I think this morning's thread is a pretty good one. It's one of my favorite "it's important but boy oh boy do people freak out about it" topics.

This morning, I want to talk about "characterization"

#amwriting #ontheporch #amquerying #amrevising #writerslife
CHARACTERIZATION is a big word that carries a lot of weight conceptually, but often gets blown out of proportion when the panic starts.

What is it?

It's making a character feel like a person. Like you could relate to them or find them out in your world pretty easily.
Now if there's a reason why I'm making this sound like it's kinda straightforward, that's because it is kinda straightforward.

Let's dispense with the bullshit of "it's so hard" and go give you some practical tools for it.

Go get some paper and your character.
A lot of people start framing a character by giving them a name. Sometimes this isn't a bad place to start, but sometimes it can be a real pothole for people - they get bogged down in finding the "right one."

Name the character AFTER you've built them.
So if you're writing this all down, at the top of the page write down WHO THE CHARACTER IS.

Are they the female protagonist? The third POV character? The dudebro wizard in your urban fantasy?

Identify them objectively, because thinking that way helps you be critical about them.
Now the next pothole people fall into is thinking that there's gotta be this physical description.

Nope, that's the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

No one's gonna give a shit about their haircut unless it's the center of the story. Save that for later.
So you've got this identifier, this label as to what this character does in the story.

What's next?

And you can give a lot of different answers to it, you can talk about how they're just one more POV, they narrate the second act, they're the person who eats the cheese.

Make a list of all the answers, in any order, WITHOUT JUDGING THEM. Just write them down.
Now some of that "WHY" answer is gonna be plot-related. Eating the cheese, marrying the prince, being the murderer, those are plot things.

And that's great reason to be in the story, but it's not gonna be the ONLY reason to be in a story.

Let's dig a little deeper.
New line, new question.


Again, some of this might be plot, and that's okay. But not all of it. Don't let it be all of it.
Why can't it be all of it?

Because that's the role of the characters we don't give a shit about it. Like the waiter in chapter 7. They do this one job and then they melt away. There's not a lot to develop there.
All characters have goals that extend past plot.

Yes, maybe the plot or accomplishing the plot is A goal, but it's not the only thing they've got going on -- it's just that the story that you're writing is about this plot and this one goal of theirs.
Now you've got the temptation here to frame this in first-person "I want to ..."

But that's NOT going to help your characterization.

We want this character to be fully formed without crutching on you. There's enough you in them already.

This is an object, it's outside you.
So DO NOT use "I.." use whatever pronoun the character warrants. Xe/She/He/They/Thon whatever.

Treat them like they're sitting across from you as you're writing.
Now that they have goals, we get a new question.


Note: This is not a plot question. If you start rehashing plot, start this question over.

The question here - what skills can the character apply to the situation to get the goal?
And this is a straight-up list.

A list that maybe you'll eventually rewrite by order of skill quality (they do this best, they do this second-best, etc)

But list all the things they can do, INCLUDING the stuff that doesn't show up in this story.
We're doing it this way because outside of our fiction, when we go talk to real people, we find they do have goals and they do have skills to take actions towards accomplishing those goals.
But the positives of characters don't give them any depth (what I refer to as "story umami"), so we have to come at this from a not-positive direction to.

And just like my father, you want to look pretty intensely at the person's shortcomings.

They're afraid of rejection. They're afraid of geese. They don't want to die alone. They can't climb trees. They can't commit to a relationship without decent WiFI.
Where a character falls short, or perceives themselves to fall short is not just a space where you can create interesting story moments, it's where you find spaces where readers can relate to them.

"Oh I too am also afraid of geese." and you build a bridge to them.
The point of characterization is not just to be impressive when you try and get published or reviewed, the point is that you want to create things that people can connect and relate to.

Help them find themselves in your work, just as you may find yourself in there too.
After goals and skills and fears and weaknesses, we have to look at things outside their locus of control (fucking love that phrase)

The world, whatever your world is in-story, is going to present obstacles to them en route to that goal.

List them.
These of-the-world obstacles may overlap between characters, and that's fine (every hero in Plain City is affected by the earthquake), but you want to think specifically about this character and whatever obstacles they'll face.
And yes, other characters may be obstacles too.

