Character versus characteristics

How do you describe your characters?

‘Susie is a kind generous mother of five!’

‘Dan is stocky and short.’

...I’d continue but I’ve fallen asleep.

These are characteristics. Story is about character.

Do you read a book or watch a movie to see how tall or nice the protagonist is? 

You want to see what the protagonist does when faced with a crises.

Push the protagonist to - and over - their limits and see what they do. And by doing so, you reveal their true character.

So, Susie is kind and generous. Why is she kind and generous? Is she desperate for people to like her? How does she behave if someone doesn’t like her? What actions does she take to be nice to someone she despises?

Why is she desperate to be liked? Did she have a lonely childhood? Was she the odd girl with no friends? Is she repressing her true self so she’ll fit in?

Now Susie is more complex, whose true character can be revealed by the actions she takes.

So, Dan is short? Is he comfortable in his own skin? Does he let insults about his height slide right off? What’s the one thing that makes him turn around and deck a guy? Why did it trigger him? Or was it the usual insult? But today, Dan just snapped. Why? Why today? What are the consequences for Dan for hitting someone?

Always ask why. Dig deep and then deeper to discover who you’re writing about.

‘Susie hides her loneliness and shame by being everyone’s friend.’

‘Dan’s easy manner hides a short temper that gets the normally chilled Dan into big trouble.’

Now I’m interested in these characters. Because they have character.

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