empowering young writers online

More About Characters

Don’t Tell… Show Instead

sadReaders want to know how your characters feel. Don’t tell them. Instead, let them figure it out for themselves. They’ll pay better attention and get more involved.

Help readers get it right by giving them plenty of clues. Describe your characters’ expressions, how they’re standing or how they move, and what they’re doing with their hands.

How It Works

If your character looks away during an argument, readers may wonder why. To figure it out, they’ll think of a time when they couldn’t face someone. They’ll remember how uncomfortable they felt. Reliving that moment will make them experience what your character is going through. They’ll feel like the story is happening to them.

Showing Emotions

Are you wondering what guilt looks like? Think of a movie where one of the characters was feeling guilty. How did you know? Was it the way the actor moved? A gesture? An expression?

Think about the last time you saw someone acting guilty. Chances are, this person behaved quite a bit like the actor you just imagined.

Even though we’re all unique, we often show how we feel in the same ways. Use typical expressions, actions and gestures and readers will figure it out. They’ve had plenty of experience judging how people feel based on what they see.

When Characters Lie

Sometimes story characters say one thing but mean something else. Maybe the words sound sweet but why they say them isn’t. Maybe they’re being sarcastic or teasing someone. Maybe they’re lying. Use expressions, gestures or actions to show your character’s true feelings. When readers figure out what’s really going on, they’ll feel like they’ve discovered the character’s secret. They’ll be eager to uncover more.

To practice the tips and techniques on this page, go to the activities page, More for Characters.

Tag Cloud