Posted by: anitanolan | November 22, 2010

Discussing Characterization, Part I

I presented workshops on Characterization and Tension at the NJ SCBWI Mentoring Workshop last weekend. Over the next few days, I’ll be writing about some of the things I learned while preparing for the workshop.

Often, when I’ve been critiqued, one of the things that comes up is that the reader doesn’t find out my character’s name right off the bat, or the reader hasn’t received any description of the character (hair color, etc.)

I recently did an exercise that proved, at least to me, that you don’t need that information in the first few pages.

I read through the first five pages of one of my favorite books and listed everything I learned about the main character. It just so happens that the main character’s name wasn’t mentioned in those first five pages. Neither was her hair color, or any other physical character description. I did find out a lot about the character’s family situation and personal situation.

Reading the first five pages of your own manuscript and listing all the clues to the character that you find there is a good exercise to understand how you’re presenting to your character. Too often, I think, we just start writing without much thought at the clues to character we’re giving to our readers.

Things as simple as word choice can give clues to character. If your young male character “squeaks,” you may be intimating to the reader that he’s weak, or small. Is that your intent?

After you’ve read through your first five pages and have your list, consider:

What did you learn about the main character of your book? What clues to character did you give?

Was the information you did provide correct, or necessary? And is there information that you didn’t provide that you should have?





  1. This is a great exercise. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Anita, reading through your beginning chapters to see what they reveal about your character is an excellent idea. You could have a somewhat different picture of your character than what is coming through in your writing.

  3. I found it really helpful to list what characteristics I found in the first few pages. Glad you think it’s a good idea too.

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