Friday, May 3, 2013

Creating Characters with Character

Have you seen this? Sponsored by Dove, women describe themselves to a forensic artist and the results are ridiculously different from how others see them. Notice when others recount the person, they often add words about the level of warmth and friendliness in their features. How they looked to others wasn't just about their appearance, but about the soul glowing from within. The video got me to thinking, do my characters know themselves the way others see them?

A character's character, how they are perceived by others in a story, has more to do with who they are than what they look like. When I'm writing in third person, I've got some wiggle room.  I can describe a character from the point of view of someone else.  But in first person?

Here are 5 ways to show character that have nothing to do with looking in the mirror.

  1. Give them an animal.  You've probably heard that people who abuse animals are more likely to abuse other humans.  I think the reverse is true as well. If your heroine always brings her horse a treat before each ride or considers her dog to be her best friend, it shows gentleness and charity. What would it tell your reader if your character was vegetarian?                                                      

  2. Lead them into temptation. How a character copes with temptation says a lot about them as a person. Does your teen protagonist tell the boy she's with she doesn't want to drink, make an excuse to leave the party when her cup is still full, or go along and guzzle it down? 

  3. Send them shopping. Instead of describing a character's hair and clothing, send her shopping with a friend. It's not about what she buys or doesn't buy, it's about why.  Maybe she can afford those $150 Ralph Lauren shades but if she passes them over to save the dough for a special trip with her autistic sister, she's going to look a lot different to your reader.

  4. Get physical. It could be a fight or a love scene, but a physical interaction with another character tells us a lot about them in relation to others. For example, "My fist looked like a child's as I swung at his face, tiny and helpless against the tower of him." In that one sentence, we know she's petite... and a force to be reckoned with.

  5. Give them a spiritual life. Its not about religion. Whether your character prays, meditates, lights a candle, or something else, a spiritual life deepens character.  It's not just what she does but when she does it.  Does she only pray when she's in trouble? Or every day?
I don't know about you but as I re-read these five, certain physical images pop into my mind with each scenario.  As an author, I'd much prefer for the reader to fill in the gaps based on clues like these rather than a direct, mirror description.  Just like the Dove experiment, chances are the picture they create will be even better than the one in my mind.


G.P. Ching is the author of The Soulkeepers Series, Grounded, and a variety of short fiction. She specializes in cross-genre paranormal stories, loves old cemeteries, and enjoys a good ghost tour. She lives in central Illinois with her husband, two children, a brittany spaniel named Riptide Jack, and a very demanding guinea pig. 


  1. I have seen this video, so powerful and sad. These are great tips for character development, love them!

  2. Oooo...I like your post on characters. Excellent.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  3. Characters revealing themselves through other characters or by what they say or do is an excellent and exciting technique. Good suggestions.