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On writing characters


How to develop characters

Writing characters who are full of life and who readers can feel something about (e.g., love, despise, fear, or empathize with) can be a daunting task. Here are a few of my favorite quotes about developing meaningful characters:


In What Would Your Character Do? Eric Maisel said, “It is interesting how little we need to know about the main character for us to feel drawn into the writer’s story.” While the author needs to know them backward and forwards to write the story, the reader can fill in the details based on how the author describes the characters’ actions and represents their dialogue and thoughts.


In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King said, “I’m not particularly keen on writing which exhaustively describes physical characteristics of the people in the story and what they’re wearing.” and “I can’t remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story of mine looked like—I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you?” Personally, I envision Carrie White as a young Sissy Spacek.


I agree with both highly-acclaimed authors. As a reader, I like to form the details about a character in my mind. Even when a writer includes a cursory description, a reader’s perspectives may alter that character’s appearance, which may lead to disappointment if the author mentions the trait later in the book or a sequel – or if the book evolves into a movie or television series. Better to follow Mr. King’s sage advice and keep descriptions to a minimum.

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