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Writing Tutorials: Describing a Character, How to Describe and Create Characterization

Updated on September 30, 2013
text by MissOlive image by
text by MissOlive image by | Source

Describing a character allows the reader to picture someone in their mind's eye

This hub is one in a series of on-going writing tutorials...

This hub will guide you through the reflective process of developing and describing a character. I will offer you a variety of elements to consider which affect characterization. As the author you are responsible for guiding your readers into a stimulating relationship with the characters you create. By describing a character you are helping the reader picture someone. Someone whole and with depth.

Describing a Character

Imagine you are writing a narrative. You should want your reader to feel personally connected to the characteristics and traits of your subject. Your descriptive words, tone and voice are the writing skills that will make this happen. You want to be vivid in your portrayal in order for your reader to capture your personal vision. The beauty of reading is analyzing the characterization of interesting characters. The writer is the artist that will illustrate this vision through descriptive and carefully crafted words. However, you must keep an important step in mind. You cannot describe a character until you have built the character. I will guide you through the steps and questions you need to reflect on as you begin the process of evolving your thoughts into a character your readers will want to follow, analyze and interpret.

Note - I will use the term "character" for both fictional and non-fictional subjects. Therefore, you can apply these descriptive techniques in the development of character descriptions in autobiographies, biographies and in creative writing.

How to Describe a Character

Characterization: Building the Framework

The Framework of a Character - Don't ignore who, what, when, where, how and why. The simplicity of these question prompts can lead to the development of an interesting character. You can choose how to best use the prompts. Here are some ideas,

  • Who - Who is the main character and who are the supporting characters? Who does the character influence?
  • What - What is the purpose of each of your characters? What role do they play? What conflicts do they encounter or provoke? What relationships do each of the characters have? What abilities or attributes affect the plot? What conflicts do they need to overcome? What motivates the characters? What internal conflicts does the character have? What external conflicts does the character have?
  • When - When do the various characters emerge into the storyline? When will your character have an epiphany?
  • How - How does the reader perceive the character? How do the characters perceive each other?
  • Why - Why is each respective character important to the story line? Why is a character having a conflict? Why do characters influence each other?

Describing Character Traits and Motivations

Gathering your tools and details -

What makes a person?

• Physical appearance

• Personality traits

• Experiences

• Motivations

• Relationships

• Conflicts

Transforming details into an image...

What does a character look like?

Physical appearance and style of your subject are considered descriptive - even the mundane. This includes unusual or unique features. Can you use a simile or metaphor to describe these features? For example, Her lips were as red as cherries. Her black hair glistened like a raven. He was a governmental tower with his stoic demeanor and height.

Consider the following when developing the text for descriptive traits,

• Height - really tall or short - ordinary and common

• Hair length and color - shiny, dull, multi-toned, intense, cropped or long

• Freckles, dimples, braces, glasses, prosthetics, hats or canes

• Clothing and style - well dressed, grungy, free spirited, disheveled. What message or image might the subject be trying to deliver with their style?

• Movement - is your subject graceful, clumsy or awkward? Or ordinary and without charm?

• What adjectives best describe your character?

Who is the character? Why is the character important?

Personality traits and experiences are additional character questions for you to consider when developing a description of a person. Why is your character the way he or she is? You should consider the cause and effect of these experiences. (Your who, what, when, where, how and why questions might be helpful here)

• What makes this person unique?

• How would you describe their personality?

• Does your character have special abilities, virtues or attributes?

• Are there specific physical or mental conflicts that challenge your character? Examples - Handicaps or disabilities from birth, disabled war heroes, the emotionally or physically abused traits of a victim.

What experience might your character have had that leads to these descriptive words? What have they witnessed? What where the circumstances? Setting? Age?

Examples -

• If you are writing about a homeless child that has witnessed domestic abuse -His dark eyes flashed violent rippled reflections of unfortunate wisdom and broken innocence.

• If you were writing about a family matriarch that was nurturing, strong and influential -Deep furrows created crossroads of wisdom and strife across her pale skin. The lines softened with her gentle smile and soothing eyes. Her cane supported the evolution of her burdens as she caressed the rose in her lush and colorful garden.

What are character motivations?

• What purpose does your character serve? Occupation? Goals? Challenges? Conflicts?

• How does the character's relationships affect his or her purpose? Do the relationships enhance the character or hinder the purpose the character is seeking?

• Is your character considered the antagonist or protagonist? How will your reader know the character's role?

Character: Antagonist or Protagonist?

What conflicts does your character endure? Is the character a self induced victim such as an addict? Or, do external factors provide the conflict? Does your character have any control over the conflict? What barriers must the character cross in order to achieve goals?

As a writer it is up to you to present your character in his true light. As readers we should "get to know" the characters we read about. I have found that the best readers, writers and even actors and directors develop a relationship with the characters they read, write and act or portray. So, if you the writer can guide your readers into developing a mental relationship and understanding of a character you have surely used descriptive writing.


