The Secret to Bringing Your Characters to Life

by Jeff Elkins | 54 comments

It’s Atticus Finch giving advice to Scout that shows us he is a man of empathy and compassion. It’s Frank Underwood banging his class ring on the table that reminds us he is in command. It’s Holden Caulfield using phrases like “vomity” and “grow up” that helps us remember that he is an adolescent.

The Secret to Characterization: Bringing Characters to Life

Using indirect characterization can make our heroes and villains leap from the page and come to life in our readers' minds.

What Is Indirect Characterization?

Direct characterization is when the author tells the reader about a character.

Jack was a rambunctious boy.

Jill was a clumsy girl.

While it is something we have to do on occasion, when done too often, it can make a story flat and dull.

Indirect characterization is far more fun. This is when the author tells a reader about a character through the character’s repeated words, reoccurring actions, or physical descriptions.

As he did every day, Jack ran wildly down the hill with reckless abandon.

Jill stumbled on her untied shoelaces for the fourth time that day.

Showing our readers who our characters are through indirect characterization allows our readers to draw their own conclusions about our characters, intensifying our readers' engagement with our stories.

A Wonderful Example: Harry Potter’s Scar

Few indirect characterizations are more effective than Harry Potter’s scar. J.K. Rowling accomplished an incredible amount with this small mark on her main character’s forehead.

Here are three noteworthy things Harry’s scar does:

1. It Reminds the Reader of Harry’s Past

Through this one simple physical attribute, a lightening-shaped scar, readers are reminded of when Harry received the wound. Every mention of the scar propels readers back in time to the moment when Harry’s parents died, but he lived.

To refresh the backstory without giving paragraphs of emotionally charged narrative, Rowling simply needs to mention the scar, and readers remember the sacrifice of Harry’s parents.

2. It Reveals Who Harry Is

Scars are what is left after a wound. To get one, a character must go and do. Scars are created  by battles. They carry tales of adventure.

By making a scar her protagonist’s identifying feature, Rowling tells readers that Harry is a fighter. He is not one to hide in the shadows. He is a hero of action. The scar reveals something about who Harry is.

3. It Hints at Harry’s Future

At key moments in the narrative, Harry’s scar will ache. This small device reminds the reader that the wound has not healed, and that the story is not over. It hints at unresolved conflict between Harry and his nemesis, Voldemort—the one who gave him the scar.

Rather than telling us there is a battle coming, all Rowling needs to do is have Harry rub his scar, and we know that there is a confrontation looming.

Time to Get Creative

Maybe your character has a unique tattoo or a phrase she repeats. Maybe there is a white streak in his hair or a paper clip she bends into interesting shapes as she talks. Does he smoke two cigarettes at once? Does she bounce her knee under the table? Is there a burn behind her ear, or a bar code on his neck?

What is it about your character that is going to make us remember him? What about her will remind us of what has happened, who she is, and what is coming for her?

Don't just tell us. Use indirect characterizations like physical attributes, repeated words, or reoccurring actions to bring your characters to life.

What are some ways you indirectly characterize your characters? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Write about a character for fifteen minutes. Using indirect characterization, tell us about the character. Give us a picture of where he/she has been, who he/she is, and what is coming for him/her.

Once you are done writing, post your work in the comments. Then go and comment on other authors' characters.

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Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

54 Comments

  1. Tina

    This is why I have to hit the notebook first. Transcribed from my notebook:

    All Gerrard wanted was to love Krisha.
    Krisha’s backside was far more odalisque than yoga-honed (if ever?? Only meditation – and only occasionally, at that – served her). At forty-seven it had more than a touch of lumpy pork mush to its contour.

    She was elusive to his gaze, his following … a lot of sneaking walking work-ins assured the rest of her of tone, agility to haul that caboose. She’s resembled in manner a younger Kathleen Turner for decades, crossed with imagine a matured Scarlett Johansson …. but intensified with that hilarious flair that only being amongst fashionable Latina women seemed to impart to her.
    “Why won’t you let me love you?” came his plaint. It was so damn hard.
    Krisha extended her buffed-nailed hands.
    “You should have seen it. Heads rolled at work today. Of course, any place with ‘the human touch’ has to stay puny. It has growing pains to go through.”

    “Ah, being a working supervisor in customer service …”
    “The ‘straw boss’ is dead. Gerrard. As you will be … what are you doing? You wanna tease me???”
    If only Krisha didn’t have a hollow leg, he’d have broken out the sangria already … get her more in the mood for a little something different.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      Love it! Great writing.

    • Tina

      Thank you … the writing flows and then it stops. It helps if I approach these exercises as part of the draft manuscript.

    • Ai-tama

      I like that despite Krisha being different from “the ideal beauty,” she’s much more real and Gerrard loves her anyway.

    • Tina

      No—her beauty not of graphic novel caliber. But she is plenty hot. The way Kathleen Turner had been somewhere in between Body Heat and Romancing the Stone, etc.
      “Real” is revealed in the character’s actions, insofar as I could bring them out. 😉

  2. Ai-tama

    This feels a bit open-ended, but I suppose that’s alright. Anyway, here goes:
    People seemed to give her dirty looks as she passed. They would mutter things under their breath, make gestures for warding off evil. Her almond-shaped eyes, her most prominent and “different” feature, told them that she was bad luck.
    If only these people knew how many times she’d saved their lives, saved the entire world, even–maybe they wouldn’t be so awful just because she had “barbarian blood” in her. But they wouldn’t believe her, even if she told them. They wouldn’t believe she had the blood of the gods flowing through her veins, as well as that of her far-eastern grandmother.
    Chrystephone tried not to let it get to her, but it gets tiresome, trying to ignore all those stares and whispers. It had been happening all her life, and she was afraid that she would suffer those same judgmental stares until the day her soul resided in the Underworld (and possibly long after that).
    She wasn’t doing all this monster-fighting, quest-solving insanity for them, though. She was doing it for the good of all, and on a more selfish note, she was doing this to prove herself to her mother. Call her a mommy’s girl, but she really only wanted her mother to be proud of her. Athena was the wisest of all the immortals, she thought, so she needed to live up to that. It was a tall order to fill, but she would do all she could to do it.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      Love the eyes as a device. You did a great job of using them to create the “outsider” and “hidden hero.” The window to the soul being so misread gives great character insight. Nicely done!

    • Ai-tama

      I’m so glad you think so! I was honestly a little worried that I might have tried to include too much in this writing exercise.
      This article was definitely a big help, though, because I’ve been told I tend to get a little too “wordy” when introducing characters.

    • Tina

      She’s got space blood coursing through her veins, probably … not quite a human (?)
      I’m wordy, too (basically).
      Perhaps you have a strong writer’s voice that is more apparent when the story hits its stride.

    • Ai-tama

      Yes, indeed–Chrystephone is the daughter of the Greek goddess Athena, and is therefore not entirely human. Since her mom’s immortal, I guess you could say that she has “space blood.” :3
      Anyway, thanks a bunch!

  3. Nui

    His breath was coming in gasps, and he couldn’t feel his legs anymore. His feet were bruised, and his arms were covered in little scrapes from the sharp edges of branches. His arms were so tired, but he managed to reach up and feel his nose, which was wet and covered with something rather sticky. Before he could at least catch his breath, a distant gunshot made him scramble to his feet, and with only a single glance back, he started running again. Even as he was running, the trees becoming one big dark green blur, he could feel himself slowing down, and the noise of the gunshots came closer. To take his mind off things such as death in the near future and impending doom, he focused on his shoes, which were now rather muddy, but had only a few hours ago, been new and shiny. As he thought of his shoes, he started to think of his mother, then his father, and soon enough, all the siblings he had left behind. It was all because of their sacrifices that he had come this far. He had to believe that, because how else was he to justify the fact that while the rest of his family had bravely faced the monster and all died heroes, he had been sneaking out the back door, preparing to run for his life? He was a coward, but he would never admit that to anyone else. He couldn’t, because otherwise, that awful feeling would take over, and he would die from the inside out. ‘A better destiny than the one you’ve created for yourself,’ he thought to himself. But no. There was no time for thoughts. For he had slowed down so much, that he could smell the gunpowder in the air. They were here. He stopped in his tracks, and turned slowly to face his destiny.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      So good. I really want to read what comes next. The scrapes and exhaustion from running could potentially be a great metaphor for a character at the end of his rope, a character looking to take a stand for the first time. Wonderfully done.

  4. Gail Wofford Cartee

    Once again her bathing suit fell into the deep vertical scar of the cesarean section she wanted to deny; she wanted to forget; she wanted to die. It seemed every moment of every day something or someone reminded her she was not woman enough to birth her child. Just looking into his sweet, innocent face made her want to turn away. Why did God let her live? It would have been better to have died in childbirth than to face this shame of being unable. There was one saving grace in all of this horror story. She was nursing this little fellow. No one could take her baby. He didn’t have a bottle. She was the one he depended on to feed him, just as he had for all the nine months before. Oh, they would love to take him and hold him and nurture him and give him their bottle. No, she would not be denied this part of womanhood. Maybe they had labored for days and pushed for hours but they had not continued to be able to sustain their child’s life. They had failed as well. They had given in to the the doctors, the fears, the bottle. The cold, impersonal bottle stuffed in their child’s mouth because they had failed. Only they wouldn’t admit failure. Only she was the failure because, though she had tried, she couldn’t birth her baby. Was this her baby? She hadn’t seen him for the first twelve hours. He was certainly beautiful. Who in her family had those gorgeous looks? Wait, if she hadn’t birthed him, when did he receive his soul? Did he receive a soul? Of course he had a soul. From the moment of conception, he had a soul. Her deep vertical scar was tearing her heart to shreds, twisting and ripping at her mind. Half of her mind said, “Don’t let them take him!” The other half wanted to push him away. He was the reminder of the greatest pain of her life. The pain that would not go away. She retched as she removed the wet bathing suit.

    Reply
    • Tina

      So evocative, your piece gets me … right here (pointing to the center of my chest).
      These types of stories … as well as stories about orphans, foster kids, etc.
      The bracing way you write speaks to a lot of women … including those of us who can’t/don’t have children …

    • Gail Wofford Cartee

      Thank you Tina. I guess as writers our whole point is to touch the heart of the readers.

    • Bruce Carroll

      Haunting. My wife’s C-Section scar is horizontal, and barely noticeable. While I don’t know what is typical for a C-Section, your story hinted at something more. With talk of taking babies and failing to be able to nurse them, this seems like some sort of dystopian future. I don’t know if that was what you were going for, but wondering about it makes me want to read more. Well done!

    • Gail Wofford Cartee

      Thanks. This scar is vertical belly button down. “They” are the grandparents. It’s not the future. It’s my past that like all emotional scars heal but never totally go away.

  5. I'm determined

    Petra glances at the long mirror as she heads out to the car. her long skirt kicks out at the back, which is fine. Her bodice, however, crimps her waist in while thrusting her breasts upwards. Adrian had liked it, but that’s fine for husbands. They don’t get to be imprisoned in whalebone. or steel springs, whatever this torture garment has. At least steel springs would enable bend-ability. and her hair. Doesn’t matter what she does, that errant curl corkscrews out, down from her left brow, no matter how she forces it back into place.
    ‘Petra! We’re waiting.’
    ‘Coming.’ One last glance and Petra sweeps through the front door, with her basket. At the last minute she remembers to scoop her left hand up to curve her hat’s feather safely past the door jamb. Merely the act of looking downwards to lock the front door has that errant curl swinging free.
    ‘Dang and blast it!’ I’ll work on it once I’m in the car. Yes, both Melodie and Shane are sitting in the back seat, the hamper she’d packed safely between them on the seat. Safely? Was that Shane’s hand borrowing in where she’d packed the biscuits? This was a Historical Reenactment they were going to. No Tupperware back in 1895, so she’d tucked the biscuits up in a cloth serviette. One from great grandmother’s linen collection. She’d always admired them but had never got the chance to use the serviettes until now.
    She bends to open the car door, and wouldn’t you know it, that curl has corkscrewed down again! Having naturally curly hair is great, yes, but not when it makes you look like Orphan Annie!
    ‘I’ll get the door, love. Just give me a moment.’ Adrian comes around the car, bends to grab the door handle. ‘Love your hair,’ he whispers into her ear. ‘Especially that curl. It always turns me on.’
    ‘You’d better watch it, mister. Two pairs of ears are fine-tuned this way!’

    Reply
  6. Varina Suellen Plonski

    This explains a mannerism my MC has been doing since I started writing him. Now I know why he does it. Ended up writing more than 15 minutes, sorry. It’s your fault!

    It was his last day of school. Not year-end, not graduation; just, the last day he ever went.

    He came home and ran up the four flights of stairs to their apartment, feeling good. It was early summer, the sun was out, and he’d gotten an A on his English test. Mom would love that. He let himself in and dropped his backpack on the kitchen chair,
    reaching out and opening the fridge with his other hand.

    “Mom?” He swung around, looking to see what was there. Milk? Juice? Tea! Mom made iced tea, great. He pulled out the pitcher and set it on the counter, then snagged a glass out of the dish drainer. Poured a glass and took a hefty swig of pure, cold sweetness.

    “Mom?” He set the glass on the table and rubbed his cold hand on the back of his neck, the cool dampness feeling good. He picked up the glass and took another swig, then
    nabbed his backpack and headed for his room. “Hey, Mom! Guess what? I got—” The
    glass hit the floor and shattered, all the sweet goodness pouring away among
    glittering shards of pain.

    “Mom, Mom, no!” He was on his knees beside her, patting her face, rubbing her hands. Putting his head down like he’d seen on TV, listening for her breath.

