Artists draw pictures with ink, or paint, or pencil; but writers are challenged to draw pictures of their characters using words alone. What does the character look like? What are his/her personality traits, habits, shortcomings, strengths or idiosyncrasies? The secret lies in outlining their characters in detail, then introducing them slowly, through description and action. Some helpful tips include:
1. Develop a Character Chart
The first step is to create a Character Chart outlining everything you know about your character. Many examples of Character Charts can be found online; some are very comprehensive, but you can tailor them to meet your needs. The more complete your profile, the easier you'll find it to describe your character through words and action.
2. Don't Make a List
An item-by-item list of characteristics, or giving too much information at one time, is boring for the reader and considered lackluster writing. Skilled writers introduce the character then sprinkle tidbits throughout the story, allowing the reader to “discover” the true nature of the character in small doses. The reader gets the same information, but in a much more enjoyable way.
3. Beware Adjective AddictionSharon Rose might sit on the floor beside her bed like a sick child. She often felt drained of her proper nature. Her mind was like a liquid in a sloppy container. Her soul rolled from side to side of a rocking boat. – Wright Morris, Plains Song
Adjectives don't add the spice you are looking for and result in making a boring list longer. Effective writers follow Mark Twain’s advice on adjectives:
When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. – Mark Twain
4. Choose Not “To Be”
Don’t fall into the habit of using the common “ to be” verbs which are considered weak because they don’t show action. Replacing these verbs with action verbs results in powerful and concise writing.
Nature forgot to shade him off, I think... A little too boisterous--like the sea. A little too vehement--like a bull who has made up his mind to consider every colour scarlet. But I grant a sledge-hammering sort of merit in him. ― Charles Dickens, Bleak House
5. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Following the old rule of “show, don't tell" enables writers to introduce their characters in a more interesting way, drawing a picture that is complete and well rounded. If a particular trait is vital to the storyline, find different ways to imprint the trait you consider important through the character’s actions and/or interactions with supporting characters.
She [Sybil Vane] crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiseled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about the emotion of people whom one has ceased to love. ― Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray