It’s not enough just to invent a character. You have to breathe life into that imaginary person. Here are five ways you can do this – and how to show your readers you’ve done your homework.
- Physical Appearance – what does your character actually look like?
- Mannerisms – how does your character act and behave? What gestures does he use habitually? How does she walk?
- Speech – Does your character use long or short words? Simple or complex sentences? What quirks of speech do they use?
- Belongings – What do your character’s possessions say about them? What things does she treasure? What things can’t he live without?
- Spaces – what is your character’s house like? Their bedroom? Workspace? How do these spaces show your character’s personality?
Now, how do you impart this information to your readers without boring paragraphs of description? Remember to show, not tell.
Here’s an example – let’s say we’ve got our heroine, Sandy Shores, who’s a quirky lifeguard with a secret dislike of children.
We could tell about her:
Sandy Shores was a tall green-eyed redhead who strode the beach with a possessive eye. It was her stretch of sand, after all: hers to guard and keep safe for the tourists and their rugrats. She twirled her battered whistle – a keepsake from her father’s days as a high school football coach – as she patrolled. She spotted a stray bit of litter and pounced. Blasted kids and their candy bars. Why didn’t their parents teach them to throw their garbage away properly?
However, it’s much more effective to show – and drop in your background tidbits as you go:
“Patrolling your beach again, Sandy?”
Sandy Shores turned eyes green as the sea on Officer Law. “Laugh if you want, Doug, but these people are on my sand. They’re mine to guard.”
“Even the dreaded house apes, eh?”
Sandy shuddered, watching a particularly sticky urchin toddle across the beach, holding a dripping ice cream cone. “Somebody has to keep the brats safe, yes.”
Officer Law laughed, his eyes on the battered whistle in her fist. “Why don’t you get yourself a new one, anyhow? That one looks like it’s on its last legs.”
Sandy closed her fist protectively. “It was my father’s.”
See the difference? Now, you try it – you don’t have to put everything about your character into the first scene, but drop bits and pieces of their life into your story to make them more believable.