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There are dozens of different techniques for creating stunning and memorable characters or individuals when writing short stories. But whatever ingenous tricks you may dream up, all use the two most important elements of characterization - putting over (1) how someone looks and (2) how he acts and thinks. In other words, it is his appearance and personality. The ideas I injected in this article are taken from my personal journal when I took up my creative writing course with The Writers Bureau in Manchester, London in 1999 by mail.
If your interest is to write short story (fiction) you would have to accept it that in a short story you have not got the space for long, involved, descriptions of your characters. The reader is only going to be in their company for a little while – just as long as it takes for the central drama to unfold and be resolved. So you need to find shortcut ways of telling what your cast looks like. The most effective shortcuts are names, unusual features and mannerisms.
To read my previous articles on this topic about Cracking The Short Story just visit the following links and you can even download them if you wished to: (1) Ingredients Needed for Your Story, (2) Finding Story Ideas, (3) Plotting Your Story.
In addition of what I am feeding you now – you may consider the following 22 good points for your short story characterization. Here they are:
(1) It’s the characters in stories “the people” that we care about, not the setting, the building, the landscape or the weather.
(2) A fiction writer has to make sure that his characters are strong and believable. He can’t get away with vague outlines.
(3) Characters don’t have to be realistic to be believable but they have to be fully-rounded individuals.
(4) Even if they are aliens or goblins they must still have personalities, likes and dislikes, faults and good points, motivations and goals.
(5) In a short story you need to describe your characters quickly. The best shortcuts are names, mannerisms and unusual features.
(6) Character names are vital. Everyone needs a name. You can’t expect a reader to feel empathy for an anonymous figure.
(7) You can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background by the name he or she has.
(8) Unless a name is exactly right for the setting, era and genre, it will seem odd and risks destroying the suspension of disbelief.
(9) Know when a name feels right – short, strong names for powerful characters; long, fussy names for officious or pompous individuals.
(10) A safe bet for a name that won’t date or seem out of period is to go for Biblical names like – Ruth, Mark, Daniel, Luke, Rachel and etc.
(11) Pick names that are distinctive and as different as possible from each other. Don’t let the reader mix up characters in his head.
(12) Stick to describing the basics (age, sex, height, build and etc) as swiftly as possible.
(13) Readers are interested in what makes someone look different from other people. Only tell the reader about unusual features.
(14) When describing a person, you can suggest his personality and individuality through his mannerisms.
(15) Dialogue is another powerful way of suggesting character. Every utterance provides information about an individual background.
(16) The way people speak reveals their background, up-bringing, the closeness of their relationships and the era in which the story is set.
(17) Once you identify what motivates your characters, you will know why they think and act as they do.
(18) The reader needs to understand your hero’s or villain’s motivations. What drives him is as important as a good description of his appearance.
(19) Often it’s the characters motivations that make your readers decide whether or not they like him.
(20) A person may not be evil but he may act in an evil way (completely out of character) if the right motivation is provided.
(21) Always make your characters real and different. Don’t use stereotypes. They insult the intelligence of the reader and reinforce prejudices.
(22) Using stereotypes is defensible only when you are using the reader’s own prejudices and lazy thinking against him.