If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been told “show, don’t tell” at least once. And probably a lot more than once. As tempting as it is to lay it out for our readers up front, it makes for a better story if we show them that a character has a certain personality trait through their actions, instead of through our words.
Isn’t that how we find out who people are in the real world? Think about politicians, for example. They all claim to be upfront, honest, and “for the people”, but their actions often paint a very different picture.
Our first impressions are also often deceiving. Twice this year I thought a person didn’t like me, only to find out later that she was just shy and reserved. And yesterday, I received even more evidence that our first impressions of people are often wrong.
A woman got on my crowded bus, and made her way to the back. She was well-dressed and very polished, with a short, fashionable haircut. She appeared stern and very serious, and looked for all the world like a business woman who had no sense of humour. But then I saw her purse.
Hanging from her bag was a little fuzzy purple gorilla. It wasn’t garish–in fact, if you weren’t looking for it, you probably wouldn’t know it was there. I only saw it because I was sitting while she was standing, so the fuzzy primate was at my eye-level. But a woman who has something like that hanging from her purse definitely has a sense of humour. This one little embellishment completely changed my impression of who this woman was.
And that got me thinking about the characters we create. Is there a fuzzy purple gorilla equivalent we could use to make our own characters come to life? To speak volumes with one small detail? What details have you used to make a character seem real?
I’m interested in your thoughts. All comments welcome!