3. Props and Appearance
Props can tell a lot about a character. Think of your immediate reaction to characters wearing a feather boa, sweat pants, a cowboy hat or expensive jewelry. Your readers will have a different emotional response between a character with a tattoo and one with a cane. Use that response to create characters that come alive.
“Ahead, teetering along the dark sidewalk on stiletto heels, her beehive hair swaying, her small round hips churning, her arms hugging two grocery bags, was Bernadette Mansaw, seventeen-year-old legend.”
There’s no doubt about what kind of person Mary McGarry Morris had in mind when she created Bernadette Mansaw in Songs in Ordinary Time.
4. Speech Patterns
What your characters say and how they say it are important threads in the fabric of your character. Run-on sentences, tight wording, polysyllabic words, colloquialisms, or stuttering and pauses distinguish one character from another without author intrusion. Mark Twain endowed Tom Sawyer with speech that would illustrate his education level, his social class and his sense of mischief.
“Confound it! Sometimes she sews it with white, and sometimes she sews it with black. I wish to geeminy she’d stick to one or t’other — I can’t keep the run of ’em. But I bet you I’ll lam Sid for that. I’ll learn him!”
5. Sensory Information
Using sensory information is often the characterization method most overlooked. The sound of clicking dentures, the smell of aftershave and the feel of a limp handshake are all effective characterization tools.
“Jenny wandered through the crowd, hiding behind a cloud of perfume.”
What do we know about Jenny? She’s shy and forcing herself to mingle. As a means of disguising her fear, she wears too much perfume.
“The fresh aroma of cut lumber clung to him like sawdust.”
Would we expect to see this character in an expensive French restaurant? Probably not, and now the author doesn’t have to tell that information.
You know your characters. Now, make sure they are as interesting to your readers as they are to you.
Don’t describe your characters. Let them come alive by weaving their characterization through actions and use physical habits, speech patterns, props and sensory information to make them memorable. Your characters will emerge like the pattern in a loom.
Ruth Kohut is a teacher and Vice Principal in Ontario. She has written two novels as well as several articles which have appeared in Learning and Leading with Technology, Canadian Writer’s Journal, ETFO Voice and a Writer’s Choice Literary Journal.