I’ve been looking at some of my old work from when I was a creative writing student and I wonder how I ever passed a class. Although I liked some of the ideas I threw around back then, there is little character development in the narrative. Characters are described in terms of hair colour and height, but are not given the life they need for us to care about what happens to them. Shame on me, my characters were dead, limp little marionettes that only moved in one direction – when the narrator said so…
The craft of writing true characters in fiction lies in giving them action and dialogue. These are the things that life is made of and as with real life must be the foundation of character. Physical appearance may facilitate insight into a character, for instance, some overly groomed might be vain or insecure. Someone tall might slouch or sit on the end of a desk to be eye to eye with someone, but a list of adjectives is by no means enough for us as readers to invest the emotional attachment required to keep going.
Try this: Write a scene using no physical characteristics to describe a character or characters. Give them movement, dialogue, reactions, but don’t tells us what they look like. How much depth do you get from what it is they say and do?
Writing Prompt: Show, don’t tell