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"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What's in a Character? Part One

Developing a well-rounded character can be a challenge. Though I’m no expert, this is what I’ve noticed is needed for a recipe of good characterization: dialogue, actions, thoughts, and emotions.

While I’m separating these four factors into their own category, each is intertied and can’t, or at least, shouldn’t exist without the others. Originally I was going to post this article as one entry, but it became too long and unwieldy. So I’m separating it into two parts:

Part 1 -- dialogue, actions, thoughts

Part 2 -- emotions

Now on to the first part!


Dialogue helps define your characters’ personality. How they talk clues us in to a lot of details -- a general location of where they may have grown up, how educated they may be, what they’re feeling, and so on.

Each character should have a distinct talking pattern. As we all know, a person growing up in Ireland sounds different than a person who was raised in the States. Even within one country, though, there are so many different dialects associated with geography and socio-economics.


I’m not talking about fight scenes. Any movement or action that places our character in the world outside her mind is enough to fulfill the criteria. We need action in our stories to ground the character in her surroundings.

Otherwise, every scene might as well just take place in a giant white room. Setting the mood and tone with the character’s surroundings is a beneficial tool in characterization. I go more into this below in the Thoughts section, so read on!


Thoughts are a front seat to the character, as they illuminate emotions and what the character plans to do next. The downfall with thoughts, though, is when a writer stays too long in a character’s mind without letting the reader see the fictional outside world.

To avoid this, we need to add in some kind of movement or action. Have the character notice and interact with his surroundings in a way that reflects his mood. If he’s happy, he might notice and admire the bright sky while walking outside. If angry, the same bright sky may annoy the heck out of him. Or you may choose to echo his mood with black clouds roiling overhead. Also, if the character isn’t alone, have him strike up dialogue.

Do you have any ‘favorite tricks of the trade when it comes to weaving in dialogue, actions, or thoughts to character development? If so, share them here!

Please join us for the next part, which I will have up sometime later this week.


Kary said...

Great Post. Very helpful and well thought out. Thanks, Lisa.

BTGNeditors said...

Great practical advice for building a terrific story.

Lisa Kumar said...

Thanks, Kary and Jenni and/or Carolyn (BTGNeditors)!

I'm glad if the post can help even one person.

jennajaxon said...

I don't know if this works or not, but no one has highlighted it in my chapters. I try a lot of times to combine dialogue with action. I come from a theatre background and as a director I have to give the actors something to do while they are saying their lines. I found myself doing the same thing with my characters--almost as though I am directing them. So when they say a line of dialogue like, "Honey, I'm home." I tie it to action/ movement. "Honey, I'm home." John flipped his keys into the little metal dish on the desk and set his briefcase on the floor out of the way.

I guess I try to use this instead of dialogue tags.

Great post, Lisa. Looking forward to the next one.

Lisa Kumar said...

Thanks for your comment, Jenna! I forgot to mention action tags. They definitely do work. Lol, most everyone I've critiqued as seen me write, "Use action tags, not dialogue tags."

Lisa Kumar said...

*has--sorry, I should check my comments more carefully before sending them off.