Characters In Novels: Use Shorthand To Characterize Them

Characters In Novels: Use Shorthand To Characterize Them

We’ve all had the problem: how do you make fictional characters seem real? Characters in novels aren’t real people, but when they come alive in your story, they seem real. There’s an easy way to get that effect.

Consider the people you know. How do you think about them?

Let’s say someone mentions a person you haven’t thought of in years. You think:

  • That’s the older guy with the scruffy six-day beard; or
  • She’s confident — always quick to smile, wears nice clothes; or
  • He’s a grabby sleaze; or
  • He’s always talking about cars…

As soon as you think of someone, whether you know them well or not, you have a mental image of them: a visual and verbal shorthand.

I started writing a new novel a couple of days ago. This morning, I had a bunch of character names, ages and occupations. I had a mental image of each of them, and it was time to write down their primary traits.

Forget your characters’ bios, think about their traits

Some writers like to write character bios. I’ve never been able to do that. If it works for you, that’s great. It just doesn’t work for me. I need to see the characters in action. People are defined by what they do, so after I’ve established a character, I think about his primary traits.

Here’s a list of character traits to start you thinking about traits. Chances are good that even if you’ve only written a few thousand words of your novel, you know what your characters are like. Write down your impressions, now. Then as you write, you can show that she’s confident, or that he’s grabby, or whatever.

Before long, your characters will seem real to you, and they’ll be real to your readers too.

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Updated: February 13, 2017

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Angela Booth is a top copywriter, multi-published author, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills on her websites. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her business books have been widely published.