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Writing Tips: Character Development Revealed Through Writing.

Now that your character is basically a fully formed person, we need to reveal him or her to the reader through our writing. We need to be able to reveal their appearance, their quirks, their flaws, their motivations and everything we just talked about without the reader realizing that's what you're doing.

Riddle me that!

How do we best accomplish this?

Through action and dialogue vs through narration.

Narration = sparingly

Action/Dialogue = often


One of the biggest mistakes I see in new writing reads a little bit like this:

I paused in the hallway and checked my reflection in the mirror. My long, wavy brown hair was pinned up with a few pieces loose at the sides and my blue eyes were rimmed in eyeliner. The purple sweater I wore with my black pants...

aaaand, I, as a reader have already lost my interest.

We're way more likely to look in the mirror and think, "This lipstick is too dark" and basically leave it at that.

So as writer's we need to show our readers what our characters look, sound, think and feel like. Not tell them.

So let's say I want my reader to know my character has blue eyes and dark, long hair. How can I tell them without really telling them? Through action and dialogue.

My mother turns and smiles at me. People say we look the same, but her blue eyes are framed with laugh lines and her hair is a few shades darker and cropped short. She reaches out with her free hand and runs her fingers through mine, stopping at my shoulder to comb out a tangle. "Your curls are so beautiful."

Now your reader knows that your main character has blue eyes and dark, curly, long hair even though we didn't directly say that.

A couple more examples:

If a character is tall, perhaps they have a hard time folding themselves into the back seat of a car or they hit their head on doorframes.

If a character is short, they'll have a hard time seeing past a crowd at a concert, or reaching something from the top cupboard in the kitchen.

If you give it some thought, there are tons of ways to reveal physical description without simply telling it to your reader. This makes the reading experience much more organic for your reader and still manages to reveal the details about our characters that we would like our reader's to know.


There's more to a person than what we see. We can feel them, we can smell them, we can hear them.


If one character touches another is skin soft and smooth or calloused and gruff with stubble? Does hair feel like straw or like silk ribbons?

Does a boy smell like peppermint or cinammon? Does a girl smell like lavender or vanilla? Does grandpa smell of cigars or baked bread? Does an angry, abusive person carry the scent of alcohol and sweat?

Is one character's voice almost childlike? Is it deep and hoarse from years of smoking? Is it soft or harsh and unpleasant? Can it make you melt inside or drive you away?

There's a fine balance for how far you should go and when. We don't need to know the pizza guy reeks of pizza unless he's going to our protagonist or rob our hero. So use these details for the characters that you want your readers to know and to root for!

Think about seeing a person with all of your senses in writing.


Again the key here is showing this through the character's dialogue and actions throughout the story. No one wants to read twenty pages of narrative in order to discover these things. Details like this need to be born onto the page without thinking about it which you can accomplish through (you guessed it, actions and dialogue).

Make your character have interactions at a grocery store, at the local fair, at school, at the diner in town, make them do normal things that will gradually reveal their true nature, goals, motivations and emotional wounds as the story progresses:

Maybe the hero who is petrified of water is invited to a Lakeside bonfire by his crush. He gets there and starts behaving strangely, having heart palpations, difficulty speaking, any internal reaction that will tell our reader he is scared.

Perhaps our underdog smart kid who really wants to graduate is making money on the side, doing other kids homework. This would show both a flaw (making a poor decision to do someone else's homework) and show us he's smarter than everyone thinks.

It's important to not simply write a paragraph of narration telling us about the character because it's one of the fastest ways you can lose your reader's attention. Which brings us to the next point.

Another huge mistake I see in less experienced work is a massive dump of history within the narration of the chapter.

Most times, a character's backstory has some kind of effect on their current situation and therefore, it must be told, just like everything else, organically with little hints throughout the story.

Going back to showing our hero who is scared of water as an example... rather than write a paragraph telling us of his near death experience with the shark, how about having our hero wake up in a cold sweat, having phantom pains where he was bit, showing fear when he has to pick his little sister up from the swimming pool or when his crush invites him to the bonfire. We know something very traumatic has happened to him, and we're pretty sure it has to do with water, but we don't know exactly what.

Our underdog graduate: maybe his mother is sweet, but doesn't understand his science homework, she has to work an extra shift because they need groceries for his birthday dinner, perhaps his uncle works in a job that doesn't require much by way of education. Simple things like that tell our reader that his family is poor and uneducated, rather than a paragraph or two telling us so.

That's not to say that we don't use narration to reveal these things, because of course we do, otherwise you'd have a 250,000 word novel... but the key here is less is more. Think of times where you can reveal little tidbits to your reader with action and dialogue, and when you should reveal through narration. 

When you're new to writing, it's truly a hard balance to find but once you get it, you'll see a massive difference in the words on your page and you'll find that your work is far easier to engage with.

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