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How to Write a Detailed Character Description


How your characters develop is essential to bringing your readers into your story and keeping them engaged in the plot. Readers will be more invested in your story if they can visualize what your characters look like and understand where they are coming from. Key elements of a detailed description include the character's appearance, personality, perspective and motivating goals.

Introductions and Appearance

When you meet someone for the first time, you observe his appearance and learn basic information, such as name and profession. Similarly, when you are developing your characters, physical appearance, name, where they're from and what they do are some of the first details to select.

As you think about naming your character, think about meanings, origins and derivations of different names. Also consider any nicknames or pet names that could strengthen the relationship between your character and other characters.

While your character's profession will be a basic element in your plot, think about how your character's appearance will affect the action. For example, is your heroine a short, thin, fragile-looking young woman who works in an office by day but is the unexpected assassin at night? When planning appearance, imagine your character's ethnicity, cultural background and any medical information that may affect your plot.

Personality and Attributes

Beyond a name, a character's personality begins to develop as he reacts to events and circumstances. These reactions may not only be to significant plot twists, but also to everyday life: for example, how your character reacts if another driver cuts her off, any addictions she struggles with, or family dynamics such as overbearing or distant relationships -- all add to your character's personality. Plan free-writing or other exercises to fully explore how your character will respond to situations.

Communicate your characters' beliefs or religion through dialogue in everyday circumstances as well as through routine actions. Showcase their strengths and weaknesses through inner dialogue as well as character traits, such as forgiveness or compassion, through relationships with other characters.

Perspective and Background

The adage that you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been also applies to character development. As you design your character, map out the background story and events that formed his outlook on the world.

Decide where he's from and how he got to the present moment in the story. Consider the type of childhood and adolescence your character had, and any changes that occurred. For example, was there an emotionally traumatic event or formative encounter that shaped the type of person he becomes?

Also plan the family history and any influential relationships that shaped your character's past. If your character had a family, what were they like? Decide the dynamics with key figures, such as mother, father, siblings or grandparents, and how these dynamics affected your character's maturity.

Motivation and Goals

As you develop your character, decide what goals your character has, and why. A plot is driven by characters' quests and the pursuit of a goal. The protagonist has one goal while the antagonist has another, and as you develop these characters, define these goals as well as the reason your characters are pursuing them. Script the dialogue to reveal how your characters think and feel about each event.

Consider background and personality when deciding what motivates your character. A character may be motivated by multiple things. For example, a villain may be motivated by greed as well as a desire to find approval from a distant father figure. Motivation is just as important as the name when developing your characters.

About the Author

Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.

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