AN SSOA WRITING EXERCISE
Holding back details of character is a technique often used in the crime genre – but what details are essential to effective characterisation in general fiction?
Margo Hofmann Jurgens: Look to purpose in character
When I was growing up reading children’s novels, I remembered the perfunctory ‘emerald eyes’ and ‘long flowing brown hair’ of characters. As I consumed more sophisticated fiction, effective characterisation blended into either the character’s purpose and/or persona - or with the setting: a tomboy with hair like dirt, a teenage warrior described as ‘slender as a knife’. Such details integrate the character with the setting to help the reader understand why this individual is relevant at all.
Ultimately, character reveals itself primarily through action. Not what is said, but how it is said and when. As with any individuals we encounter, we learn the most when we shock them into reaction. When they don’t have time to lie. When they haven’t prepared a constructed version of events. Character, then, is best revealed not through descriptive detail, but through manifesting precise circumstances to which characters must react, thereby revealing values, principles and purpose.
Jennifer Neil: A character's hidden traits