Rookie Mistake: Flat Characters

In reviewing self-published books for Kirkus Indie, I often come across mistakes that practically shout, “rookie!” One, as I’ve posted before, is neglecting setting. Another common mistake new writers make is lack of characterization. This is mostly due to telling, rather than showing. I can’t tell you how many “beautiful” women with “kind eyes” I’ve read. It really gives no information; “beautiful” is so subjective as to be meaningless, and I’m not sure what “kind” eyes look like.

Show the reader what makes this woman beautiful, without infodumping. Typically, three telling details at the very beginning will suffice, then drop in more details where appropriate. What’s a telling detail? When first introducing your character, what are the three things that you would *first* notice about her, the things that express (or hint at) her personality? Use sensory details besides what she looks like, such as the powdery scent of make-up, the soft clinking of beads as she walks, the shine of gold jewelry and patent-leather heels.

Give (or repeat) mannerisms that express her personality. Instead of saying “she smiles a lot,” show her smiling frequently (but not repetitively). And those “kind eyes”? Show her kindness.

Sometimes the character’s surroundings (remember setting?) can tell us a lot about her. A front porch shaded by overgrown roses, a kitchen that smells like sage and mint tea, an office with polished glass desks and recessed lighting. Not” a shady porch,” “a cozy kitchen,” “a neat office.”

This kind of detail does require more work. You really have to get in there and root around in your characters’ heads. Visit them at home and/or the office. Learn about their past. Use all your senses to gather information, then decide what you want to convey about them. However, this extra work will pay off with a better manuscript.

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3 thoughts on “Rookie Mistake: Flat Characters

  1. Pingback: Sculpt Your Memoir: The Importance of Structure | Nerdy Words

  2. Pingback: Self-Publishers: Avoid Fatal Mistakes | Nerdy Words

  3. Pingback: Want to be a Novelist? Advice to New Writers | Nerdy Words

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