Writing Lesson 8 – What’s Inside Counts

Creating Unforgettable Characters, Part 2

One goal as a writer is to create characters that become like full-fledged humans living and moving inside your story world or setting. They possess the traits and beliefs expressed by people in everyday life. You don’t want them to appear like cardboard dolls you move around in the story.

In the last lesson, you gave a ‘skin deep’ description. You chose pictures and wrote about the external features of two characters. Today you’ll ‘flesh them out’ with emotions.

Writing exercise

You’ll need a separate page for the male and the female picture you chose. These are your main characters. If you have secondary characters in your book, you might do these same exercises for them.

What is their occupation?

  • Lawyer, Fireman, FBI Agent, Thief, Artist, Musician, Homemaker, Accountant, Pilot, Teacher

Add descriptive adjectives. List 10 characteristics to make the person come alive. You might use traits you see in yourself or a friend. 

  • Think of words like elegant, bossy, creative, harsh, tense, rude, envious, flirt, immature, and self-centered.  
  • If you saved your list of unforgettable characters from Lesson 3, add descriptive adjectives to show what makes them tick. This may help you understand why the inside counts as you recall their distinct personality traits.
  • Start a list of descriptive words to use in the future. I created pages with three columns where I make alphabetical lists of words to describe traits and emotions. It’s a handy reference guide (and a good way to practice your computer spread sheet skills). Add to this list when a word comes to mind that describes a person.
  • Become a people watcher. You’ll have a long list in no time. 

Write several paragraphs that show some traits you listed for your character. Don’t use the words you’ve chosen. Show the reader the way the person acts. Concentrate on his or her speech and actions to convey the traits you gave them. For example, I’ll choose ‘shy’ and ‘nervous’ as traits for my artist named Tracy.

When the gallery owner offered to display her paintings, Tracy stared at the floor and shoved shaky hands into her pockets. Words wouldn’t come. Her mouth tasted like the dry fall leaves skittering along the sidewalk outside his shop.

These simple sentences show the shy, nervous traits without telling us. It creates a word picture of those characteristics. Learning to ‘show rather than tell’ is another important part of developing your writing skills.

In future lessons, we will discuss your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts. This will add more depth to the people you are creating.

About Melinda Evaul

Melinda Evaul is a North Carolina native transplanted to Tennessee. Her contemporary Christian romances give readers a unique view of rural life in both states. Not afraid to tackle tough questions, she writes about people who grow spiritually through the difficulties life tosses in their paths.
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