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    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Hi aesta1, glad to hear it. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What an easy guide to follow. I can now put more details into my characters.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      RTalloni, thank you so much, I hope to see some of your creative writing in the near future.

      rebeccamealey, thank you! I LOVE using those uestions for reading, writing and analying. Glad you found the idea helpful.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks for great guidance on character building. I like the who, what, when, where and why questions as ideas to build a character!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Glad to see this highlighted again. Hoping next year to work on more in-depth creative writing and will be referencing useful material. Thanks for your work on this topic.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Thank you very much to all for your supportive comments:

      cclitgirl, NanoWriMo is in full swing and I do hope this suggestions come sin handy. Thanks for reading and commenting. Best wishes on your writing, I am confident you will do an amazing job.

      kelleyward, thank you! I appreciate the share and votes.

      Docmo, what a wonderful compliment. I'm honored to have you read this. Characterization is one of my favorite elements. I greatly appreciate you voting and sharing this.

      GoodLady, Thank you! Wow! I feel like I could sit and converse with you for hours. Your experience has me intrigued. Thanks for the votes and shares.

      writingcoach, relationships between characters can be overlooked and they shouldn't be. I have just finished a novel with my middle school students and we are currently analyzing characterization. Thanks for the examples of what is available, I may need to see about incorporating them into my lessons.

    • writingcoach profile image

      Gwen P Hankins 

      7 years ago from Midwest, USA

      MissOlive, I really enjoyed your article. I especially like the point that often gets overlooked: how does the character relate to the other charaters in the story? This makes the story so much more dimensional. A visual media example would be "Big Bang Theory" and the movie Accidental Tourist and even better the book by the same name and by Anne Tyler

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      7 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Really good hub here with the right information. I know because I write movie scripts and characterization is how I work out who my characters really are, what their up and downsides are and how many pimples they have on their face (under that dime store makeup, or would they spend on the good stuff? hm....). Voting and sharing. Great stuff.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      7 years ago from UK

      Missolive - this is a great hub with very useful info on character creation. Building the appearance, the personality tics and little nuances makes the characters 3 dimensional.. I too have written a hub on 'Writing tips: Building a character' that covers similar ground and I reflect on influences and inspirations. This is a very well written hub and series.. thank you- voted up and sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow this is great. Thanks for sharing how to describe a character. Voted up and shared. Kelley

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      7 years ago from Western NC

      I'm eating these hubs up, MO. I'm considering doing the NaNoWriMo and I'm trying to get prepared this month. I love your writing tutorials! Must share!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      anonymous, well what an honor to have you stop by to read and comment. I'm glad you worked your way through the comments and left me one. You have made my day. Oh, and of course I'll be easy on you, most of my students are just your age. Happy reading and writing! :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      thx.. but it took me for EVER to get past the coments! by the way, great job... oh and im only 11 so go easy on me!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      DDE, thank you! I appreciate it and glad it was helpful.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A helpful Hub in detail thanks

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      My Minds Eye53 - Hi there, yes, HubPages will be getting rid of the bookmarking feature. I've been rebuilding my toolbars and links as well. I do appreciate you coming by and letting me know. Happy Hubbing!

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      Maude Keating 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      I copied all the links to hubs I want to revisit to my hard drive, HubPages is going to get rid of "Bookmarking". Just wanted to let you know

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Just Ask Susan - I'm so happy you are bookmarking this hub. Creative interesting and memorable characters is a fun and interesting skill. Thanks for the votes.

      Marcy Goodfleisch - Thank you! I'm glad to hear you liked my ideas for creating characters. It is a topic I enjoy creating and teaching. I appreciate your votes and support.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      8 years ago from Planet Earth

      Beautiful guidance! I'm so glad this came across my feed - otherwise, I'd have missed it! You've done a great job of offering inspiring and practical information on how to develop a character and put it in the context of a story and plot. Thank you!

      Voted up, awesome, interesting and useful.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have to bookmark your hub as there is so much information here that I need to apply to my writing. You've given me so much to think about. Thank you.

      Up +++

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas










      Thank you to each of you for your wonderful and supportive comments. I greatly appreciate your respective votes and bookmarks. Most importantly I thank you for reading my hub and taking the time to comment. My apologies for my delayed response. I must have inadvertently missed this comment thread.

    • Ehtesham12 profile image


      8 years ago from Islambad

      Very Helpful for everyone.Specially new hubbers like me :)

    • Seek-n-Find profile image

      Jenna Ditsch 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      You are a writing machine!!! :-)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      8 years ago from Nepal

      Your writing tutorials are very useful, I have bookmarked them for future reference.

    • adrienne2 profile image

      Adrienne F Manson 

      8 years ago from Atlanta

      Missolive you have some of the most informative hubs. This is a particularly rich article filled with how to develop your characters. I found it interesting, and reminded me of a fiction writing class I enjoyed taking. Voted up, and useful!

    • suvitharoja profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Hi, This is a great hub. I appreciate your efforts in organizing this info into a great post.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Miss Olive, another outstanding hub! You are so talented and I have learned so much from you. I am bookmarking another one of yours.

      These exact same questions would be great for analyzing a story from a book or short story. They are also very similar to questions I would give to an actor learning a character.

