Specificity brings characters to life

Tags: CharacterizationCharacterization

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—or mannerisms or vocal tics, like Gatsby's "old sport." They can also include specific of experiences, of ideas, and of attitudes.

These specific details help make the character unique and memorable. As George Saunders observes, with each additional detail, the idea of the character narrows and rules out some possibilities enhancing others. This helps immerse us in the story.

  • Keep characters focusedKeep characters focused
    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Characterization]]

    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: burde...
    - Characters should be given specific traits an have specific goals
  • 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...
    - Defining a character's specific need and default maneuvers or tactics can help bring them to life on the page
  • 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 ...
    - Characters' ancillary activities can help reveal character by showing their hobbies, passions, and how they go about pursuing those activities.


Saunders 2020 Swain 2008