Techniques for Characterization

Recently, in a fit of insecurity I decided to list as many means of characterization as I could think of. The list I came up with has a number of ideas I really like, as well as some that sounds very obvious and/or incredibly broad topically. Keep in mind, these aren’t tips I’m dispensing from on high. They’re techniques to use in actual prose to develop characters that I want to try out.

1 – Lingers or Leaves Behind
What does the character spend more time on? Show him or her breezing past some things and occasionally fixate on other things. This can work with all things, both mundane and miraculous. A character can have reactions to everything. Sparsely describe some things, and lavish attention on others to show character focus.

2 – Speaking Voice
Some simple ways to differentiate character’s dialogue from each other:
A – Does he use simple words or use longer words?
B – Does he prefer simple sentences versus long or complex sentences?
C – What technical terms or jargon does she use?
D – What repeated words and phrases does she use?
E – Who does he show respect to? Who is he disrespectful toward?
F – What level of perceptiveness does she have? Does she notice little details in speech (or other places) or do things go past her unnoticed?

3 – Comparisons
What are the metaphors which the character uses to describe his or her world? Use these in narration and/or dialogue early and often.

4 – Values I – In Action
What does the character think of in dangerous situations? Example from Mur Lafferty’s ISBW podcast–And Harry Potter: When Hermione is in danger Harry things about what’s threatening her, and Ron thinks about how to protect Hermione. Which one of them is more attracted to her? Thank, Mur Lafferty for coming up with that comparison.

5 – Exterior and Interior Descriptions
Choose 2-3 good details for each character by which other characters can describe them, as well as an idea of the character’s self image.

6 – Interactions
Show how the character treats those weaker than herself as well as those with more power.

7 – Values II – What do they do with Power?
This is pretty self explanatory. When a character has options what does he do with his power? Show this and the consequences of the choice, both positive and negative, and that can be enough for a whole story.

8 – Goals, Great and Small
What does this character want? Show that thing. Show why the character wants it. Show how they go about getting it.

9 – Focus
Characters look at things they are interested in. They listen to characters and sounds that are important or entertaining to them. They reach out and touch objects (or characters) they want. Show them doing this stuff and we learn about them.

10 – History
What has the character done before and how does it affect them in the present? What has happened to them and what have they taken from it?

11 – Emotion
Show the character in more than one emotional state. Show them in as MANY as possible. Characters should be afraid, sad, infatuated, generous, angry, guilty, and maybe even happy once in a while. The more you show the more we know.

12 – Show Flaws causing problems
Everyone says characters need flaws, but if those flaws don’t matter to the story than they don’t do much. Make flaws important enough to cause plot problems or character controversies.

Postscript: What do you think of these? I think most are good ideas, but each is a big chunk of words to put into a book or story.


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