Whether real or fantasy, human or animal, characters are part of every story. That’s why it’s very important for your words to breathe life into them. It’s up to you to make sure they are perceived as real by your readers, but how is this done?
You can always resort to a third-person narrator in order to describe your characters, but that’s not enough sometimes. If you want to create lively characters, there are six more effective ways to do so without using a narrator. Let’s analyze them one by one:
1. What do your characters think?
A character’s thoughts and emotions provide readers with a lot details about him or her. What happens inside a character’s head can be very revealing – especially if it contradicts what s/he says and does.
2. What do your characters say?
As the saying goes, “Loose lips sink ships.” The way your characters speak and the things they say can be a great source of information.
3. What do your characters do?
Even if the narrator (or the protagonist himself/herself) tells you s/he is brave, your readers won’t believe it if that’s not shown through his/her actions.
4. Which are their virtues and shortcomings?
The characters in a story have features that make them unique. Maybe they blush easily, always wear loud colors, or are constantly looking at their pocket watch. For example, in the film Amélie, Nino collects discarded photographs from photo booths. We don’t know much else about him, but his peculiar pastime gives us hints about his personality.
5. What’s their name?
A character’s name or nickname can reflect aspects of his/her personality. How you name your characters is a key decision as it helps you define their features and the role they play in the story.
6. What do other characters think about them?
Your readers must be informed about the relationship between your characters. For instance, in the film The Searchers, the character played by John Wayne doesn’t say much about himself, and his actions only reveal that he’s a hard and bitter man.
Your readers must be informed about the relationships between your characters. For instance, in the film The Searchers, the character played by John Wayne doesn’t say much about himself, and his actions only reveal that he’s a hard and bitter man. As a consequence, it’s through what other characters say about him and through his own interactions with them that we gather information about this character.
In this way, we discover that he has a muddy past, he’s killed other men, he’s in love with his brother’s wife, and in spite of his roughness, he’s a vulnerable person (we can figure this out from his relationship with his nieces and his sister-in-law). If you stop and think about it, these six points can also help us define our own relatives, friends, and acquaintances. After all, fiction is a representation of reality!