Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B Is For Behavior - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

    You see this phrase a lot: "show, don't tell".  Good writing grabs readers, draws them in, and generates powerful images in their minds.  When you create your characters, you want to breathe life into them.  One of the more subtle ways to do this is to use behavioral cues instead of flat sentences when describing characters, settings, and interactions.
     Ralph was extremely angry at the cashier. If you were observing Ralph, how would he appear?
  •      Choleric (had to slip in a fun adjective)
  •      Breathing heavily
  •      Red-faced
  •      Eyes bulging
  •      Sweating
  •      Jaws tight/teeth grinding
  •      Shaking with rage
  •      Staring
  •      Invading personal space
  •      Offensive posture (squaring of shoulders, chest out, fists clenched)

     Janice couldn't wait to get out of there.
  •      Looking at watch/clock/cell phone
  •      Tapping feet
  •      Drumming fingers
  •      Inching toward the exit
  •      Increasingly agitated, short spoken
    One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens, who was a master at creating memorable characters by using both description of physical characteristics and peculiar mannerisms.

    "He...had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as he stood at the pony’s head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking up at us in the chaise. He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly."
    (Description of Uriah Heep, from David Copperfield)

Adjectives for the day: balbutient, belliferous, bibacious, bloviater, bumptious

Bonus: Speaking of behavior, I'm a huge fan of Jim Parsons and his portrayal of Sheldon Cooper. B is for Big Bang Theory Personality Test. Which character are you? Click here

Photo credit The image of Jim Parsons at Comic Con used for this post was originally posted to, and was then uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on 19:39, 22 July 2012 (UTC) by Sebastian Wallroth. On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.



  1. I'm a sucker for good characterizations in reading. Rich characters with unforgettable personalities will stick with me and kept me reading a book even when the story is lacking.

    A-to-Z Challenge 2014
    Mighty Minion of Co-Host Nicole Ayers
    @Safireblade on Twitter

  2. Loved this post. I too am a HUGE Jimmy-P fan. I liked your summaries of behavioral cues, this will make a good reference for me later in the challenge, when I provide a few flash fiction pieces.

  3. This was a great, easy description of show vs. tell that I'm sure many will thank you for. :) I also loved your adjectives so much I shamelessly stole them for my dictionary, haha. See you soon!

    Alex Hurst, fantasy author in Japan. "B is for Books" is my current post.

  4. Uh-oh.I got Raj-sigh. ;)

    Thanks for the examples about body language to show emotion. I usually forget to do that until the second revision or so.

  5. MAJK - I agree. Even a really good plot can be ruined by characters that make a reader yawn. I remember trying to read a western that was so bad, I hoped that everyone would drown during a river crossing. (Except the horses.)

    Ohmyword - great! looking forward to your flash fiction!

    Alex - happy that you're purloining something useful.

    kelworthfiles - suffer from selective mutism? ;-) Yeah, I forget about body language too. So easy to slip into "telling" everything.

  6. Lisa...Lisa...Lisa... great points. We always hear "show, don't tell", It's great to get very easy to understand examples like you gave.

  7. Fun post! Good advice.
    Interesting, a lot of people talk about Sheldon in pop culture studies. Some have a problem with Parsons' portrayal because they claim that he is "queering" the character to make it amusing. Others say that he is displaying a form of autism, but it is never addressed in the show (other than "I am not crazy! My mother had me tested."). But yes, his acting is amazing, and it is a good example of expressive gestures :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of Colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

  8. This is a great post to help writers be more descriptive in their writing. All of your points are spot on. :)

  9. I got Leonard. I love the portrayal of Sheldon, especially when he screams. (For example, when he tries to steal 'the ring' from Penny while she's sleeping, and she punches him. "She hit me! I'm bleeding!" Ha. Gets me every time.

  10. i got rahj.

    i love this post! it's so neat. i think i will have to share it with my writing site buddies on hexbound!

  11. Jim Parson's is great :)

    And a great post. Easy to understand Show don't tell when it's explained like that!


  12. There are so many ways to show how a character is feeling or reacting without telling. You provided some great examples, Lisa.

  13. Stuart, Tarkabarka, Chrys, Laura, Djinnia, Rhi, Alex -
    Thank you all for stopping by, and Happy Day #2 of A to Z! Glad you liked the examples and are sharing. I'm getting around to visiting everyone as fast as I can :-)

  14. Thanks for this! It's something I've been working on recently.

    anna @ Deeply Shallow

    1. Glad you liked it! Loved your Baba Yaga story today. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Hi Li -- Thanks for connecting during the A to Z. This is a topic that comes up frequently in my critique group. There's a tendency, especially in first drafts, to focus on story and just walk the characters through the plot like little puppets. This post is a good reminder to bring our puppets to life.

    1. Hi Patricia - yes, I do the same thing. It's tricky business in short stories (especially flash) because word count is so limited; And yet you can convey so much more by a simple action sometimes.

  16. Hi Li,

    Your warm visit yesterday was appreciated!

    This is a good post and most informative! When I will decide to do an edition of my lone work or write a second one, I will remember some of these!

    1. Hi Marie! I'm glad you found the post useful!

  17. Very cool!
    I love, love, love Big Bang Theory---- it's my hidden, Bachelor in Biology, nerdy side that doesn't always come out in my writing....

    Oh, and according to your quiz.... I'm Leonard, which I can totally live with since he's pretty much my reason for watching Big Bang Theory in the first place :-)

    1. I'm either Sheldon or Leonard, depending on how honest I am in my answers. :-) No one is Howard so far...I suppose that's a good thing...

  18. Enjoying your posts! Glad to have found you on my A to Z visits. Have a great month!

  19. This was a really to-the-point post for me. I decided to use the A-Z Challenge to work on my character development skills and in so doing, have been creating a female character a day with the theme of Material Girls.

    Character development is so challenging. Some days I hit, most days I feel that I've missed. And I love Charles Dickens for this very reason - which is an excellent reminder of where I should go for a little inspiration.

    Thanks! :)