face. There are various games, such as Wii, or online tools that allow you to create a character or avatar that looks like you. You can experiment with these face generators to give you a head start on this. A quick Google search for face avatar generators turned up these free, online programs I experimented with:
- Pimp the face: http://www.pimptheface.com/create/
- Face your manga: http://www.faceyourmanga.com/editmangatar.php
The second allowed me to generate several images in a few fun minutes of poking around. While I wouldn’t use it in my work, it gives me a good reference image in my files and can be handed to an artist to draw something similar.
The heads of non-humanoids can be based on animals or invented from scratch, but you’ll want an understanding of why a feature exists or it might not make sense. In a monster, an explanation isn’t necessary; after all, the creepiness of things that don’t make sense are part of why it’s a monster (the bizarre and nonsensical frightens). The bar is set higher for a species. We needn’t ever explain it, but having the species use the feature in a way that makes it clear there’s a rationale behind it helps us.
For example, sharks have jaws that can distend for a wider bite, with rows of replaceable, serrated teeth for ripping meat. If our species also eats something (on land?) raw and with high fat content (like a seal), then it might have this as well. If it eats a different prey, then it won’t. A crocodile drowns victims by holding them underwater, so it doesn’t need shearing teeth. Also, such teeth wouldn’t make sense if our species eats plants or cooks all meals.
Predators tend to have eyes facing forward, while prey tend to have them on the sides to see predators coming more easily (usually from behind). If our species is truly only prey and never predator, consider this option. Prey also tend to have ears that can independently swivel, but a hunter might also have this skill. A wet nose is designed to catch particles for dissolving and smelling, so if we say our species has a great sense of smell but don’t say they have a wet nose, that’s less believable, though most people won’t know that.