Bringing Your Characters to Life

If you’re an author, you hope to create memorable characters who will help your story come alive and captivate your readers.  Most authors, get to know their characters inside and out before they even begin a book, but how do they reveal their characters to the reader so that the reader understands the character too?

First, we learn about characters through their speech. What do you learn about Fred Emerson in this excerpt from A New Dream?

“Who brought you home?” demanded her father, Fred Emerson. “Where’s your car?”

 “Alternator failure. It’s in the parking lot at work. The new manager, Matt McCallum, brought me home.” Violet hugged her mother Beth and her sister Jessie who both had a big pile of beans in front of them.

 “You could have called me,” her father insisted.

Violet hung her purse on the coat rack near the door. “I knew you were busy with the garden stuff, Daddy. He offered, and I didn’t see any reason to turn him down.”

 Fred snapped a bean with more vigor than necessary. “McCallum acted like a gentleman, I hope. Some of those pro-ball players don’t behave too well.”

 Violet frowned. “He was a perfect gentleman, Daddy.”

 “Good.” Fred tossed a handful of beans into a dishpan. “He’d better continue to be. I won’t tolerate anybody messing with my daughters. I don’t know what the world’s coming to these days.”

Right off the bat we know that Fred is an old-fashioned, maybe overly protective father.

We also learn about characters from their appearance.  What do you learn about my bad girl Stacey?  She’s also from A New Dream.

Her style hadn’t changed much since she ran out on him. She still dressed to attract attention, and judging from the expression on several nearby male faces, she hadn’t lost her touch. She was wearing a short skirt, knee boots, and a sweater that was probably half a size too small. She looked as chic, expensive, and sexy as she ever had, but the sultry, comehither look he’d always loved didn’t do much for him now.

 So, Stacey’s an extrovert, sexy, likes men, and probably uses her looks to get what she wants.  We also learn that when the going got tough, Stacey ran out on my hero.

 A character’s private thoughts also tell us what he/she is like. What do you find out about my New Dream hero Matt McCallum?  Matt was a pro-football player who lost his career when he lost a leg in an accident.

He had worked like a dog on that leg, but he still limped, and it felt like knives stabbed him with every step he took. His career was over, and he had lost almost everything he had loved and valued. Yeah, he felt drained.

 Nevertheless, he always kept such dark thought to himself. God forbid he should invite anyone’s pity! He’d rather be dead first.

 We see that Matt is depressed over the changes in his life.  We also see that he’s a proud man who doesn’t want anyone’s pity.

We also learn about characters from the way others see him and react to him.  In this excerpt, my New Dream hero told my heroine that he won’t leave her porch until she talks to him even though the weather is icy and bitter cold.

Dinnertime came and went, and Matt still sat on the porch. “I’m going to take him something to eat,” Beth declared. “He has to be starving.”

 Violet guessed her mother was right. Matt had once told her that the effort of walking with a prosthesis burned additional calories, but the picture of Stacey etched in her brain hardened her heart. “He isn’t your problem, Mother. Leave him alone.”

 Nerves on edge, Violet started to cry, and when she did Beth tackled Fred. “Fred Emerson, you do something right now! I’m not having it on my conscience if that young man freezes to death on my front porch, especially since I believe he’s telling the truth.”

 “Mother! I thought you were on my side!”

 Fred pounced on her statement like a cat on a catnip mouse.  “I knew it! You’ve always liked him.”

 “Well, you do something, and I mean now!”

 Don’t you think it says a lot about Matt’s character that my heroine’s mother believes he’s innocent of betraying her daughter with another woman?

A character’s actions will reveal a lot about them too.  What do you think this excerpt says about Matt?

Matt patted old Mrs. Watson on the arm. “I’m sorry for the confusion, ma’am.”

Bristling with indignation, the woman nodded her head. “See to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

 As she stalked away, the redfaced cashier blurted out. “I wasn’t wrong.”

 “I know it, but she’s old. Make a note of the amount, and I’ll put it in the register.” He winked at the cashier who no longer looked upset.

 He’s kind to old ladies?  This is a nice guy!  A keeper!

If you’re interested in A New Dream it’s available at


About Elaine Cantrell

Elaine Cantrell was born and raised in South Carolina. She has a Master’s Degree in Personnel Services from Clemson University and is a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary sorority for women educators. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America. Her first novel A New Leaf was the 2003 winner of the Timeless Love Contest and was published in 2004 by Oak Tree Press. When she isn't writing you can find Elaine playing with her dog or maybe collecting more vintage Christmas ornaments
This entry was posted in Books, characters, Elaine Cantrell, Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bringing Your Characters to Life

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    yes, dialog is very revealing … or it should be.
    These are great character studies… would be good to use in a writing workshop.
    My favorite is that last one, because (to me) it reveals the most, while stating the least.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, the balance of getting ideas across without over-telling….isn’t that what every writer strives to achieve?
    Good luck with this one, Elaine, and all of your works!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    This book originally had a different cover, didn’t it? Love your examples. I have this book on my virtual shelf waiting for me!


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