      Nicely done, and such a beautiful, attractive hub, too!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Your guide to character creation is outstanding! A comprehesive resource for writers. Thanks for sharing. Flag up!

    • molometer profile image

      Micheal is 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Another excellent hub miss olive.

      Bookmarked for when I start my novel.

      I will of course give you a mention lol

      Voted up useful interesting

    • rlaha profile image


      8 years ago from Spartanburg, SC

      Thank you so much for this information. It will help greatly in my future writing!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      wanzulfikri - Thank you! I agree with you -observing people can help build awareness of character traits. For example - I am so intrigued by actors that follow and study the people they are going to portray. They pick up the most amazing traits. Even the smallest gesture can help define a persona.

      Glad you stopped by

    • wanzulfikri profile image


      8 years ago from Malaysia

      Another great hub on writing and creating a character. I believe the secret of a great character is that we must observe everyone around us.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      homesteadbound - Glad to hear you loved this enough to bookmark. Be BRAVE!!! :)

      thougtforce - Your comment is music to my ears. I'm glad you find my writing style easy to understand. Thank you for your support and bookmark. Writing is a leap of faith - just get started and the momentum will carry you - be brave! :)

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      8 years ago from Sweden

      This is so good and I love the easy way you describe how to describe a character! I don't mean to sound like I think it is easy to write a narrative but this hub helps me to think the right way! I agree and repeat what homesteadbound said so well; maybe I will get brave enough to write a fictional work:) Bookmarked and I look forward to read the other hubs on writing tutorials.


    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      8 years ago from Texas

      I absolutely love this one too. I am bookmarking this one also. Another great hub. If I keep reading your tutorials I may get brave enough to do a fictional work yet.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      tsmog - I'd say you touched on something there - nothing better than a character with character ;)

      Very glad to see you have read and enjoyed this. Honored to know you have bookmarked my hub. I'm excited about working my way through this series.

      Thank you for your continued support.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      8 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you. I made a new file in my bookmarks - creative writing. This is the first to enter. How can there a be a story without character, whoops, I mean a character. Speaking of character, this hub's character is pretty creative. Downright imaginative.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      SheilaKay - Glad to hear this has been informative & that you are looking forward to reading more. Honored! I was pretty impressed with the hubs of the links I provided. Great resources for analyzing characterization techniques. By the way, I've already added two more hubs to this series; settings and personal narratives.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • SheliaKay profile image


      8 years ago from Marietta, Ohio..... but born and raised in Northern Ohio on Lake Erie

      Thank you Missolive this is a wonderful Hub, very informative.I also appreciate the links and book recommendations. Looking forward to reading more.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Katherine - I am very pleased you read my hub. You have left me with a beautiful complement in regard to detail. I'm glad to share and I do plan to continue this series. In fact I've added two more hubs to this series and I would be glad to know you have read them as well.

      Best regards, MissOlive / Marisa

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is an outstanding article full of wisdom! I love the fine details as I am very detail-oriented. Thanks for sharing and keep on writing!

    • Skylar Spring profile image

      Skylar Spring 

      8 years ago from New York

      Great hub! Very detailed and I love how you did the headings. Thank you also for your lovely description of my hub. It's much appreciated and very flattering hehe. Keep up the great work! :)

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      asmaiftikhar - thank you for stopping by and leaving such a great complement. Very glad to hear you find this beneficial. I can't wait to get the rest of this series published! Thanks again, MissOlive

    • asmaiftikhar profile image


      8 years ago from Pakistan

      Hats off to you miss Olive ! A great hub and that's really full of benefits.keep benefiting people of world like this.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Sunshine in the house! Sunshine I will ALWAYS have your back! Thank you for stopping by and making me SMILE! Descriptive is GOOD!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      8 years ago from Orlando, FL

      SUPERB! I was just pondering...I need to remember to be more descriptive! I thank you MissOlive for reading my mind and having my back! :))

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      gailalovesbijou - I am so glad to have you stop by. I'm very happy to hear you found this hub helpful and informative. What a wonderful compliment this is for me.

      Also, thank you for the bookmark, the vote up and useful click!

      Continued best wishes on your writing, MissOlive

    • gailalovesbijou profile image


      8 years ago from Wyomissing, PA

      Thanks for the interesting, informative hub! I bookmarked to use as a guide when I write my next novel. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      GOOD! Mission Accomplished! hehe

    • profile image


      8 years ago


      That joke brought a smile to my face.

      LOL Ghaelach

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Ghelach - there is a joke in our English Dept. "I used to be a really good writer until I learned how" lol

      Thank you for visiting and commenting - happy writing! ;)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi missolive.

      As a novice writer i found your hub on "Discribing Characters" very interesting and informative. Getting all that info onto paper so to say is going to take a while not to mention the other tips and hubs you talk about. My days are taken for the next few years.

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

      Take care.

      LOL Ghaelach

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      dahoglund - thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you find this useful. Many writers know the items on this hub, but we can forget sometimes. Hopefully, this will serve as a nice guide or help break someone's writer's block. :)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      A useful summing up of things I should know but easily forget.


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