I have included five ways that you can describe characters in this post. Three involve interior characterisation and two, exterior characterisation. If you use all five when you write, you will have three-dimensional characters.
Interior characterisation involves showing, or telling, the reader about aspects of your characters’ personalities and lives. You do this through their interactions with their immediate surroundings, their body language, their thoughts, and with dialogue. You can use all of these in a paragraph.
Have a look at the example, using Julia, where we move from telling to showing to thinking, below.
- Telling: The author tells us who the character is, and what she does. Example: Julia always wore certain clothes on different days of the week.
- Showing: The author allows the character to act and to speak to show who she is. Example: She bit her nails as she looked at the calendar. ‘I hate Sundays,’ she said to the empty room. She flipped through the colour-coded hangers in her wardrobe, making sure that she had the correct clothes for the week ahead. Black jeans for Monday. Check. White dresses for Tuesday. Check. Red skirts for Wednesday. Check..
- Thinking: The author shows the characters through their thoughts by allowing us to see what lies behind their actions and their words. What characters think about and how they think can reveal a great deal about them. Example: She knew her behaviour was crazy, but she couldn’t help it. Oh God! She tried to remember when this had started. It was Roger’s fault, of course. If he hadn’t left her for that tart, Candy, she would be able to wear whatever colour she wanted on any given day.
Exterior characterisation involves using their behaviour towards other characters, and their attitude to their worlds, to describe them.
- The others. The author shows us who the characters are by the way they treat other people and the way others treat them. Your character may be treated with fear or respect or disdain. She may treat others with kindness or indifference. Her prejudices, fears, and beliefs will also affect the way she treats others.
- The world outside. The author uses the way characters look at the world around them to allow us a glimpse into their state of mind. A happy character may see autumn leaves as beautiful. A sad character may be depressed by the death of the leaves. Your choice of images and words can create interesting moods for different characters, when you are in their viewpoints.
There are many other ways to show characters, but I hope these simple tips give you a solid starting point.
© Amanda Patterson
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