Keep characters focused

Tags: Writing CharacterizationCharacterization

Each character in fiction should be crafted with a limited number of key traits that are revealed through conflict in the story. Characters need focus: burdening a character with too many traits does not add realism but instead dilutes them. The character will seem muddled.

Similarly, the character should have a concrete, specific goal. Their inability to reach their goal and the barriers that prevent them from reaching it provide the fodder for the story. In compelling fiction, the character's true nature is illustrated by the way that they respond to adverse circumstances and the barriers between them and their goal.

  • See Show don't tell: Show the reader who the character really is rather than simply describing them
  • See Conflict reveals characterConflict reveals character
    Tags: [[Characterization]] [[Writing]]

    A novel illustrates the transformation of a character into someone capable of overcoming their fatal flaw. The trajectory of that transformation is revealed ...
    - The characters' core traits are ideally revealed through conflict with other characters
  • See Specificity brings characters to lifeSpecificity brings characters to life
    Tags: [[Characterization]]

    Vivid characters come to life when they are rendered using a limited palette of specific details. These details can include physical elements—think of Ahab's ivory leg—o...
    - The more specific the details about the character, the richer they will seem on the page
  • See Give characters core needs and default psychological maneuversGive characters core needs and default psychological maneuvers
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]]

    In Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel Elizabeth George suggests that two ingredients that help understand characters are their core need and their psy...
    - Focus should extend below the surface of the character; give them specific psychological needs as well as default patterns of psychology or behaviour.
  • Complement dialogue-heavy scenes amidst character-reinforcing activitiesComplement dialogue-heavy scenes amidst character-reinforcing activities
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]] [[Setting]]

    When writing a scene that involves a great deal of dialogue, it can be beneficial to give the characters something to do. Two people chatting at ...
    - Use characters' ancillary activities to help refine who they are in the reader's mind


Bird 2016 Corbett 2013 Novelry 2020 Swain 2008