Posted by: nancycurteman | April 17, 2015

11 Characterization Strategies

Bookmark and Share


A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts on writing craft. I listed 5 elements with brief descriptions of each. I indicated my next series of blog posts would explore in greater detail each of the 5 elements. I posted a piece about Plot. Now I will detail Characterization. In my general writing craft post I defined Characterization as the process an author uses to reveal the personality of a character either directly (author description) or indirectly (the reader must infer what the character is like). Here are 11 characterization strategies with examples:

Physical Description is the most common. It is not complex. You simply describe what you want your reader to see.
Dark brown hair cascaded over her shoulders almost touching an ample waist. Bright brown eyes, rosy cheeks and plump lips drew attention away from her large nose.

Names can tell a lot about a character’s background, educational level, profession and where they live.
A man who answers to the name Junior may not conjure up the same image as one who answers to the name Big Mike. Candy LaMar presents a different kind of woman from Elizabeth Goldmeir.  Janek Kitajewski may have a very different background than Jim Smith.

Actions depict how characters act physically or verbally and how they interact with other characters. Their behavior can indicate whether they are humble or arrogant, good-natured or mean-spirited, sympathetic or selfish, refined or uncouth.
She walked right past the new girl, refusing to even acknowledge her existence. She then approached a friend, cupped her hand to her friend’s ear, pointed at the new girl and sneered.

Environment refers to the world in which a character lives, or has lived. A person’s country, city, home or bedroom can reveal a lot about him and in fact, plays an important role on his development.
As soon as he mentioned he lived on a farm in the mountains of West Virginia, she knew he would have a difficult time fitting into her Manhattan, high-rise world.

Interests can be important in characterization. Frequently certain personality types fit certain kinds of interests. A chess player may have a very different approach to life than a fast-paced video gamer. A rock climber may view life from a different perspective than a beachcomber.
His intense interest in his gun collection made her uncomfortable.

Mannerisms are gestures, stances, repetitive behaviors. They can characterize story people as annoying, strange, lovable or any way you want to depict them.
He noticed she seemed to continually blink her eyes. Not a good habit. He decided to quit his own bad habit of cracking his knuckles.

Attitude describes how a character looks at life’s events, obstacles and little foibles. A character may view other characters and experiences with a positive, negative, biased, superior or neutral attitude.
She stopped making suggestions because he always greeted her ideas with a disdainful expression.

Dialogue is not just the words a character says, but the way in which they say them. The words they use can indicate intelligence, ignorance or educational background. The speed at which characters speak can indicate nervousness or relaxed. If the speech is overly hesitant, the character may be shy or unsure about something. Specific accents can indicate the speaker’s nationality.
He spoke in a slow drawl, halting every few seconds. She thought he might be a slow thinker from Mississippi or just plain scared to death.

Thoughts reveal the true feelings of a character. Are they confident or insecure, happy or sad, frightened or brave, honest or dishonest.
I have to get away from him before I go crazy, she thought. I’ll leave tomorrow while he’s at work. She kissed her husband and rolled to her side of the bed. “Goodnight, Darling,” she said.

The way other story people view your character is an effective characterization strategy. They can react to him any way you choose. They can admire him, hate him, envy him, feel uneasy, excited, anxious, angry or scared around him. You can have them view him quite differently from the way he views himself.
He smiled often, but his colleagues viewed him as a dangerous threat to be feared and watched.

Past experiences make us what we are. Your character is the product of everything that has happened to him in his life. Give your character a unique history to which he has responded in his own unique way and you will have a memorable character.
The freezing cold foxholes reminded Jake of the icy Minnesota winters of his boyhood. Maybe not quite so cold.

Careful attention to characterization will create a unique and memorable character.


5 Ways Negative Traits Make Mystery Novel Characters More Interesting
Perfect Characters are Paper Characters
Developing Characters is No Mystery

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: