CHARACTERS: Creating Personalities
Appearance as Indicator
Don’t choose too many details, quality is more effective.
- Use details to show strong visual images (square jaw, aggressive eyebrows, feminine skin).
- Show a character’s own reaction to his appearance (unimpressed with her long, thick hair).
- Use physical details to show appearance in a temporary situation (reddened eyes, tear-stained cheeks, messy hair).
- Use preferences in clothing details (subtle suit, sensible shoes, sexless uniform).
- Use details of a character’s home (small, but likes living in a cramped space, no houseplants).
- Use personal tastes in vehicle preferences (drives a Ford Escort or Mercedes-Benz or a pickup).
- Use mannerisms (walks fast, swings arms, stand with head bent, endlessly jiggles a foot).
Names as Indicator
Don’t give characters in the same story similar names (Jean, June, Mike, Mick).
- Use surnames that reflect the fictional world’s ethnic diversity (Anglo-Saxon, Jewish, Chinese, Italian).
- Use first names that tell something about the character’s family’s worldview, hopes, or generation (Susan or Mary, a name that will blend in; a relative’s name to show heritage; Rainbow Smith, a trendy name).
- Use nicknames to show how others view the character.
Setting as Indicator
- Show where the character was born (big city, rural, east coast, west coast, heartland, foreign country).
- Show social class where the character grew up (had a nanny, private schools, privileged, welfare).
- Use a character’s accent (shows social class, geography).
- Show background influence on dress style (worn jeans, scuffed boots; skirt, sweater, earrings; high heels).
- Show background influence on tastes in music, food, leisure activities.
- Hint at behavior expectations (how were children expected to behave, teenagers, couples, community leaders).
Employment as Indicator
What is most important about a job is not what a person works at but why, how and with what results.
- Show how the character regards his work (likes it, hates it, necessary but boring, resents it, good at, terrible at).
- Shows the character’s socioeconomic structure (teaches Greek, shows educated and probably middle-class living; doctor, dishwasher).
- Shows the character’s self-image (scientist or doctor, spent at least eight years in college, focused, intelligent; handyman, truck driver, day laborer).
- Use jobs that you the author know a lot about or can research thoroughly.
- Use enough realistic job details to make it seem real.
Dialogue as Indicator
Mediocre dialogue can do more harm than good. Keep dialogue artificially concise but not stilted.
- Use words to reveal the character intellectually and emotionally (words to show bitterness, anger, bigotry, nurturer, name-dropper, elitist, self-absorbed).
- Use nonverbal communication mixed with the dialogue (tone of voice, inflections, facial expression, hand gestures, body language).
- Have the character speak consistently, but alter speech for different audiences and circumstances.
- Use dialect and accents lightly.
Opinions as Indicator
Keep italicizing to a minimum and only use “he thought” tags when necessary to avoid confusion.
- Show the character’s attitudes about the events and object in her world.
- Keep character’s thoughts that are present only to add characterization brief.
- Keep the character’s editorial digressions original, quirky, thoughtful, important, well-written.
- Clearly show character thoughts that are there to drive the plot forward.
- Be consistent in how you show the character’s thoughts.
Dreams as Indicator
- Do not have your characters’ dreams affect plot; use them to characterize their personalities and/or current crises.
- Keep dreams brief.
- Use applicable dreams (current dream, recurring dream childhood dream).