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5 Ways to Improve Characterization in Fiction Writing


One of the areas in which many aspiring authors and ghostwriters lack is characterization. It is easy enough to throw down some DMV descriptions—blonde, blue, 5’7”, 120—but quite another to bring your characters to life on the page.

No doubt, you’ve read dozens of articles on improving characterization in fiction writing, but I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Don’t just think in terms of physical appearance and general personality; instead, create people.

Characterization Tip 1- Dip a Toe Into the Past

We all have pasts. Maybe he was raised in a loveless home where imaginary friends served as his companions, or perhaps she has been married six times but never to someone she loved.

It is a good idea, in most cases, to start your story in the middle of the action. Give your reader a reason to be interested in your characters from the very beginning. But later, as the initial chaos begins to subside, give background information to help explain your characters’ behavior and personalities.

Of course, the success of this maneuver is rooted in the methodology behind it. How will you reveal the past without slowing the momentum of your story?

Perhaps your character is forming a relationship with someone new, which means that his or her romantic interest is just as unfamiliar with your hero as your reader. Delve into your main character’s history through conversation, but try to spread it out and avoid long monologues.

You can also bring up the past in conversations with people from your hero’s background. Maybe he or she runs into an old friend from college or is forced to go see Dad in the retirement home after twenty years of no contact. Be creative.

The point here is that your characters’ pasts will directly influence the course of your story. Just as we make decisions based on experience, your characters will surge forward equipped with biases and learned behaviors.

Characterization Tip 2- Make Speech Interesting

A few years ago, I got into an argument with a friend because she insisted she didn’t have an accent. That wasn’t true, of course, because we all have accents, whether pronounced or subtle.

The way in which a character speaks communicates volumes to the reader. Does he involuntarily spit whenever he pronounces the letter S? Does she roll her Rs because her mother was an Honduran immigrant? Is his voice soft, hard, severe, perfunctory, loud, strained, rough? Have fun with speech.

You can even write your dialogue to illustrate a particular accent. The perfect example of this is Hagrid in the Harry Potter series. His Scottish brogue comes through so clearly in his words that you can hear it in your mind.

You can also add complements to speech to improve characterization. For example, maybe your character constantly licks his lips or clacks his teeth or runs her fingers through her hair while speaking.

One of the best ways to improve characterization through speech is to watch other people when you are out and about—or even spending time with your family. Observe the unconscious tics and habits people form and translate them to your fiction writing.

Characterization Tip 3- Play Characters Off One Another

It is often easiest to judge someone’s character based on how he treats others. Is he polite and courteous? Or rude and uncouth? Does she treat waiters at a restaurant with less respect than coworkers at the office?

In ODD THOMAS by Dean Koontz, it is easy to see that Odd is very respectful of his elders. He refers to older acquaintances as “Sir”, even if they are considered good friends, and he is unfailingly polite even when caught in a bind.

Show your characters interacting with other people to give your reader insight into his personality, but more important, show how interactions with one character are different from interactions with another.

In many cases, you will improve characterization by establishing humor between two characters. Relationships are often as interesting as individual people, so show how two characters relate to one another on an intimate level.

4- Characterization Tip Step Outside the Plot

When you are writing a story, whether it is about a murder mystery or a May-September romance, it is easy to get wrapped up in the main points of the plot and forget about your characters lives.

Regardless of whatever tragedy or triumph is going on in your world, you still make time for your hobbies, your favorite songs, your local hang-out. Take time away from the plot of your story to explore your characters’ interests more fully.

Maybe he collects stamps and showcases his collection at local fairs, or maybe she enjoys fishing and hunting in the fall. One character might be fascinated by kung-fu movies while another collects stuffed elephants.

Make your characters shine like real human beings. That is what makes a great story.

Characterization Tip 5- Establish Something Extraordinary

One of the best ways to showcase a character is to make sure he is either the best at something or the worst. Take it to the extremes in fiction writing if it will help your characterization, and don’t worry about stretching it too far. Someone has to be the best and the worst, so why shouldn’t your character fit the bill?

Indeed, establishing an extraordinary characteristic can add to both characterization and plot development. For example, maybe your main character is the number one figure skater in the world, and as a result is the target of a conspiracy perpetrated by the girl in the number-two slot.

Be creative!

Characterization can be lots of fun if you think of it from the perspective of a creator. You have the power to cut and mold this character from whatever cloth strikes your fancy, so let your imagination run wild.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2017 11:02 pm

    I told my kids we’d play after I found what I needde. Damnit.

  2. August 30, 2017 6:31 am

    Frig si sex astea-s amintirile :)). Frig fiindca am fost la o nunta in noiembrie si numai faptul ca m-am imbatat m-a salvat de la inghet, iar sex fiindca nevasta mea a facut practica din anul II de facultate acolo si am venit si eu. Aveam 19-20 de ani si a fost si cald si ocazie nesperata sa ne tavalim dezgoliti prin nisip :P. Asadar dap, imi place litoralul romanesc! 😀


  1. flinging « Sam Tamlyn
  2. flinging 3 « Sam Tamlyn

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