Characterisation … don’t try to show us everything at once.


Once in a while, I try to get clever and show off how much work I’ve put into the characterisation of one of my cast in a book. My goal is to construct believable, three-dimensional personalities that resonate with the audience. What usually happens is that I get overexcited and try to cram too much into once scene. What I get is chaos.


It is a bit like trying to wear all your clothes at once. It doesn’t impress anyone with your sense of style … it just makes you look fat and a hot mess. It is better to wear something simpler; you know, the whole less is more thing. It can work in your writing too.


Now, you don’t wear the same thing every day or to every occasion.

You dress to suit. Over time, people build up an impression of your sense of style. You can tailor your outfits to reflect your changing moods.


Now, that slow build-up has become my approach to character construction within my work in progress. Instead of trying to show character complexity all at once, I build it over the space of several chapters. Of course, in a short story, you don’t have the space for this method. In a book, you don’t have to aim to be succinct, though I am not saying that being terse, laconic, or compact can’t work in a book. I’m all for breviloquency and clarity. But why not utilise the luxury and freedom of all that space?


Prose need not be the opposite of poetry. Rediscover your love of language.





Filed under Characterization, The Writing Life, Writing Style

6 responses to “Characterisation … don’t try to show us everything at once.

  1. I never put clothes on to write, and I’m not starting now!

  2. I also never spend any time at all creating a ‘character sheet’ or any of that write-by-numbers stuff. My characters build themselves. I just have to watch and listen, then quickly scribble it all down.

    • You are lucky to be so well connected to your muse. It is actually reading your book that inspired this post. Your characters seem to effortless be ‘themselves’ without pretension.

      • You flatter me, ma’am.
        But it is the truth.
        Seriously, I just start something and they’re soon there, putting their oar into my pudding or firing their pistols prematurely. Example – I never intended those two girls to have a fight, yet they went ahead and had one anyway! Who was *I* to try and stop them? I was more about – “Why the hell is the *stupid* one so angry? Let’s find out!”

      • I let my characters talk to me. In my vampire book, I had to cut a whole subplot because my character told me she would never cheat on her husband.

        You are naturally good at characterisation.

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