Would you like to know how to show characters to your readers instead of telling your readers about them?

When introducing characters, it’s easy to label them as beautiful or fashionable, handsome or smart. That is Telling. So, how do we Show characters?

Here is something we can both agree on; Showing draws your readers into your story, allowing your readers to form their own conclusions. Showing dramatizes your story, making it unique and memorable. 

Suppose you want to write fabulous characters. Characters your readers fall in love with. Then learning the art of showing is essential. Showing is the magic that breathes life into your characters.

We are going to reveal 5 secrets about how to show characters.

Tip #1: Where Your Character Lives

Describe where your character lives: a home in the suburbs, an apartment, or a castle. Whether it’s grandeur or squalor, it will give your readers information about your characters without labeling them (telling).

Take the time to describe the palatial mansion: the antiques, the Rembrandt on the wall, the cathedral ceilings, and the elegant staircase.

If it is a poor apartment, describe the used furniture and the chipped Formica table. Is the living room filled with sports regalia, books, family photos, or abstract art? Are the rooms messy or orderly? Each of these details will give your character depth.

Hint: go to real estate websites to get ideas.
The small details will paint a vivid picture.

Whatever you use to convey your character’s personality and station in life, be specific. Let your characters be observant of their surroundings.

Consider using dialogue. Have your character tell about the place where they were born. Include how they feel about that place.

Remember, tiny details are what give energy to your word pictures.

Example: The hot wind was filled with sand and gray soot from the train’s smokestack. The wheels groaned a monotonous click-clack. The whistle occasionally wailed as the reds and oranges of the desert slipped past. No trees. Nothing like Virginia, which was filled with trees and the sweet smell of pine. I sat on a hot, sticky, hard leather seat, wondering if I was crazy to leave home for this man.

What is revealed about the character through this description of the setting?

Describe your setting in vivid detail. By visualizing your setting, your reader will gain insights into your characters.

show character clothes

Tip #2 Show Characters by the Clothes They Wear.

What a character wears often tells us about their situation in life. Expensive clothes will indicate an extravagant lifestyle. Sloppy clothes will show a lazy character.

Clothes can also reveal personality.

  • Is he tailored and well-groomed?
  • Does he wear jeans and cowboy boots?
  • Does he wear a hat to cover his bald spot?
  • Is she prim and proper, wearing dresses?
  • Always in a business suit.
  • Maybe she is a shorts and bulky T-shirt type of girl. What does the T-shirt say? (Save the trees, I have attitude, believe in your dreams, Hello Kitty)

Use colors to help show characters.

Even the colors they wear give your readers clues about your character’s personality. Characters who wear red or black want to be noticed. Blues and browns are more subtle colors, more down to earth. Yellows and oranges indicate a more flamboyant personality.

What kind of jewelry do they wear?

  • Do they wear a Rolex,
  • A locket,
  • Cheap plastic bracelets,
  • Her mother’s brooch.
  • What kind of rings are on their fingers?
  • Do they wear too much jewelry or none at all?

Each item reveals something to your reader without telling.

Example: Jesse tipped his black Stetson politely. He avidly watched JoAnn in her new blue gingham dress and lacy white apron. A large white bow held up her blond curls. Jesse’s boots were loud as he crossed the wooden floor, following the fragrance of rosewater JoAnn had splashed on earlier.

Give us details. Describe their clothes: colors, textures, and smells.
show character bicycle

Tip #3 How Does Transportation Show Characters?

Transportation is partly determined by time and place. Other details are determined by their personality and station in life.

In modern times the character’s choice might be a Harley Davison motorcycle or a red Porsche. Maybe a junk car with holes in the floorboards and squeaky doors.

In the past, it might be a fancy carriage with a matched team of appaloosa horses, a bicycle, a stagecoach, or a beautiful black Arabian stallion. Maybe they drive a chariot with red wheels and a bronze shield.

Whatever option you choose will help define your character.

Do some research to create an accurate and detailed word picture.

Example: Alice Richards had tactfully asked her husband, Herbert, for a blue one with a wicker basket. She was pleased with the newfangled safety bicycle, designed to accommodate her ankle-length skirts.

