Tips for Character Driven Description



Tips for Character Driven Description: Fiction and Non-fiction

Our stories or narratives include characters, and are stronger by using descriptive details that drive and support the topic.

When we first meet a person, we get a sense of who they are and perhaps their occupation. That happens through details we notice; how they dress, how they talk, the way they move or how they treat others. My hubby and I walk each morning. Several other neighbors walk daily about the same time. I can often recognize a neighbor before I can see them clearly, because I recognize the way they walk. I bet you have this experience too.

Our readers need to meet our characters in the same way. It’s up to us to shape characters in our stories by describing the details of how our character talks, moves and dresses. Does she speak with an accent? Does he limp as he walks? Is she a casual runner or one training for an event? Does she wear a big floppy hat as she bikes with her fluffy puppy in her flowered basket? Our characters further develop the scenes we paint for our readers.

Choose details that distinguish your character. What makes that character catch your attention? What gives the reader more information about that character? Does he have body language that expresses shyness, self-importance or condescension?  What is she wearing, a business suit or sweats? You get the idea.

Now pull from the sense words we’ve talked about for: sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture enhanced descriptions.

If the character you are describing has a minor role in the story, the details would be brief. The waitress serving a cup of hot chocolate might be a sweet young college student with bouncy blonde hair. And, that’s all you mention initially because, you’ll weave in more description as the story or narrative builds.

We give more clues to the reader through:
1)    Describing the environment around a character’s occupation and living situation,
2)    Noting the way people react to him or her,
3)    Plus, everyone has an inner layer of history; the details we readily see are clues to a person’s life. Consider which outward signs history might create, and describe those clues as you build aspects of your character’s life.

Book suggestions for writers:
Keys To Great Writing, Revised and Expanded, by Stephen Wilbers
Word Painting, by Rebecca McClanahan

Earlier Post links in this series—Descriptive Writing for Fiction and Non-Fiction:
Write it with Senses and POV Tips:
Tips for Figurative Speech: 
Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her writer’s website at:   
Visit her caregiver’s website: 
Available on Amazon --- Mom & Me: A Story of Dementia and the Power of God’s Love
Facebook: Deborah Lyn Stanley, Writer 




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Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Deborah, this is lovely. One of my favorites is "describing" a character's mood by the way she/he/they is thinking about what surrounds her--from the people she encounters to her surroundings. Just have to include a warning. Just because she is thinking it, doesn't mean it goes into italics. Agents and other gatekeepers take this as a clue that the writer hasn't done enough homework on technique.

Terry Whalin said...


Thanks for this thought-provoking post. We need to work hard as writers on our description and you've raised some important issues for every writer to consider.


Karen Cioffi said...

Deborah, wonderful post. Writers certainly do need to use character descriptions to create a connection with the reader. Thanks for these tips.

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