author, creative writing, writing

5 Ways To Portray Your Characters

Morning writers! I hope you’ve all had a good week.

As my first draft for novel 2 plods along, I am realising that I need to do more work on portraying my characters. My revisions, re-writes and edits will focus heavily on the characters and how they are portrayed to the reader.

So, I’ve already started making notes about the following five ways that I could portray them, and I thought it made sense to share these ways with all of you, just in case any of you have the same issue. Take a look:

1. Appearance
Perhaps the most obvious way to portray characters;; appearance. The way they look, their physical traits, are the first real way to build an image in the reader’s mind. You don’t want your characters to be faceless, because it makes it hard to connect with them and see them as real people. Physical appearance can also tell you a lot about a character, as it includes not only the basics (eye colour, hair colour, height), but also the way they walk, the way they hold themselves, any nervous habits etc…you need to make sure you’ve described the way characters look, including relevant details, to build up that image. Though do try to avoid an info dump. Make sure that when their looks are being described, it’s relevant to the story.

2. Interpretation
This is the way other characters look at and interpret each other. In this method or portrayal, the way a character is described is based on the narrating character’s observations, judgements and personal opinions. This can be fun to play with if you have an unreliable narrator. It is also a useful method for anyone using joint POV. Because this way you get to show how a narrating character appears in their own opinion, and how they appear from the point of view of somebody else. You can show a side of your character that you wouldn’t get via a one-sided, first-person-only account.

3. Action
You’ll have heard, repeatedly, the advice of show not tell. Well, action is another really important way to portray characters in your story. It’s no good telling the reader that a character behaves a certain way, but never backing up the claim with actions. For example, doesn’t she was clumsy sound far less interesting than she tripped on her way up the stairs, narrowly avoiding head-butting the door frame. She did not need another bruise for her collection… ?

As a reader I find it far more satisfying to be able to interpret a character through their actions, without having all their positive and negative traits explained in simple terms.

4. Thought
Displaying a character’s inner thoughts can tell the reader a lot. Not only the thoughts themselves, but the way the character thinks and the things they notice around them can be a fascinating insight. It can also show how characters present themselves differently to those around them, compared to who they are in the privacy of their own thoughts. For example, are they all kindness and smiles on the outside, but sarcasm and bitterness on the inside?

5. Speech
Speech is very telling, and this comes with giving your character a strong and distinctive voice. Everything from word choices to the way they say things can be insightful and help craft a character who sounds real and authentic. You can also show a lot about them by the things they say, and the things they choose not say, which ties in with the inner thoughts mentioned above.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite way to portray your characters? Perhaps a method you aren’t exploring enough? Comment below to share your thoughts and advice.

Until then,
Keep writing,

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29 thoughts on “5 Ways To Portray Your Characters”

  1. Great set of tips and examples! As for my own writing…
    …there’s a scene in my WIP where the MC watches the Princess and his BFF talking, side by side, which allows him some direct comparison – and shows a bit more about them at once.
    #4 is also something I like. The mentioned MC is seen as a brave, talented young warrior on the outside but he has his doubts and is brooding and overthinking when alone. That part is shown through his thoughts, but also his dialogue with said BFF as she’s the only one he’s willing to talk with her about those things. I don’t think I ever state she’s cheerful and lighthearted but the way she speaks with him – and helps to dispell his worries – shows that well (or at least I hope it does).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. All of these are key ingredients to develop the main character. In mine I use an entire chapter in the eye of another character to describe the protagonist. In his view he dishes out some back story along with a physical trait or two that annoys him.

    The key is to supply as much as possible while trying not to overdue it. Not easy. It takes time but as you know we somehow find a way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for writing this post! It’s given me a lot to think about.

    I’ve noticed that, lately, my stories are written from the perspective of a person with a diary.

    Whether it’s a girl recording her experiences at a summer camp, or a girl writing about her day-to-day life with a deadly condition*, my characters are all reflecting on events they’ve experienced recently.

    *In a fantasy story I’m writing: As a result of dark magic, a girl who was killed by her vampire boyfriend is brought back to life. The catch being: Though her spirit is once again in her body, her once-dead body continues to decompose. So, she resolves to make peace with her family and the vampire who betrayed her before rot renders her incapable of doing anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post and found it useful. I love the point of view being a diary, I think that can be so intimate and interesting! And I also think you’ve got a solid, tense and exciting plot developed, based on that idea – happy writing and do keep us updated 😀 x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s all about layering, internal voice, external voice, action, appearance, quirks, traits… the list goes on.
    I find my protagonist’s voice is the easiest to write, but developing my MC’s the hardest. And the editing phase is all about adding or removing appearances and defining characters for me too.
    Great post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never thought about it until you mentioned it here, but I find the protagonists voice comes far easier for me too! Perhaps it’s easier to capture what we find intimidating/scary/dominating?
      Thanks for reading/commenting, Rainy 😀 x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like this. One thing I need to pay a little more attention too is describing the physical attributes of my characters. Not all of them are so clearly defined, especially when you consider many of them are based on real people. An example would be I described Will’s friend Jonesy as a muscular black man about twenty five who wouldn’t look out of place as a receiver on an NFL team. But I never describe how he wears his hair (he’s a cop, so no dreadlocks. in fact, I seem him pretty much bald, but never say so since he’s based on someone real). I don’t recall once giving a physical description of RJ, and the only things I say about Pam is she’s short, cute, and blonde. Jewell I describe somewhat, and George McDonald. Other than that, I’m pretty sparse on physical descriptions. indeed, Will Diaz, I give him the best description (but then he’s the central character). He’s well above 6 foot, dark headed, muscular, but slim (he’s a marathon runner) and wears a go-tee beard. And he wears the same things always when working, Jeans, Cowboy boots, a white button up shirt, and a black vest. A badge on his belt and a Colt 1911 on his hip completes his ensemble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi William, thanks so much for reading and commenting. It sounds like you have very clear images of what your characters look like, which is amazing! I’m sure that your insight will help you write wonderful descriptions, so that the reader pictures them just as clearly! 🙂 Happy writing!


  6. I like method #2, though it is a lot harder that the others. Especially when you have the story in a certain character’s POV–which should be a limited and flawed view of the character, as we all have limits in what we can know about ourselves–and have another side-character revealing or claiming things that are not known or seen by the character himself. I did this in one of my longer works, showing the growing heroism in a self-deprecating character through the eyes of another, specifically a character with some expertise in the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a great read! Very useful advice to keep in mind when crafting characters. It’s so useful when building a clear picture in the reader’s mind through actions, internal thoughts and speech, while not overdoing it and just TELLING the reader ‘this is what they’re like’. Brilliant tips!

    Liked by 1 person

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