As a suffragette, Alice felt obligated to encourage women to use the newest “freedom machine.” In fact, riding her bicycle gave her an exhilarating sense of independence and self-reliance. Besides, it was good for her health.

Can you see how you can show characters by the things they wear and use?
what in wallet

Tip #4 Show Characters by What They Own.

The things your characters use every day can SHOW your character’s personality. Consider what kinds of belongings your character carries with them: in their purse or in their pockets. Choose things that demonstrate specific character traits.

Example: In the opening scenes of the film Big Chill we watch the main characters unpack their bags. They are there for a weekend trip to a mutual friend’s funeral. One character has packed enough pills to fill a drugstore; another packed a calculator; still, another has several packages of condoms. So, you see, before a word is spoken, before we know anyone’s name, we see glimpses of the characters through the objects they brought with them.

Here’s an exercise you might try. Make a list of what your character might pack for a weekend trip. What kind of suitcase would they put it in?

Another exercise: write your character’s last will and testament. What would your character bequeath to the other characters in your story?

What else can you show about your character? Do they own a weapon? Describe the weapon in detail. Show how they carry their weapons: shoulder holsters, hunting knives in their boot, or a double-edged sword over their back. How proficient are they with their weapon of choice? Your details should include dimensions, color, texture, sounds, and smells.

Ask yourself: What kind of purse does she carry: a sleek, expensive designer bag or a large brown satchel? What kind of things are found in her purse: cosmetics, nail polish, emergency things: a taser, a flashlight, a sewing kit, or an asthma inhaler? Maybe she carries diapers and toys.

Don’t forget to think about What kind of electronic gadgets they use? Do they own the latest tablet, iPhone, or computer? Do they carry pictures of family or friends in their wallets? Maybe they carry a unique keychain?

Showing should be sensory-driven.

Explain how your characters feel about the things they own or observe. Showing requires the author’s imagination and demonstrates the author’s unique voice.

The reader draws their own conclusions about your characters because of the things you describe in their lives.

Example: Ted pulled a tattered backpack from the closet. Flipping it upside down, the contents tumbled onto the flowered bedspread. The whiff of her perfume brought tears to his eyes. His gaze drifted to the gold frame holding her picture, and the deep ache returned.

Showing instead of telling will give your readers a richer, more gratifying experience.

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About Creating an Interactive Setting

Tip #4 Show Characters by Their Actions

Expand the Moment

This is another important point about showing characters. Use Actions to SHOW your characters.

Whenever possible, set your character in motion. Be as specific as possible. For your reader to feel a part of your fictional world, you need to break generic activities into smaller, more precise parts.

Some writers call this freezing (or capturing) the moment. We like to call it expanding the moment because you are taking one moment and showing your reader many specific parts of that moment.

Besides providing visual images for the reader, showing specific actions also suggests the personality of your character, their habits, and even the emotion hidden beneath the physical details.

While we’re at it, repetitious mannerisms and gestures are a great way to show characters.

Consider these ideas:

  • Always in a hurry
  • Tugs at ear
  • Paces back and forth when thinking
  • Calculates on fingers
  • Always chewing gum
  • Sneezes when nervous

To create characters of flesh and blood, your readers need to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste the things your character interacts with.

Techniques abound for describing your characters indirectly. We hope you will find places to use all five tips to develop your characters. These tips have worked for us. So, give it a go. Your readers are waiting.

Here Are the Points to Remember

point to remember

Tip # 1 Where does your character live?

Tip # 2 What clothes do they wear?

Tip # 3 What is their transportation?

Tip # 4 What do they own?

Tip # 5 What do their action show?

With practice and imagination, you can become masterful at creating characters your readers will love.

Try it for yourself, and let us know how it works for you.

Tell us if this post has been helpful.

Leave a comment. We would love to chat.

Can you think of other things that might reveal the personality of your characters?

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Happy Writing

John & Patty @writingagreatbook.com 2023

For more ideas about how to show characters, See:
how-to-show-character
Also, see our post:sensational-protagonists-5-awesome-secretes/

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