Don’t Tell Me You Care, Show Me

(more character development do's and don'ts from my upcoming class)

Don’t… explain a character’s response to a situation—or to another character—when action would prove their response.

Especially don’t use internal dialogue to do the ALL work for you. This is cheating the reader from experiencing the hero/heroine’s reactions and coming to their own conclusion about what the hero/heroine is feeling or thinking. Internal dialogue should only tell the reader what they can’t see or know for themselves, such as secrets, memories or unexpected reactions.

Do… use body language and external dialogue to show how a character feels or thinks.

Actions speak louder than words. Character postures and actions more potently reveal if they are nervous, hurt, excited or dangerous. Since words can be false, most humans instinctively register actions in their subconscious to weigh truth.

When you pit actions against the reader's expectations, you can create especially tense situations.

For example, a woman with her husband at a party may meet a handsome, sexy, powerful man. She may speak casually to him, as if he's no more important than the bartender. But if she’s attracted to the newcomer, she’ll likely open her chest or her body, bare her neck by pushing away her hair, dilate her pupils, touch her neck or rub her ankles together. She may even laugh at his bad jokes.

Her husband may start to insult the man as a power-play to hide his insecurity. But in the end, her navel will point at the man she wants to go home with. Same for the fellows; whichever man takes the posture of the gorilla—chest out, chin raised, back straightened to the point of being arched, jaw set—is likely claiming territory.

Don’t Get Unreal When Reality Works Better

More character development Do's & Don'ts...

Don’t… make your hero/heroine so perfect, they are inhuman.

When you don’t include fatal flaws (physical, emotional, and mental), then your hero/heroine will feel rigid, one-dimensional. Readers can only bond with three-dimensional characters.

Flaws make the hero/heroine not only have more obstacles, but they make hero/heroines three-dimensional. And more human.

Do… give your hero/heroine flaws that match or counter-act their strengths.

Then play these off one another. Imagine a hero/heroine is a fast runner —a track star from their college years. But he/she is afraid of heights. So as that murderous ex pursues the hero/heroine over the rooftops of an old Moroccan village, these two character aspects will entangle, forcing the hero/heroine to make a choice: change or die.

That’s not just an interesting character but a compelling human situation. That’s conflict.

Go forth and conquer, Angels.
Your ever-faithful Editor Devil

Don’t Describe Cardboard When Lace Works

Don’t… use vague, cliche physical descriptions to describe your hero or heroine.

Brown hair, tall, strong build. That’s been done. Over and over. These words don’t convey the hero/heroine’s energy or uniqueness. Remember, vague means boring. Don’t be afraid to counter the typical description by showing scars, ugly aspects, or what they don’t have.

Do… use unique words and phrasings to convey your hero/heroine’s image as well as their presence.

Instead of “fair hair with deep blue eyes” for your sexy hero, you might try “he had sandy brows that crested over a Caribbean blue gaze.” Remember, women typically look at eyes first, while men look at a woman’s body first. Yet women judge sexiness by a man’s voice, while men judge a woman’s sexiness by her hair.

What you distinguish can really make a character interesting, even when you make a hero/heroine a tad ugly. I love the description of “he would have been handsome if he didn’t have a ...” mole, scar, crooked nose, big ears, sloppy lips. Hollywood’s leading sex symbols have had all of these (can you guess which belongs to whom?)

More power to you, Angels!
Your Editor Devil