Characterization DOs and DON’Ts

You've come up with a round, strong character that will fascinate your readers. But how do the reader get to know this wonderful character? Here are some quick guidelines to characterization.


  • Confuse characterization with physical description. Telling about every detail of your character’s looks will bore the reader rather than reel her in.
  • Do a mirror scene, in which the character admires or scoffs itself in the mirror. These have been done to death. In fact, readers have become somewhat allergic to the word "mirror," because it often leads to a shopping-list of features.
  • Drop your carefully-crafted background on your reader all at once. That’s called info-dumping, and most likely it will scare or bore your reader away. Dole out the information bit by bit, through action and dialog. 
  • Assume all your characters share your own world-views and beliefs. That would be both boring and counter-productive to creating suspense.


  • Characterize through action. Have your character put their money where their mouth is. If you want a headstrong character, show him refusing to back off in a conflict. If you want a smart character, have her engage in some witty conversation or solve some difficult puzzle. It’s the “show, don’t tell” of characters.
  • Reveal characterization gradually. Introduce the most prominent character traits first, and slowly fill in secondary traits and various quirks.
  • Introduce physical details in their organic place. Create a reason for the character to contemplate the color of their eyes, and mention it only then. No one really cares that Harry Potter’s eyes are green; that detail is meaningful only because it’s the color of his mother’s eyes.
  • Vary your characters’ beliefs. Research other world views and assign them to your characters in order to create diversity and some interesting conflict.


Always prefer deeper characterization over superficial one. Once you have a strong understanding of your character, simply let him or her behave as is their wont. Characterization will flow through their actions and thoughts.

Tal Valante

Tal Valante has been writing science fiction and fantasy from a young age, and she can't seem to kick the habit. When she’s not busy crafting fictional worlds, she’s buried in heaps of programming code as webmistress to Riptide Publishing, and as a new entrepreneur with Readership Pro. You’re welcome to connect with Tal on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

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