As writers, we often find ourselves describing and labeling our characters. In other words, “telling” our readers about our characters instead of showing. I know we’ve done this.
There is so much to learn about creative writing. It can feel overwhelming. But showing instead of telling should be at the top of your list of skills you want to learn.
Fortunately, there are some tricks we can show you that will help you show your characters.
Here’s one big secret, you can use your setting, to reveal your characters indirectly. You can literally show your characters to your readers through your setting.
Showing Vs Telling
If you struggle with understanding the difference between showing and telling you’re not alone. This can be a difficult, yet extremely powerful technique to develop.
Is it important?
You bet it is.
I know you’ve heard this advise before. If you want to write fantastic characters. Characters your readers fall in love with. Then learning the art of showing is crucial.
Showing is the magic trick that breathes life and energy into your characters.
If you haven’t learned the skill of showing yet, dig in. We have 8 tricks to help you.
Are you wondering how to do it? We’re going to show you some great ticks in this article.
Here are 8 Tricks you can use to Show Your Characters using your setting.
# 1 Filter your setting through the eyes of your character
# 2 Show your characters by using all the senses
# 3 Use light or whether to set the mood of each scene
# 4 What’s in your Character’s pocket
# 5 Show your characters by their perception of your setting
#6 Let your character’s interactions reveal personality
#7 Show your characters with dialogue about your setting
#8 The well-dressed setting
Well let’s get started. These 8 tricks may change how your write.
It’s important for your reader to get to know your point of view character. Showing your character instead of telling, allows your reader to connect with your fictional characters.
Showing requires concrete, vivid details. The details keeps your reader actively involved with your characters.
In addition, it allows your reader to draw their own conclusions about your characters. That is the real purpose of showing.
You want to transport your reader into the moment. You accomplish this by letting your reader experience what your character is experiencing.
Guess what, It’s the details that will make this happen.
- Is he sweating from the heat?
- Is she wearing a coat because it’s cold?
- Are they drinking champagne or ginger ale?
- Where do they like to eat at the local bar or a fancy restaurant?
- Do they live in a mansion or a small apartment?
- Does he like dogs?
- Is she allergic to cats?
Each detail will tell your readers something about your character.
That’s not all. Often it’s your character’s opinion about the things in your setting that really captures a reader’s interest. But for your character to have an opinion, you must include the details as part of your setting.
Therefore, include details in your setting for your character to have an opinion about. In that indirect way your reader will learn specific details about your character.
Your character’s perceptions (and your readers’) will be influenced by all your characters senses. This tip is especially useful when editing your stories.
See our article: Become a self Editing Expert
In each scene consider what sensory descriptions can be added. In order to make this simpler we have created a checklist of all the things you need to include in your setting, Download our checklist for creating an interactive setting.
Put yourself in your character’s place. What do they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? How can you add these details?
Adding sensory details is part of the fun of editing. It is also an intriguing challenge.
Of course, what your character sees tells your reader a great deal about your character. We talk about that more in tip #5.
But let me stop and stress the other senses and how important they are if you want to show your character.
Smells especially can evoke memories. Different aromas trigger specific feelings.
- The pungent smell of fresh mowed grass
- Sweet scented meadow
- The stench of a rotting corpse
- The aroma of fresh baked bread
In addition, touch may evoke an emotional response.
- The silkiness of a bunny’s fur
- A soft breeze on her face
- The roughness of rocks on bare feet
- Rain pelting his cheeks
That’s not all, sounds can affect your characters in many ways.
- The whistle of a falling bomb is frightening
- The clicking of a clock may be annoying
- A chirping chickadee might delight your character
- The throbbing beat of a drum makes Jane want to dance
Taste can show characters too.
John and I think taste is the most difficult element to incorporate into our settings. But it can show your character in a very effective way.
What do they like to eat? What do they refuse to eat? Why? How does your character’s background effect their feelings about food?
- The juices dripped from the corner of Julie’s mouth as she bit into the bright red Apple.
- His mouth burned from the fiery jalapeno peppers.
- His mother always cooked him home made raviolis when he came home from a trip.
