Physical representation is simply what the character looks like. Most of the time we see this through the eyes of other characters. I can only think of two instances where I expand on what a character looks like through their own thoughts. In Contraband, I used the characters eyes and their effect on other people. I did it like so:
After a stretch of unyielding silence, Sarge stepped back and waved Paul to one of the seats. Paul sat, folded his arms, and waited, aware that his appearance bothered Sarge. As far back as he could remember, his unusual looks disturbed people around him...But the color of his irises made him different. They tended to shift according to his mood, and on the island, people viewed eyes like his with awe and suspicion. The islanders believed those born with gray eyes had supernatural powers. In addition, they made a startling contrast with his wiry hair and swarthy skin.
Word to the wise: Your character can look like a narcissistic idiot if you do the looking in the mirror thing. (Couldn’t resist that)
Then there is the way in which others think about your main character, which is important. Nothing says more about a character than how others see him. Is he brisk, but polite? Is he firm, but fair? Is he businesslike, but takes time to listen? Think about someone you’ve heard spoken about before you met them. Didn’t the 411 – or as we say in Jamaica, the bill and receipt - on them colour your opinion of their character? IMO this is an effective way of rounding out your character. It’s one thing to see how he thinks of himself, and quite another to know what people think of him.
Then there is the perception we attach to certain positions and people. We tend not to look too far beyond stereotypes. If someone dresses for success then we may not look any further than physical evidence before we draw our own conclusion. Many an unsuspecting person has been scammed by well-dressed, articulate people. We may equate a man of sartorial elegance with a certain type of behavior, and think the same of a well-heeled woman, only to be shocked senseless by crass behavior from one or the other of them. Our politicians in Jamaica are a good example of this. They look good (maybe a tad overfed when their party is in power) and sound good…up until the time of the next scandal. And we keep voting for them.
But to get back on point, these are the main ways I show readers who my character is. One other method I use is to show how the character sees himself. In Contraband, my protagonist recognizes that he’s made some dangerous choices, but he knows why and bargains with himself as to when he’ll give up trading in illegal merchandise. You can’t get a better view of a character than when he takes an honest look at himself.
What other ways do you give readers an accurate picture of your characters?