This Business of Writing

10 Tips to Reveal Your Character’s Character

In The Craft of Writing on March 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the podcast of this article HERE.

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One of the three primary secrets to any good novel is effective characterization. The others, of course, are story and dialogue. Without populating your novel with characters the reader will appreciate, there is little chance your novel will succeed. This is not to say a great deal more isn’t necessary to write The Great American Novel, but without this, you’ve got no story.

Your reader needs to become acquainted with your main characters to identify with them and I’ve worked up a list of ten basic steps by which you develop your character’s. They are:

1. The character’s physical description
2. The author’s psychological portrayal of that character
3. What the character says
4. How the character says what he says
5. What the character does
6. What the character thinks
7. The things other characters say about him
8. His reactions to things, people and events around him
9. His how he reacts to himself
10. Your setting

Presenting this type of information all at once is frowned upon in the writing world. So much so, that action has a rather unpleasant sounding name assigned to it. That name is, “Info-dump.” Therefore, for best effect, you’d want to sprinkle these situation around in the pages of your story.

I’m certain you can see how most of these techniques will highlight your character’s personality. After all, isn’t that much the way things work in real life? Regardless, let’s toss in a couple of examples

You’d not want to use only one or two of these techniques and shun the rest. Utilize a number of them for wider appeal

A premier “rule” in creative writing it to “show, don’t tell.” Of course, rules are designed for breaking, but with that in mind, you’d want to shy away from the first item, their physical description, and the second, the authors’ psychological portrayal, as they tend to, “tell.”

As an example of the third item, what he says, in my current manuscript my hero, Jak, is working with a crew to cut down trees. When one wood behemoth refuses to fall, Jak say, “I’ve yet to be bested by an overgrown log.” When I had my critique group read that chapter, a couple of the reviewers mentioned that line and said it told them so much about Jak’s personality. So, the words your character uses are powerful indicators of his individuality.

Let’s give number seven, those things one character says about another, some consideration, too. I think this type of character embellishment allows for interesting opportunities in your novel. It opens the door to misdirection, deception and all sorts and other opportunities to enhance and even introduce plot points into your manuscript. If you possess the imagination, this technique has twists and turns hidden within it, and you can utilize them to great effect.

There’s one of these techniques many authors don’t understand well, so I’ll give it a bit of special attention. Consider number ten, your setting. Setting is much more to your novel than simply a place and time. It is as powerful as any component of your novel and can shape your characters to a great degree. So, too, it gives strong hints as to their personalities. For example, compare a warrior living in the second century to one living in the twenty-first. Don’t you think they’ll have differing outlooks toward war, even though that theme transcends both time frames? Give your setting serious consideration as part of the development of your characters. You can read more about setting in this ARTICLE.

Review these techniques and employ them throughout your novels, and you’ll find your readers become more involved with your characters.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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  1. I detest and boycott all fiction that shows instead of telling; consequently, I will not be tricked by any of your knavish propaganda into desisting from deliberate and shameless info-dumping.

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