Each of the senses you include, adds to the whole picture and gives your reader insights into your characters.
Did you know showing can make a book even better than a movie?
Because the theater in a reader’s mind is powerful. Readers can creates their own visual images.
Does that thought inspire your?
Here’s the best part, every scene presents you with the opportunity to demonstrate your character’s emotional responses to your setting.
Allow your audience to feel your setting from the character’s point of view. How does the setting affect your character’s mood?
It is fascinating to me, but everyone reacts to light and dark. Sunny whether makes us feel good. Darkness is ominous. Use this to help your reader feel your character’s emotions and be pulled into the scene.
Dark settings create a darker mood of sadness, fear, or impending danger.
Similarly, lighter, sunny settings brings hope, happiness, or maybe even love.
I usually close my eyes and think about what I want my reader to feel. Once you get the feeling you want, let those feelings flow through you and into your words. In this way you will create an irresistible setting.
Do you get the idea? You can use your setting to manipulate your character’s mood and maybe even suggest upcoming events.
Readers don’t want to be told your character is happy or sad they want to feel it.
For more Ideas on creating mood with your setting See:
# 4 What’s in your Characters Pocket?
Do you want to know another trick? This trick is not so obvious. But it is one of the easiest ways to show a character.
What would you find in your character’s wallet or purse? Have you ever considered rummaging around in your fictional character’s top draw? What would you find?
Each item a character owns can show your reader a little more about that character.
- Does he own the most up to date electronic gadgets?
- Is she constantly checking off a list?
Telling simply supplies the reader with information. Showing paints, a more vivid picture of your character, allowing your reader to better visualize them.
- Instead of saying he’s rich. Mention he’s wearing a Rolex watch or diamond stick pin..
- As An Alternative to saying she loves to travel, let her show photos of exotic places in her wallet or on her walls.
- As a way of saying she’s fearful have her take a container of mace from her purse or maybe even a small gun.
- Another way to show he’s athletic is to have him carry a gym bag.
- Instead of saying she has children let her take something sticky with peanut butter out of her purse.
Can you see how your setting can actually show your character to your reader? This is one of many little hidden secrets that will make you a better writer. And we all want to become better writers.
Check out: princeton.edu/whats-in-your-wallet for an interesting project.
Each character has a different background. Past experiences (even fictional past experiences) will influence how they view each setting you create.
The characters previous history, current hobbies, even their occupations will all impact how they react to the present setting.
Each of your characters will see objects in the setting differently. Look at the people around you. Have you ever noticed how they see things differently?
I used to work for carpet company. Every place we went, I looked down to check out the flooring. Later, when we owned a lighting company I was always looking up at the lights. John and I both liked looking up.
Consider your own experience. What things do you notice first? Why? Now, think how you can create a setting to show your character’s past.
This type of showing lets your readers in on your characters fears, secrets or dreams without telling. You can reveal their inner lives, experiences and current interests in an emotional way.
Put your character in a new situation. Maybe an uncomfortable situation. What do they look at? How do the objects in their surroundings make them feel? Is there something that brings back a memory?
But that’s not all, this type of showing creates a magical bond with your reader and pulls them into your scenes. It forces your reader to interpret what is happening in your character’s inner life. Instead of being told what is happening.
Can you see yourself using these ideas?
Before you leave this post take the opportunity to download an extensive list of websites categorized by the type of setting you are trying to create: Websites to Research Settings
#6 Let your Character’s Interactions with the Setting Reveal their Personality.
Have you ever wished for a simple way to show personality? Well here it is in a quick and easy formula.
Show Fun-Loving Characters
Fun-loving characters use delightfully positive dialogue. This makes their dialogue full of praise for their surroundings. They stop to smell the roses and want to touch everything. This type of character sees the beauty in the world around them. Their dialogue will include comments about loveliness, wonderment, and awe.
They are curious about both things and people. But the interesting thing is; they will pick up objects, inspect them and quickly put them back, no longer interested.
A fun-loving personality makes it easy to show your setting in many sensory ways.
Fun loving personalities notice the sensory elements of their surroundings.
They love music and dancing. Colors are important to them. Because of this it is easy to let your character notice colors in your setting.
