This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Last week we looked at creating memorable characters and this week we're looking at the next step: Once you've created your characters and given them fascinating quirks and a rounded-personality, how do you go about bringing them to life on the page?
Personally, I think this is best done through action. Tell the story, keep the characters doing things, and reveal their personality through their actions. To give a simple example; rather than telling the reader that your protagonist is kind, show her giving change to a homeless person.
Also, it’s important choose the most interesting details when describing your character, rather than listing everything about them. As the author, you need to know every detail of your character and their history, but your reader doesn’t. Your reader only needs to know what is relevant to the story. So, if your main character is allergic to shellfish but at no point in the story has an allergic reaction, then you probably don’t need to mention it.
You can also show character through the ways in which other characters view them and react to them.Not only can you reveal how their personality comes across to others, but it gives you license to describe their appearance, too. While it's fairly obnoxious for your heroine to think that the gap between her front teeth is adorable, it's absolutely fine for your hero to make the observation.
When it comes to describing the physical attributes of your characters, I favour a 'less is more' approach. I like to leave room for the reader to create their own picture of the character in their mind, especially since concepts such as 'beauty' and 'ugliness' are very much in the eye of the beholder.
Of course, as with all writing advice, I’m talking very much from my own personal experience and preferences. You need to decide what is right for your own voice, style, and story.
However, if you do decide to specify physical details for your characters, I do think you need to stay away from the average. Saying that your character is of medium height, with brown hair and brown eyes tells the reader nothing of any use. It’s so generic a description as to be invisible.
Why not use physical descriptions as an opportunity to convey interesting, pertinent information? For example, if the character has unwashed hair that might say something about either their standards of personal grooming or their state of mind. Think about who is observing the physical details, too; what we notice about other people says a great deal about our own preconceptions, preoccupations, and feelings, so it's a great opportunity to showase the observer's character, too.
Finally, try to think of vivid and arresting ways of describing physical characteristics so that they stick in your reader's mind. Especially if you have a cast of thousands; it'll help your reader to keep track of them.