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Characters: Creating Personalities | From Rubbish to Publish

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).

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.
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