They are often disorganized. Their living space will be messy. They are simply too busy having fun, to clean up.
If you want your character to be fun loving, dress them in bright colors, yellow, orange, or red. Add jewelry. This personality wants to be noticed.
This personality notices the dimensions of things (the height or weight). The size and shape of objects will fascinate them. They are specific. (The hallway is 30 feet long. Or She could not have weighed more than 110 pounds) Their dialogue may include criticism of their surroundings. Keep in mind, they are curious. They will examine things in your setting, to see how they work, not to admire them.
They have a scientific way of thinking.
Their living space is neat and uncluttered. Everything perfectly in its place. They may become anxious if things are not perfect.
Analyzers love charts, graphs and numbers. Include these in your setting to show your character is analytical. They enjoy art music, and poetry. Analyzers like their world to be systematic. So, let your analytical character notice the small details, in your setting, details, others may miss.
Dress the analyzer in brown, gray, or blue. They don’t like to be noticed. They are watchers and observers.
This personality is very observant. They especially look for things that might be useful to manipulate others. Because of this they will notice things like awards and trophies. With this intention, power-broker will sweep the room with his/her eyes and see everything all at once.
They make quick (generally accurate) judgments.
Another point, they expect others to maintain their surroundings in good order. This personality becomes very critical, if things are out of place, or if they can’t find what they want, quickly.
The power-broker likes bold colors and fast vehicles. (Red sports cars) They wear black, red, gold, or purple. In the hope of appearing taller they might wear boots or very high heels. They fill their world with good quality possessions.
Only the best is good enough for a power-broker.
If you want your character to exude power, include things in your setting that demonstrate this personality.
Show a Peaceful Character
A peaceful personality won’t notice much about the setting. They will be indifferent to both people and things. Their living space will often be messy, simply because they don’t want to be bothered.
In some ways this subdued personality is difficult to write. It is often more about what is not said that creates this personality in fiction.
A peaceful personality enjoys quietly watching from the background.
They dress in plain, dull colors. They often speak in unemotional, practical terms. Other characters may consider them shy. They rarely speak first in a conversation.
The things they own will be plain, simple, and functional.
#7 Use Dialogue to show your characters
Now, let’s explore another idea.
To develop a believable setting, you must either research the details, or make them up. Then let your characters give important information about your setting as they talk to each other.
They can tell about the geography, the history, or current events.
Research is essential to create dialogue that feels right for the setting. Don’t forget to Download our list of websites for researching settings.
The words people use have changed throughout history. An eighteenth-century character would not say “that’s cool.” It is important to be sure to create dialogue the fits your setting’s time and place.
Whenever, you encounter dialogue in a scene you’re reading a scene that is shown. So, when in doubt, put the information into dialogue. That way you will know you are showing.
Remember to use words that provoke emotions in your characters. See our list of Active Verbs 400 active verbs all categorized for your use.
Do you think this is something that might improve your story? Tell us in comments.
#8 The Well-Dressed Setting
One purpose of the well-dressed setting is to provide your readers with clues about your characters. You want to include things in the background of your story to show the nature of your characters.
Think about features you can add to your setting that will give your readers insights about your characters. You don’t need to know everything immediately. Showing is a skill that can be learned with practice.
- The objects your character owns
- How they dress
- The vehicles they choose
- The place they live
- Show your character’s personality
- Use light and darkness to set the mood
- What they notice
- The things they admire or criticize
Are you ready to do this? That’s all that really matters. Trust me, you’ll be glad to add these skills to your writing.
You can give your audience hints about your character’s personality.
Or maybe you can create a fictional world that illustrates your character’s disposition and background.
We hope our article will stimulate your thinking. You now have the tools to unleash the characters you can imagine.
With practice you can master the art of showing.
Let your imagination guide you.
We hope these tricks will inspire you to add details to your setting. Details which will help your readers understand your characters better. Don’t forget to Grab your bonus: Info graphic- A check list for an interactive setting.
John & Patty
Tell us how you have used your setting to describe a character?
We invite your comments.
Try our check list. Let us know if it has been helpful.
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