Creating Distinctive Characters

Guest Post by Author Ronald Bagliere

Author, Photographer & Traveler

Author, Photographer & Traveler

One of the more difficult things for beginning writers in fiction is the creating of separate voices, etc for their characters. This is important so that they don’t come off the page sounding all the same.

The simplest way is using tonality. Do they speak with a singsong voice, a deep baritone, a gravelly voice or is there tone soft and silky? Another way is through dialect or accents. We all have heard the southern drawl or the suave French accent. But be careful here; it’s very easy to come off sounding cliché which will weaken your prose. A judicious sprinkling in of certain accentuated or foreshortened words will go a long way. Be consistent in their usage as well, using them at the appropriate times. Now, there may be a character in your novel that you want to give a heavy hand with in regards to how they speak, if so – make sure there’s a solid reason for doing it. For example: a lifelong street person who never had a formal education might speak with a halting/grating foreshortened manner using words like: ‘em, git, fer and the like. Again be consistent. Don’t mix the formal in with the foreshortened speech with them. Other ways are to give them slang sayings they use in certain instances, or standard responses to certain questions. A New Zealand character I wrote had the habit of always saying “yeah, yeah,” as an affirmative. Combine how they talk (tone) with dialect and you begin to lift the character off the page.

The next thing to look at is body language. In real life we get more than 90% of our communication from others from body language, so infusing our characters with certain motions, activities that are generic to them adds yet another layer. Perhaps, one character has a facial tic or nibbles their lip whenever they are in a stressful situation; maybe they talk really fast or wave their hands around. Think about how people react physically when confronted. Do they cross their arms or look away from the confrontation? Perhaps both! We, as writers, tend to focus on facial expressions and eye movements, but there are other things that can be focused on; like blushing, flared noses, stiffened jaws, balled fists, slumping shoulders, hands behind the back, tilting of the head – the list goes on. Add these kinds of things to your characters along with tone and dialect and you will begin to exponentially define your characters for your reader.

Last of all is how your characters see themselves in the world you create for them. What do they look at, smell, or hear when they come into a room, meet a new person or hike down a trail and how do they interpret them? Where do their eyes go? What sounds and smells resonate with them? The things you choose to have them see, listen for, sense goes a long way in further defining them. For example a cook would be very sensitive to smells. A florist would more than likely spot a vase of roses on a table in a room than notice the beams carrying the ceiling above his/her head. A musician would be keenly aware of sounds. What you have your characters look at, sense and hear is a subtle way of identifying them to your reader. This is the fine grain detailing of your characters that will make them really pop out to your readers.



Ronald Bagliere Head of Submissions

Fountain Blue Publishing (213) 986-6835

Ronald’s published books are:

Loving Neil

The Lion of Khum Jung

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