“Hello, Sir. Nice day, isn’t it?” *Character*

Character is a tricky thing to get right. If you get it spot on, it should be seamless, natural.

Dialogue is often the biggest facilitator of character.

Perhaps the first sentence is a little like this guy?

The title to this post, for instance, would imply a formal individual – the sentence uses formal language and is essentially small talk. It also leans toward implying a man over a woman – the speech is to the point. The pause before “Sir” indicated by the comma suggests something else: anger or the idea they are not quite happy deferring to the listener. It’s amazing how much you can give away casually in speech. Try reading things aloud, with punctuation, to spot things.

A girl may be more likely to phrase the sentence this way: “Hello Sir! Don’t you think it’s a lovely day?”

How about this one for a woman?

Both of these sentences are obviously high class when looking at word choice. This one seems more feminine because the world gets more layers of feeling than “good” “bad” and “crap”. Also, the exclamation point indicates an excitement or happiness about a very banal subject that most men don’t seem to have. She also asks for more validation than a man would with “don’t you think”. I’ve never heard a man phrase it that way.

Now, a lower class male may instead say: “Good day, ain’t it, eh Sir?”

Or this one for a worker?

The sentence structure here has dissolved. It’s less proper and there also seems to be no problem with the address of “Sir”.

However, there are other ways to impart character than dialogue. Narration and actions laced through it are also great ways but they are often done badly.

Many starting out writers will overload readers with information. (The colour of their shirt, eyes, hair, skin, shoes, necklace). Most of this is unnecessary: a big dollop of information all at once is normally never good. Information needs to be dispensed slowly throughout a piece of writing. The appearance of a character beyond small amounts of info (well dressed, shabby, ruffled, sporty etc) isn’t needed and is no substitute for character. Even the things I have mentioned here can be shown in setting. For instance, they may have a messy house with cheap goods littered about and no TV or they could have a treadmill and weights by the window.

If you show character well enough, a reader should be able to fill in the blanks – just give them the stuff that is unchangable, necessary or central to the plot and only if  you don’t show it elsewhere. Always, always, wonder if it is worth showing in other ways, too.

Good narrative manages this balancing act well. For example:

Thomas sat straight up in the wing back chair, a ruffle of hair over one eye. He jerked it free and took a large sip of red wine, savouring the taste before the swallow.

This is much better than, for instance:

Thomas sat in a wing back chair, old and patterned like wallpaper – the repetitive kind. He had dark mahogany, curly hair and often moved it to the side before drinking more wine. His ice blue eyes and porcelain skin made a great contrast to the drink.

This has much less character and implies less about the man. It tells us more about him, yes, but these facts aren’t all necessary. It’s pretty clunky, too. In a story, this would slow down the plot and bring a reader to a halt. Keep that story moving!

Hopefully this has given you a bit of an insight into how I do character. Please let me know what you think!

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