Posted by: nancycurteman | July 12, 2010

Developing Characters is No Mystery

Characters make your story.  Your novel comes to life when your characters come to life. Your main characters are important, but don’t forget your minor characters. You won’t spend as much time and story space on them, but the sentence you write about them must make them stick in your reader’s mind. Here are some strategies that help reveal characters.

•Mannerisms, those little gestures and movements that set people apart are important character builders. Consider body language such as facial expressions—smiles, frowns, scowls, direct eye contact; gestures such as fidgeting or covering the mouth or blinking; other behaviors such as a firm handshake, leaning forward with interest, or rigidly crossed arms.

•You can reveal information about a character and his personality through that character’s thoughts, words, and actions.

•A person’s history and upbringing play a large part in forming his personality. This is the back story. Where does your character come from? What are the joyful and painful experiences life has dealt him? These are the elements that have formed her values and attitudes. Interweave the character’s history into the plot in small portions throughout the story.

•Use characters’ perceptions of other characters. Two characters may describe the same story person differently: A sister may see her brother as lovable. A brother may see him as dependable. A colleague values the same man because of his insight. A lover despises him for another reason.

•Give your character flaws: throat clearing, loud laughter, obsessive about time, cleanliness, food, insecure, afraid of the dark, frizzy hair, workaholic, nail biter.

•Dialogue can show character mood, perspective, political views, fears, prejudices, or  his belief system

•Show physical traits through action: Susan powdered her freckled nose then ran a comb through her curly blonde hair. When John rose from the chair, his head nearly touched the low ceiling.

•Make your characters memorable by giving them labels. For example, that pushy woman, that blustery guy, that gourmet cook, that pudgy little boy.

Use these strategies to avoid tedious descriptive passages that slow the pace of story action.

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Responses

  1. Excellent points and put in a succinct bullet list makes them easier to keep track of too. Thanks.

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  2. Your posts on writing are excellent, NancyCurteman. Thank you so much for producing such a handy reference.

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  3. Good things to remember – I often struggle with making minor characters rounded and real without weighing them down. Thanks for the list!

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  4. Minor characters can really spark a novel. A little effort to make them memorable will really pay big dividends.

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  5. {{Clears throat, pushes frizzy hair away from face with left hand, while nibbling nails on the right hand}}

    {{CLEARS THROAT AGAIN}}

    “. . . Loud laughter is NOT a character flaw.”

    {{Looks around the room, insecurely, to see if anyone agrees before whispering}}

    “. . . it is a possession to be treasured.”

    Loud laughter erupts across the room!!!

    Great post!

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  26. thank you for the interesting and helpful info.

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  27. Wonderful list.

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