Capturing the Essence of a Character

by | Characters | 5 comments

I’m always scanning crowds for interesting characters that I might be able to use in one of my stories. However, this time I used the exercise to hone my skills of capturing and describing people. I endeavored to identify the essence of each person, the qualities that made them unique.

For example. across the waiting area, a round middle-aged woman stood apart from her husband lost in what appeared to be

Bora Bora Man

Bora Bora Man

unpleasant thoughts. She had her shoulders pulled way back to counterbalance her ample bosom and distended abdomen. As a result, the hem of her loose-fitting dress hung an inch or two higher in the front than the back, rising and falling with each labored breath.

Close behind me, a gum-chomping teenager jostled me multiple times without apologizing. I never turned around, so I don’t know what he looked like. What I do know is that he never stopped moving, shuffling about in his neon-green athletic shoes, while his mouth spewed words like veggies from a salad shooter.

A young mother sat facing me at a nearby table holding a newborn in her left arm and eating with her right hand while talking on a phone cradled to her ear and, at the same time, participating in conversations with her husband and his parents. I marveled at her ability to multitask. However, it bothered me that she ignored her baby boy who appeared hungry, based on the effort he displayed in attempting to nurse on the clothed nipple and the way he clawed at the edge of his mother’s ultra low-cut top that appeared to have been specially designed for emergency breastfeeding situations.

As writers we work to improve our writing skills via reading the works of others, studying writing techniques and typing until our fingers are sore. However, it is also important to spend time observing. Because when it come to describing the essence of a character to our readers, we must first conjure it in our imaginations. We stock our personal library of character traits: physical attributes, behaviors, mannerisms and patterns of speech, by observing those around us.

If you have other techniques for capturing the essence of characters, please share them in the comments below. And if you’ve recently observed an intriguing character, please take time share it with us.

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