How To Describe Characters

You have an idea for a character in your head. Great! That’s the start of every good character-driven story. There may be certain features that stand out more than others. You may know your character is blonde, but can see nothing else of their appearance. Or you may know precisely how your character looks, down to the patterns of their freckles. So how do you translate your characters from your imagination to your reader’s imagination?

Hopefully, well. A bad translation of a character is a shame in the literary world. All that wasted potential. We don’t want that! Let’s look at how you can succeed in this area:

4 tips to writing your characters

Show, don’t tell

Go light on description

Don’t forget the internals

Use dialogue

Show, Don’t Tell

This is the age old saying. All great authors have the same advice for the newbies. Try to show a character trait, don’t tell us about the trait. I know some writer’s kick a dead horse with this one, though. I understand that it’s important to show the reader character descriptions, like showing him throwing a chair in rage rather than saying he has anger issues, but at other times, you just have to call a lamp a lamp and move on with it. At the end of the day, the writing is yours, so shove the rules and write it how you want it to sound. And let your editor tell you it’s bad writing.

Go Light On Description

One of my biggest writing pet peeves is when an author describes the character to death. Not only do we know that she is blonde, but we know what color eyes she has, what outfit she is wearing, the shape of her jawline and how she developed each of these traits from her parents. Stahp! Unless it’s relevant to the story or a description that will establish your character, leave it out. If you are still describing the way your character looks in the final chapters of your book, you might want to rethink your technique. Yes, it’s ok to describe these things about your character, but throw these in subtly. Don’t just give us a character description dump all in one paragraph. I assure you, we will survive just fine without knowing what your character’s nose looks like.

Don’t Forget The Internals

The cool thing about writing is that you get to show your audience what’s going on beneath the skin. You can do this with visual media, but not in quite the same way as you can through writing. Sometimes describing a characters personality through little actions or quirks says more about them as a person than any amount of visual representation can. So don’t skimp on the personality part of the character description.

You want to know an example of a character with almost little to no personality descriptions? Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. Sure, he’s the main character, but the readers know so much more about the other characters than about Frodo. He’s sort of like a character that has things happen to him than a character that creates their own path and plot. And sure, that might be a good example of a plot driven story opposed to a character driven story, but even a plot driven story should give you some juicy bits about the character you are following.

Use Dialogue

Remember how I said you can subtly add in character traits without doing one big detail dump? A great way to do this is through dialogue between characters. Whether they are talking to the person and pointing out a trait or there are two characters talking shit on a third, you can learn a lot about your characters by how others talk about them and to them. And a character might even reveal something about themselves just by opening up to another character.

An example of this is in The Club Dumas, when the girl in the duffle coat says “I once wrestled with an angel. He won, but I learned a few things.” Up to this point, the reader may have some suspicions that she is a fallen angel, or even Lucifer himself, but this line reveals it all, in her own words. Or maybe it doesn’t reveal anything. That’s what I love about that book. Everything is left so vague that you are able to let your mind wander between all the wonderful possibilities. Is the devil real? Is it all just coincidence? But I digress…

Good luck with bringing those characters to life. Do you have any tips to share with your fellow writers? Leave your comments and suggestions down below!

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Happy writing,


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