5 Easy Techniques to Bulk Up a Paper-Thin Character

by | Writing | 7 comments

“[An] error of inexperienced writers—or journalists in a hurry—is to confine characterization to the obvious physical attributes.” —Sol Stein

image by OpenClipartVectors

image by OpenClipartVectors

Let’s build a character. I based the 5 easy techniques on Sol Stein’s suggestions in Stein on Writing.

Let’s say we want to introduce the father of our heroine. Telling readers he’s an angry brute gives him a description that’s as flat as the paper we write on.

The Scene. In a diner, the heroine sits beside the hero in a booth facing the door. The heroine’s father enters the diner, intending to drag his twenty-year-old daughter home.

image by skeeze

image by skeeze

Building Block 1: Describe the character through his actions and dialogue.

Dad burst through the diner door like an avalanche.

Building Block 2: Employ Exaggeration

Dad burst through the diner door like an avalanche carrying along a mountain of boulders.

 

angry-774029_1280Building Block 3: Compare the character to a known quality or quantity.

Dad burst through the diner door like an avalanche carrying along a mountain of boulders. His red Angry Bird face whipped left and right until he located us in the last booth.

 

Building Block 4: Characterize the character with a word or phrase— instead of excess details.

UntitledDad burst through the diner door like an avalanche carrying along a mountain of boulders. His red Angry Bird face whipped left and right until he located us in the last booth. I grabbed Andy’s hand beneath the table, as Dad, the wart that no cutting, freezing, or caustic liquid could remove from my existence, barreled toward us.

Building Block 5: Give the character physical or psychological behavior that offers a sense of personality.

image by ClkeFreeVectorImages

image by ClkeFreeVectorImages

Dad burst through the diner door like an avalanche carrying along a mountain of boulders. His red Angry Bird face whipped left and right until he located us in the last booth. I grabbed Andy’s hand beneath the table, as Dad, the wart that no cutting, freezing, or caustic liquid could remove from my existence, barreled toward us. He drew on his habitual sneer, displaying his left-side teeth from his canine to his first molar—the sneer whose purpose I always thought was to let out steam.

 

Hopefully, we brought the angry brute to life.

Replace flat character descriptions with these life-building techniques. Click to tweet.

How would you use one of these suggestions to characterize an ex-boyfriend who shows up?

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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7 Comments

  1. Voni Harris

    Awesome! Just received beta reader commments about my flat detective character. Problem solved now. 🙂

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      You made my day, Voni. I always hope my posts will help someone. Have fun using these techniques on that detective.

  2. marilyn leach

    Thanks, Zoey. It just so happens I’m teaching a class next month on building characters and this will help. Cheers

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Great, Marilyn. It has certainly helped me build a secondary character I just introduced in my wip.

  3. Marcia

    Wow! Will post this one.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Glad it interested you, Marcia.

  4. Jane Foard Thompson

    I hope I never encounter that guy! He’s so real he’s scary!

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