Finding Your Characters In Your Writing

February 28, 2013


Building better characters


Karlie asked about characterization.

I also read a good post about this subject of Character  on the Blog ‘The Living Notebook’

Here is my take on this element of writing:

Here a writer is showing us her 9-year-old character and how she feels via some action and first person narration. Read these training passages first, then, see the things that the writer tries to get across to readers using storytelling & subtext.

1. Think about what you want to say about the character.

You can tell readers story-facts: Her hair was brown, hanging down her back. She was under weight, most girls were taller. Did you notice the verbs: is, was, and were used here?

Telling verbs. Look at all your lines that describe with verbs like these. That’s telling us about your character. Which can be a good starting point, but slip into scene with showing verbs as soon as you can.


2. You can make your characters seem more real to your readers by writing about them in-scene.

You can show readers your character in action: Do this with actions that reveal her story. If she is serious, or fearful, or longing? What actions, ‘in-scene’, might show this? No matter what the area of your story– show the character there for a reason.

Those reasons– to show what your character is going through. Telling verbs are replaced by stronger showing verbs, and those verbs can work with people, places, or things. That’s showing us your character.

You can go a step farther in your storytelling by showing things about your character without pointing them out – that’s subtext. This child wants more than anything to please her mother– a mother, in this story, who can never be pleased. How would you think to show that without saying it outright?

Now, here’s the excerpt:

The water danced and boiled for the coffee and I made a piece of toast, with jam. Putting it all on a triangle of napkin, I carried it in to Mama on my favorite tray. The one made from real mosaic tiles. The picture the tiles made, of the Holy Mother and Child, was my favorite of all time. Not so much for the religion, but because I loved the way Mary let Jesus sit on her lap and touch her face.


Can you point out the action verbs used?

Are the verbs used for people, places, or things? is using verbs on things working to bring in subtext here?

Do you think the verb danced conveys the hopefulness of this little girl?

Can you find the other subtext? What does it say about her hopes without saying things outright?

This is the type of writing I coach novices to reach for.

If you feel ready to turn your writing around, contact me for manuscript edits or 1-on-1 coaching for your WIP.



3 Responses to “Finding Your Characters In Your Writing”

  1. Karlie Says:

    Reading these posts always send me scrambling for my notepad and red pen. Thank you for more great advice! I love that paragraph, by the way.

  2. ejrunyon Says:

    I hope these posts take you back for another look at what’s possible in your work work. Happy Writing.

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