Writing Characters: Descriptors vs. Essence
Many writers know that character description is essential to any story. However, many of those same writers find themselves unclear about how to get their audience to “buy in” to the vision of the characters that they know so well in their heads. So what’s a writer to do? Let’s take a quick look at two critical ways that a writer must communicate details about their characters to their audience.
But before we get started, let’s establish what character could be: any noun. Yep, a character can be a person, place, thing, or idea. This is both a profound and integral understanding for writers to make. Too many times, we neglect to give our characters their due—in particular because we assume that characters are only people. The fact of the matter is that sometimes our setting in the story can become a character as well. So, now that we know what character could be, let’s talk about how to make them come alive for your audience.
These are the details that are typical, familiar, and often solely relied upon by writers to convey characters to their audience. For example:
“Evangeline was tall for her age. At seven, she had already reached the height of five feet and four inches. The long, thick brown braid that hung down her back seemed to echo the impressiveness of her stature.”
In this example, the audience is told that a seven year old girl is tall for her age, her exact height is given, and she’s got long, thick brown hair, which happens to be braided. Fantastic. The audience can begin to visualize Evangeline. But for the audience to see what you see in your character and feel how you feel about your character, relying upon descriptors alone is not enough. As a writer, it is your job to make sure that the reader doesn’t have to fill in the blanks in terms of your vision. Your reader is not inside of your head and can never be without your invitation. So, let’s see how we can invite the reader in!
These are the details that many writers omit. When you include the essence of a character, you include thought, feeling, action, and response. These are the things that define the core characteristics that make a character a character. Let’s take the previous example and tweak it just a bit.
“Evangeline was tall for her age. At seven, she had already reached the height of five feet and four inches. The long, thick brown braid that hung down her back seemed to echo the impressiveness of her stature. I’m a tower to them, she thought. But they still look down on me. She frowned and slumped further in her seat.”
Now we get a sense of Evangeline. We can feel her frustration and sadness. We can see her more clearly because we see through her eyes.
The next time you are describing a character, don’t forget to ask yourself: Who is my character? Then by all means, show us!
Exercise Option: write 150 word paragraph that tells the reader about the person pictured above. How would the character feel about love? Be sure to use both descriptors and essence. Send us your exercise by 2.10.18 and we just might post it on our website in time for Valentine's Day!