Unlike movies where viewers watch as characters develop throughout the action of the film, characters in works of fiction must be described through thoughtful character development that includes physical appearance, movements, mannerisms, speech and, most importantly, intentional actions. Your challenge as a writer is to describe your characters without disrupting the flow of the action. By creating specific details that are memorable and using careful characterization, you can create distinct characters that readers will remember.
Readers want to visualize the characters that they read about to feel connected. However, too much physical description will slow down a story and keep readers from enjoying the plot. Instead of quantity, focus on a few clear details: a piece of jewelry, a hairstyle, a pair of shoes or a meaningful nickname. Weave these details into action to keep readers connected to the story. For example, In Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson describes one of his characters “a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, vivid white.”
Movements and Mannerisms
Mannerisms or habitual gestures help to reveal interesting details about a character. Nownovel reports that mannerisms are a great way to show instead of tell while developing your characters. Take for example the following sentences:
- Greta walked across the room.
- Greta strode across the room with her head held high.
- Greta shuffled across the room, staring at the floor.
The second sentence shows Greta's confidence to the reader without breaking the action of the story, while the third sentence reveals Greta's lack of confidence. Use specific mannerisms to make a character stand out and to reveal a character's motivation.
Describe your characters through realistic dialogue. Let the word choice, accent and repeated phrases your character speaks reveal traits to the readers. The way a character speaks should reveal his education and attitude. For example, in Zora Neal Hurston's novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the main character says, “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” This dialogue reveals Janie's background as well as her views on love.
One of the first lessons most writers learn is to focus on action over exposition, meaning to let the character's actions speak for themselves. The choices your character makes from how he reacts to a conflict to where he lives reveal character traits to the readers. Orson Scott Card, author of Enders Game, says, “People become, in our minds, what we see them do. This is the strongest, most irresistible form of characterization.” When Card's title character, Ender, beats the leader of a gang of bullies while defending himself, readers know that he is courageous and capable of anything. Develop your characters with intentional action and your readers will remember them long after they turn the page.
- Photo Credit Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images
How to Describe the Main Characters from "Speak"
"Speak" is a novel written and published by Laurie Halse Anderson in 1999. It was also made into a movie of the...
How to Analyze Short Story Characterization
Characterization is the means an author uses to describe or develop a character for the reader. The brevity of a short story...
How to Write Character Descriptions in a Novel
Writing a great novel depends on how you vividly describe its main characters’ attitudes, backgrounds, emotions and physical appearance, among other traits....
How to Write a Detailed Character Description
How your characters develop is essential to bringing your readers into your story and keeping them engaged in the plot. Readers will...
How to Introduce and Describe a Character in a Screenplay
Screenwriting has its own set of conventions that are traditionally followed. This includes introducing and describing characters in a screenplay. Unlike in...
How to Write a Character Development Essay
Character development essays provide detailed descriptions and predictions about characters from fictional works. The purpose of an essay of this kind is...
How to Write a Descriptive Paper on a Child
A descriptive paper on a child could entail a research study examining a particular child with a learning disability, or a child...
How to Describe Characters in a Script
Learn how to describe characters in the script of a play with expert playwriting advice in this free play production and theater...