Whether you’re detailing a real, lived experience or concocting a fictional story in a fantasy land of your own construction, you want the people and characters in your stories to grow, develop, and demonstrate some evolution from beginning to end. You want your readers to empathize with their decisions, understand why they behave the way they do, and root for their success. In writing, it’s important to be direct with your readers as you peel back layers of your characters to make sure nothing is lost and their actions are true to who they are. Here are some ways to better characterize the players in your stories:
Use strong verbs and concrete descriptors | It’s often the mark of lazy writers that they rely on bland verbs and vague delineations, which fail to provide your readers with an accurate and precise sense of the nature of your character. Use strong actions verbs when your characters are doing something. For example, whereas some writers may simply write, “She got mad and stormed out,” you can add expressive and telling details. Did her face turn red? Did she blurt out swear words? Did she silently cry? Did she leave the room in a rush or at a slow, defiant pace? All these sensory details will help your reader not only be in the action of your setting but get a deeper understanding of who your character is and how your character responds to various stimuli.
Utilize the Internal Monologue | In real life, people don’t have access to others’ inner thoughts, but in writing, your characters can betray their thoughts, inner motives, and flashbacks as they happen in the moment. As it’s appropriate, allow your readers into the reasoning mechanisms and rabbit holes that are your characters’ minds. Has your character experienced something similar before? Did another character trigger a memory? Is your character known to suppress strong emotions and keep outbursts on the inside? Utilizing the internal monologue can give readers insider access to what your character feels and experiences but doesn’t overtly act on.
Let your Characters be Imperfect | Jesmyn Ward noted of her early attempts at writing fiction that she loved her characters too much to give them imperfections, let them make bad decisions, or let bad things happen to them. However, if you want your readers to empathize with and understand your characters, let them have problems, and let those problems get them into trouble. Jane Austen’s acclaim has very much centered around how many of her characters were mean and unlikeable, specifically Emma, the eponymous character of the novel in which she appears.