Daily Archives: September 24, 2014

Cheat-sheet to characterization

Characters, whether the novel itself is character or plot driven, are a book’s best assets. Through them, we see the story, the setting, the conflicts, the tragedies and the triumphs. Toned down to props or larger than life, characterization is crucial to any work of fiction.

There are many ways to draw effective characters. These are simply the most basic points.

1: Dialogue. Internal, external, dialogue is tied for the most important part of creating a character. Giving a character his own voice, a distinct, easily recognizable voice, is crucial. For example, same gist, worded differently:

“I didn’t do nothing! It was Jaybird what did it!”


“I did no such thing, for pity’s sake. It must have been your no-account cousin, Jay.”

You get quite a different image for each, no? Simply by the way they speak.

2: Tied in with dialogue is how your character responds to situations. Is she given to fight? Or flight? Does your character speak out? Or speak when spoken to? Is he a clown in large gatherings, yet quiet in small groups? How a character behaves is as important as how a character speaks.

3: What is your character’s story? Character needs to grow out of a sense of place. Setting plays a huge role in Oliver Twist’s character. There are plenty of wretched orphans in literature, but where Oliver comes from creates who he is. Where do your characters come from? Rich or poor? Loved or abandoned? City or country? Knowing these things will give you insight to his dreams, her fears, and how they came to be dreams and fears. Your character’s story will tell you how she will react to the plot you throw at her.

4: Names. What you name your character will set a tone your reader may never be aware is being set. Does the name have a short sound? A hard sound? A long, luxurious sound? Does this sound work to cement your character’s traits, or contradict? For example: Giladriel is lovely, lyrical, cultured. The sound of her name fits her character. Frodo is a Hobbit–sturdy, practical, short and to the point. Yup, fits the name. But what if the character of Giladriel was instead called, Gertrude? And what if Frodo Baggins was Beauregard Gardersmythe? See what I mean? Whether you name your characters appropriately, ironically, purposely contradictive, even invisibly, know why you’ve named your character as you have. You will know more about your character, and be better able to show that to the reader.

5: Description (IMO, the least important part of characterization.) We need a few details of what the character looks like–blond, short, stocky, a wonky eye. Unless their physical appearance lends something to the story, keep them as nondescript as possible. Captain Hook’s hook is part of the story, part of his character, but the exact shade of his eyes really isn’t.

Each one of these simple steps will lead you into another, more subtle aspect of characterization. Just remember–writers, can never know too much about their character; a reader can. As much as you love knowing that your character got her first kiss after rolling down a hill with her best friend, if it doesn’t pertain to the plot, your reader isn’t going to miss it.


Filed under Writing is Life