Guest Post: Using Direct And Indirect Characterization To Make Characters Seem Real, by Writer’s Relief

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Even the best story will fall flat without spot-on character development. At Writer’s Relief, we know that good characterization is vital to a short story or novel. But bringing a character to life may sometimes seem complicated—what writing techniques should you use? Both direct and indirect characterization will make your characters seem more real. Here’s how to use characterization to help breathe life into your characters and move your plot forward.

How To Use Direct And Indirect Characterization

5 Writing Tips For Using Direct Characterization

Direct characterization is a very straightforward method of developing your character. You tell readers what they need to know about the character by describing specific attributes, routines, and desires. This method of characterization can be extremely useful for introducing a new character and making sure they take root in your readers’ minds. To use direct characterization in your writing, answer these questions:

What are your character’s physical attributes? Physical attributes—hair and eye color, height and body size, any scars or tattoos—will help readers to create a picture of your character. The more unique, the better! You can also include details about the character’s fashion sense.

What does your character do? This can provide an important piece of the character’s foundation. Telling readers your character’s job, whether or not they’re good at it, and whether or not they like their work, reveals a lot about who that character is.

What are your character’s hobbies? What does your character like to do with their spare time? This will give readers information about the character’s personality: A character who prefers quiet, intricate puzzles may be more patient and inquisitive, whereas a character who prefers skydiving and hiking may be bolder or perhaps even reckless.

What does your character like and dislike? Opinions and quirks come together to build your character’s worldview. Food preferences, pet peeves, and what they look for in friends are all details that will help round out your character.

What does your character want? By answering this simple question, you begin defining and communicating a character’s motivation. What goal are they working toward? What drives them forward? Understanding a character’s motivation is crucial to building readers’ knowledge of who that character is and what their story will be.

6 Writing Tips For Using Indirect Characterization

Indirect characterization lets readers get to know a character through thoughts, actions, and speech. This type of characterization focuses on how your character interacts with other characters, as well as the world around them. To use indirect characterization in your writing, answer these questions:

How does your character’s voice sound? In narration, thought, and dialogue, it’s important to develop a unique, recognizable voice for your character: Do they tend to use flowery, drawn-out language rife with similes and metaphors, or do they prefer to get straight to the point without mincing words? Does the character have an accent or any defining speech patterns? Whether a character talks a lot or lets others do the talking is also a good personality indicator.

Does your character choose to act or stand aside? Choosing to take initiative is hugely defining for a character, whether it’s during a dangerous situation or simply in day-to-day decisions. Do they confront situations head-on, or do they prefer to stand back and watch as things develop? Is the character a leader or a follower: Would they take charge of their friends or coworkers if necessary?

How does your character react to big events? It’s important to consider how your character will react under pressure or stress. Does your character stay calm or panic when they’re up against a crisis? Is “fight” or “flight” more your character’s M.O. (method of operation)?

How does your character treat other characters? It’s important to show how your character interacts with those socially below them as well as with their equals and superiors.

What are the consequences of your character’s actions? How does your character handle the consequences of their choices and actions? Do their motivations affect their reactions to consequences?

How does your character interpret the story’s setting? It’s important to show readers how the character describes the surroundings. Two characters might describe the same scene totally differently, depending on how observant they are and what they’re feeling at the time.

Both direct characterization and indirect characterization have benefits and drawbacks. For example, using too much direct characterization can make a character feel distanced from the readers, since you are only using superficial descriptions. But using too much indirect characterization can result in your readers struggling to put together a full character arc from a rootless series of actions and reactions. Each character has their own story, and it’s important to use a combination of direct and indirect characterization to create a three-dimensional, full character who will seem real to your readers. Check out this “interview” our experts put together—79 questions to help you discover all you need to know about your characters!

Question: What do you find most challenging about creating a character?

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

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