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Helpful Hints On Characterization

Perfection Does Not Exist

No one is perfect, and that goes for the characters in our stories. The hero can have a heart of gold, eyes as blue as the sky, hair as black as sin, and a smile that can make the sun look like it is low on voltage. But come on now, shouldn’t he have some weakness, some part of him that is less than perfect? Maybe he doesn’t trust any woman further than he could toss her. Maybe he is scared of needles, and faints at the sight of one.

The same holds true for your villain and villainess. Sure they are awful people, and no doubt their souls are cold and dark but isn’t there even one beam of good light in there? Of course there is. The villain might hate everybody, but maybe he has a dog he would give his life for. The villainess probably wishes death on those who defy her, but the sight of a baby might melt her cold heart, and maybe she would even sacrifice something to protect a child. I’ll never forget the barkeeper from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. In lots of ways, he was this awful person, but there were times, when this softer, good side of him broke free. It made him memorable — it made him real. He wasn’t just a cardboard character, but a person with both good and bad inside of him.

The difference between Cody and Egbert

One of the first things we need for a character is a name. It might not always hold true in real life, but in fiction, it’s necessary most times for the name to fit the character. That’s because — right or wrong — we all have preconceived ideas as to who a person is with a given name. If I’m speaking to a female over the phone, that I’ve never met before, and she introduces herself as Ursula, Scarlett, Desiree, or Hildegard, I get a picture of that person’s appearance and character in my mind. I might be way off, but it’s there. So when I read, I do the same thing. I find that for me personally, Egbert just doesn’t work as a good name for a hero. In my judgment, Egbert, Egor, or Eugene just does not a sexy hero make — although you might know one very sexy guy with one of these names, it’s not the norm. So, what characters do names conjure up in your mind? Make sure there is at least a good chance that those name will conjure up the picture you want your readers to see.

Character tags

A tag word or action tag can make even a character that has a small part in your story stand out or be recognized when needed. With a main character, it can show a little personality, a hint of tension, or just make them seem more human.

In one of my stories (set in the 1800’s) I have a heroine who always says “hell’s bells” when she is angry. It’s her way of cursing. No one else in the story says this, so if the reader sees that tag in a sentence, they know who is talking without a doubt. You could also have a character that has a habit of calling everyone honey. Or a character that talks with slang, uses bad English, an accent, or whatever fits that character and seems normal for him or her.

Action tags work the same way. I for one, have this habit of playing with my hair, twisting strands of it around my finger. I notice I do this a lot more if I am nervous, or even bored. I could have a character in a story who has a slight limp, or the habit of jiggling loose change in his pocket, sucking on a piece of hard candy, or maybe drumming his fingers on his desk.


Charlotte Dillon
Charlotte Dillon was born in a small town in southern Louisiana, only a couple of hours from New Orleans. Charlotte devoured books about horses, far away places, long ago days and children brave enough to face any battle and win. She wrote short stories for fun and still made up her tales at bedtime, even when she outgrew her fears. Thousands of romance books later, after marriage and babies, Charlotte wrote the first words of a romance story of her very own. Way back then she actually thought you just wrote a manuscript, sent it off to a publisher, and a few months later it was a book on the store shelves. She spends her days as a freelance writer, and evenings and weekends working on her tales of heroes, horses, and the kind of romance that dreams are made of. Visit her at www.CharlotteDillon.com

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