Tag Archives: Writing Character Description

Therapy For Fictional Characters

Therapy For Fictional Characters (1)

The personalities that carry out your plot have lives. They have inner monologues that nag their waking moments. They suffer headaches making it hard to concentrate. They have fears.

As complex as we all are, so are your characters.

Convincing fiction comes from convincing characters. When you know what your character knows, describing their reactions becomes natural and your characters comes to life.

What do you suppose this fellow is feeling?

There he is, sitting on a wooden bench outside the hardware store with a stripp

Is he afraid, anxious, expectant, or excited?

Knowing helps you create believable characters, and put readers in the front seat to watch the story unfold.

6 Things Every Character (And Writer) Should Know

1 book numbersWhat’s their baggage?

We all have childhood stories that linger into our daily lives. The fear of spiders because your older sister was intent on torturing you, or perhaps a fear of heights because you fell out of a tree. Think about the micro-moments that make up your personal history. Your characters have similar tales. You don’t have to write a term paper on their background, but knowing a few key turning points in their life will add purpose to their role in your plot.

2 book numbersWhat do they like about themselves?

Even the worst villains have redeeming qualities, something that gives them confidence. Your hero also has something about themselves that gives them pride, or even shame. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Defining this for your main characters could make for an interesting twist in your story as either a heroic save or an epic fail.What if a minor character had a fallible trait that affected your main character? Does that create a ripple effect of events?

3 book numbersWhat frightens them?

Periodically, I have a dream about being swallowed up by the ocean… only the ocean is lapping at my house 120 miles from the coast. Pretty unsettling. I’ve learned to turn it around and go for a swim. But how does your main character overcome fear? How does it limit them or manifest itself in other parts of their lives? The raw emotion that spills out is too intense for an inner critic to stop or censor. Everybody is afraid of something, so are the people populating your novel. Thanks to my sister, I’m afraid of spiders….. even the tiny ones. (Thanks Lynn.) Write your fears into the character’s lives and let them go about finding a way to cope or react. You may be surprised by what they do.

4 book numbersHow far are your characters willing to go to get what they want?

Steal? Lie? Murder? How badly to they want this thing they think they need? The more tense your story and the more intense your character, the further they will push to reach their goal. Everyone has a line they won’t cross, where does your character draw the line? Is it at a crucial point that keeps them from what they’re seeking?

5 book numbersAre they hiding something?

Everybody has a secret. Something in their past they want to forget. Perhaps it’s their true motive they are hiding. Sometimes a small thing can have huge ramifications as it rolls through the plot gathering lies and subterfuge.

6 book numbersWho are their people?

Where did this character come from? What is the culture of their upbringing? Family life? Friends? What are the personality dynamics at play that shape how they interact with everyone whom they come into contact? I think we’re all shaped by our families and extended friends and experiences. Characters have family sidebars that either push them in one direction or pull them into another. That could be a full novel all by itself.

I think this is why series are so much fun. You have multiple books to show the tiny bits that make up a character and begin to build a history through their story. Characters then become familiar to the reader making them feel like friends that are safe and entertaining to spend time with.Jade Weekes

In Wired, Jade Weekes is an art thief, but she never crosses the line of violence – that is,
until she is pushed just enough. Her father’s murder provided a tipping point that makes her rethink the deceptions she weaves so easily. Her past created a plot line for Wired, and the plot of Wired provided a turning point for her character to continue into another story.

A well written book leaves you in a different place than where you started, and characters should grow in a way that allows the reader to feel they’ve taken the journey too.

Making your characters and their actions realistic taps into the readers emotions and keeps them hooked to the last page.

So go on, dig in and see what therapy your characters need to really let readers get to know them.

Thanks for reading,


Wired Judith GainesWired by Judith Gaines

Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past. 

For crying out loud, your characters did what?!?

"Can you give me a description?"
There are some crazy characters in this world. Some panhandle in grocery stores or perhaps put ketchup on sliced tomatoes. What if you met someone who smoked so much pot they smelled like it 24/7 even when they hadn’t touched it all day? What does that say about their personality? Well, it’s all fodder for fiction. These little quirks add realism to characters and could even play into a plot line. I believe it’s the things our characters do and say that make them real, more so than the laundry list of physical descriptions you sometimes find in a novel.

Over the years, I’ve found there are two camps to character description. With one, the author works it in through another character’s thoughts or a personal assessment in a mirror, or secondly, there is nothing at all. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either approach, as long as it’s done consistently and deliberately. You see, good writing doesn’t just happen; it is crafted and thought out.

Detailed Description is hard to work in unobtrusively. The last thing you want is to pull the reader from the story for what feels like an info-dump of hair color, complexion and wardrobe. Also, the mirror trick is a bit over-done, so that leaves window reflections, toasters and other shiny objects. How do you work it in effectively? Don’t worry about getting the full description on the first page. Trickle the key elements through the natural story action. Your hero could pull a long auburn strand from the mystery woman’s shoulder—now you know her hair color. He could look down or up into her eyes—now you have a physical ratio established between them. Let your main character pick up a box of Rogaine. Now what do you know about him? Did you info dump to clue your reader to his looks? Our minds are wired to fill in the blanks. (That’s why we can’t find our own typos.) The empty spaces will be filled with the reader’s inference and imagination.

No Description is also hard. (Haha, you thought you were off the descriptive hook.) With no description offered up, the reader will naturally cast themselves as the main character. It goes against our literary nature to not paint their expressions and freckles and closet contents into the story. It is minimalist. It will feel weird, but it might be a fun exercise.

In my writing, I hold back from giving physical descriptions until that part of the character is key to the story or their psyches. It takes a lot of practice and even more editing. I’m always asking myself if there is a better way to get the idea across.

So, I’ll never say my character is short, but she may need a step-ladder, or just climb onto the kitchen counter to reach the shelf.

I love the wily characters I meet every day. There’s at least one grocery store I’ll never visit again and even though I explained the irony of ketchup on tomatoes, my daughter still eats them that way. The last one, well, I guess he’s hanging out in the (ahem) clouds.