If Mary really wants to take Janine to the prom, but Janine is all googly eyes for Scott, then Scott is Mary's obstacle.
Or you look at your outline or list if scene ideas and know that at some point the building will be without power, so the elevator won't work, that's an obstacle too.
What you want to list here are the things between the character and the goal that aren't things the character can change about themselves to make the goal more attainable.
What you should at this point are a series of lists.

What they will/won't do (let's call that a Philosophy)

Now go back and physically describe them. See how their description is an independent casing for their complex sausage.
(note to self: Maybe sausage and sausage casing not the best analogy. Kinda gross)

(note to self 2: oh shit @_Thaddeus is checking out your shit, don't freak out, just be cool yo)
Give them a name absolutely dead last. It's no longer going to carry as much baggage or expectation because it's atop this architecture of what comprises them.

So if that's how you build a character, what do you do with them, aside from "GO WRITE NOW" ?

One more thing.
I want you to list every scene you have in mind. In order.

No, doesn't matter if you know ALL of them. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. That's fine.

Maybe it looks like:

Carl goes to work
Carl kills a man with a burrito
Sally plans revenge.
What you're trying to do is see what if any thoughts you've already begun to organize.

And oh sweet bell peppers don't get all precious and call this an "outline" because that's a loaded term.

Let's call this "organization" because what you're doing.
Armed now with a scene list, you take this character you've been developing and you look at the scene(S) they're in.

And make sure that in that scene, they're doing something towards their goal(s).
So if we have "Carl" and "Carl goes to work" and a goal of "Carl wants to live a life of danger and assassination"

Then this scene at work is a chance for him to fantasize about that, and relay that goal to the audience.
Because the last part here, our bridge from notes about characters to the part where you go write is all about context.

If the scenes don't provide opportunity for characters to accomplish or move on their goals, what's the point and why is it on the page?
Context is also what helps build one more bridge to your readers or audience.

Maybe not as specifically as "I too want to be an assassin" but maybe in that "I spend time at my dayjob wishing I was doing something else."

You're aiming for "I feel you [CHARACTER NAME]"
That's "characterization."

Please note at no time did I insist that you dread this, or make a mountain from this not-mountain-that-really-just-wants-you-to-make-some-decisions-about-ways-other-people-relate-to-your-ideas
You can do this.

Take your time.

Answer the questions and don't settle for the quick answers. Be willing to dig a little and not settle.

Push past the kneejerk reactions.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with John helps you write better

John helps you write better Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @awesome_john

Jul 20, 2018
I thought today we'd have a nice chat about outlines today.

Are they the enemy? Are you making them the enemy? What do they do? What good are they? Why is this the hill people want to die on?

#ontheporch #amwriting #amrevising #writerlife #amwritingromance #amwritingfantasy
For reasons I never learned in school and have only barely begun to learn in life as a professional, people absolutely love labels for their work, and the work of others. It gives them something to debate, it gives them something to cling to or hide from.
Right up there with the show-vs-tell argument is another ancient battlefield with its own misconceptions, assumptions, heaps of bullshit, and utility.

Pantser and plotter.

Yeah, we're going there today.
Read 29 tweets
May 15, 2018
I was up early this morning (thanks chest pain), and it got me thinking.

So today's thread is about pursuing your dreams.
I cannot stress this loud enough, I could not possibly say this often enough, but if you have something you want to do, some thing you want to make, some person you want to talk to, some goal you want to achieve - go do it.

No, it's not easy. But that doesn't mean don't do it.
I look at my adult life and I see a few clear schisms, a few moments where I had very little choice but to change and change hard, because I had boxed myself into some kind of corner.

These are also the moments when I strayed farthest from my dreams.
Read 30 tweets
May 14, 2018
In this morning's thread ...

Not so much a thread as it is a pile of stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else.

So I present to you: ASSORTED THOUGHTS, vol. 6.

Describe something because it matters. Because knowing something new about a thing matters. Stop fearing that it takes time to do so.

You're telling a story, not mass producing widgets. Irregularity is okay.
Read 26 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Don't want to be a Premium member but still want to support us?

Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal

Or Donate anonymously using crypto!


0xfe58350B80634f60Fa6Dc149a72b4DFbc17D341E copy


3ATGMxNzCUFzxpMCHL5sWSt4DVtS8UqXpi copy

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!