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Writing Advice & Discussion > How to "Show" Character Traits in Writing

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message 1: by Elisa (new)

Elisa | 164 comments I need a little help with some characters' traits and bringing them out in my writing. I have multiple 1st person POVs and I'm trying to make them distinctive. How would you "show" the reader that a character is:

1. A simple-minded cheerful class clown

2. Hot headed and lazy


message 2: by Gina (new)

Gina Karasek | 38 comments Since you're in each of their heads, it should be fairly easy to show how they feel, how they react, which will definitely make them distinctive.
1) As Tommy walked around the desk, his foot accidentally caught the leg and he tripped, falling forward, his book flying through the air and landing open face-up. When he hit the ground he curled into a ball and rolled into a somersault, hopping up to his feet right in front of the book. "That's the page I was looking for!" he exclaimed and picked up the book with a big smile.
2) As she started into the second verse for what seemed like the hundredth time, he grimaced.
"I'm sick of hearing that stupid song!" he exclaimed.
She smiled at him and continued singing and dancing around the counter.
"Fine! I'll come back and do the dishes when you're gone!" He stormed out of the room and slammed his door. Let her do the dishes by herself, he thought.

These are just one-time examples, but over several small simple scenes like this, their personality comes alive for the reader without you having to go into a big long boring-to-read description.

For #1- show that he's always smiling or laughing about his predicaments, no matter how bad.
For #2- show that he's impatient, intolerant, uses his annoyances to avoid having to do things

Hope that helps.


message 3: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments To me, show - don't tell translates to not explaining things. I was reading something on script writing where it's impossible to show internal emotional state and as a consequence it's only possible to show (unless the dialogue serves to tell, which is also considered bad form). The example I remember was something like this...

Telling:

She angrily left the room.

Showing:

She slammed her books down on the table, whirled and raced out the room.

The first 'tells' by giving the emotional state, the second 'shows' by letting the reader (or viewer, in the case of a script) intuit that the character is upset.

Having said that, showing tends to take a lot more words than telling, so when something isn't that crucial to the overall story, telling can move things along. For those crucial elements, though, you want to shift to showing as much as possible. This is true even in first-person. Let the narrator stop short of fully characterizing his or her emotions, let the reader fill that in for herself.


message 4: by Ime (new)

Ime Atakpa | 82 comments Everything Keith said is 100% spot on. You have to know as the writer when it's best to pause, slow down, and let the characters do the talking through their actions.

It's the difference between expositing and setting scene/character. You also have to be careful that your showing and telling aren't contradicting each other. If you TELL the reader a character is a hot-headed brute but never actually SHOW those brutish moments, you have inconsistent characterization.


message 5: by Kat (new)

Kat Turner | 50 comments Have you read The Emotion Thesaurus? For me, this book has been an excellent resource for helping depict various different emotions, both mentally and through action and outward appearance.


message 6: by Elisa (new)

Elisa | 164 comments Kat wrote: "Have you read The Emotion Thesaurus? For me, this book has been an excellent resource for helping depict various different emotions, both mentally and through action and outward appearance."

No I haven't, but now I must. The little preview alone gave me some ideas.


message 7: by Kat (new)

Kat Turner | 50 comments It is SO GOOD


message 8: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) Don't forget the Emotion Amplifier. It goes well with The Emotion Thesaurus (written by same author) and free on Amazon.


message 9: by Elisa (new)

Elisa | 164 comments *adds to book list*

Looks like I'm going to be up late tonight haha


message 10: by Jeanie (new)

Jeanie (jeanielong) | 62 comments Kat wrote: "Have you read The Emotion Thesaurus? For me, this book has been an excellent resource for helping depict various different emotions, both mentally and through action and outward appearance."

All the books in that series are excellent. Sometimes you might not realize that the emotion you're going for is not the one you have written about. These books list related emotions and states of mind as well as the physical attributes common with various moods and states of mind. I highly recommend them if you're having trouble showing (versus telling as Keith explained above).


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