Characterization 101: Writers have quite an arsenal of ways for conveying a character’s personality. Whether overt or subtle, the savvy reader knows that characters are brought to life only if the writer has effectively done their job.
So how does a writer portray personality?
Fictional names act subliminally on readers. Is the name:
androgynous? Why does an author assign a name like Lee, Pat, Kelly, or Chris ?
cliché or stereotype?
- See character names for examples and an in-depth explanation.
Physical descriptions may convey personality as well.
Exposition style biographical summaries—aka “telling”— are found in older fiction.
Body type, hair, and eye color can be conveyed gradually by “telling” or with action and/or dialog. “I’m not fooled by her baby blues.”
Modern authors use synecdoche— one part standing in for the whole. For example nails that are chewed may indicate a nervous personality
Clothes are often indicators of character, class, & lifestyle. Your character’s driving a dented, rusty economy car while dressed in knock-off Christian Louboutins and holding a fake Louis Vuitton handbag may indicate a female with high aspirations and/or a concern with appearances. Flashy jewels and clothes usually indicate an attention-seeking personality.
- See character descriptions for more.
A character’s dialog conveys personality. It often reveals:
level of education
- geographic location
- maturity level
- biases and/pr prejudices
- relationship status
respect or disrespect for other characters
their need for understanding. For example, are they overly wordy or pithy?
cognitive level. Do they ask a lot of open-ended questions?
- What, why, and how the other character’s respond ( or not) is also relevant.
- Let’s not forget internal dialog–-those thoughts not spoken but which are frequent in a 1st person or limited 3rd person point of view
Actions often speak louder than words. The saying “it’s not what you say but what you do” is just as important in literature. Actions reveal:
- gut reactions
or they may also disguise feelings and intentions
Writers may enlist all these character builders or employ only one or two. For example, Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird never speaks and his physical description is given at the end of the novel, and yet Boo is made real from other’s dialog and his heroic actions.
Have fun creating your characters!