    He was on the phone, 911. “No, I dunno, look, she’s on the floor, I dunno what’s wrong, she just won’t wake up.” His voice was rising, frantic. The woman on the phone kept asking questions he couldn’t answer, didn’t know the answers to, didn’t know why she
    wanted to know his age, her age, their names. “I’m fifteen, she’s thirty, what the fuck does it matter? You gotta get someone here, you gotta send someone, a doctor, somebody! You don’t need my name, you gotta send someone!”

    They came. Panting, huffing, four flights up, no elevator, cursing the stairs. They checked her pulse, checked her vitals, kept shoving him out of the way trying to find where the blood was from, where she was hurt. Until they saw it was him that was
    bleeding. His knuckles, bleeding from the glass on the floor, blood all over.

    Then they wanted to clean his hand, pick out the glass, wrap it up. That was when he started fighting, hitting them, screaming at them to help his Mom, he didn’t need help, help his Mom. The cop came in then, jerked him around and cuffed him, hauled him back into the kitchen and sat him down in a chair. Wrapped a kitchen towel around his hand to catch the blood. Hitched a leg up on the table and stared down at him.

    “What was that, boy?” The cop waved a hand back down the hall. “Think that’s helpin’ your Ma there, do ya? Hittin’ them? Screamin’? Stoppin’ them doin’ their job?” He shook his head, watching the boy; skinny kid, couldn’t be more than fifteen. Breathing hard like
    a fight was coming. Watched him staring down the hall where the EMTs were loading the woman up on a stretcher. Four floors of stairs, that’s gonna be a bitch, gettin’ her down, jeez… Kid looked lost. Scared, yeah. “You okay, boy?” The kid never looked at him, never lost focus on that hall. The cop shook his head again. “You know you could go to jail for that, hittin’ them. That’s assault. You don’t want that, boy. You wanna go to the hospital with your Ma, right?”

    The kid nodded, surprising him. He didn’t figure the kid could even hear him, he was that
    focused. “You gonna be calm now, boy? I’ll take the cuffs off.”

    It was all bright lights and harsh smells, sharp and stinging like ammonia when Mom washed the floors. People in and out of the room; doctors, nurses. Hushed voices, cold tones, orders. Words he didn’t know: carcinoma, metastasis. Words he did know, words that didn’t make sense: terminal.

    A fat old man in a suit came up; went in the room. Talked to the doctors, checked her vitals, checked her chart. Looked at her, pulled back her eyelids and peered down at her; shook his head. Turned and looked at the kid in the hall and asked a question. “That’s the son, I guess,” came the answer. One of the nurses. “He got his hand chewed
    up pretty bad on a broken glass. Must have dropped it when he found her.” She shook her head. “Took a while for him to let us treat it.” The fat man shook his head back at her and sighed.

    “That your mother in there, son?” The fat man came and stood between him and the door, and the boy stepped aside so he could see her. The fat man sighed. “I’ll take that as a yes.” The man reached out, as if to shake his hand, then realized it wasn’t going to
    happen. “I’m Doctor Ashburn. I’m your mother’s Oncologist.” A pause; no response. Another sigh. “Your mother has cancer, son. She didn’t tell you?” Another pause. “I’m sorry, boy.”

    “When can she come home?”

    The fat man was startled; the boy’s voice sounded like he’d gargled with broken
    glass. Ragged shreds of sound, just barely over a whisper. He hadn’t heard that
    kind of pain from anyone before, not in all the years he’d practiced. Not in
    all the years he’d given out the news he had to give now.

    “I’m sorry, boy. She won’t be going home. I doubt she’ll last out the day. I’m surprised she’s lasted this long…”

    “No. She’s coming home. I’ll take her home. She was fine this morning…” The boy finally looked up at him, looked away from the door and up at him, and the fat man looked away. He couldn’t meet the boy’s eyes. In all the time he’d done this, it was the first time… like he was taking away the boy’s last hope in the world.

    The soft beeps from his mother’s room changed to a harsh screeching, and the fat man turned and strode purposefully away, into the room. Nurses and doctors moved in. Two orderlies came with a crash cart. And the boy stood away from the wall, crossed the hall
    in nightmare slowness. Came to the door.

    One of the nurses saw him and shut the door, then pulled the curtains closed around the bed. “He doesn’t need to see this…”

    The boy put his hands flat against the glass door. “Mom?” he said. “Mama?”

    “She’s gone, boy. I’m sorry.”

    “No, she’s not gone, she’s right in there. I saw her, she’s right there in that room!”

    The fat man shook his head. “I mean she’s gone. She’s dead, boy.”

    “No, she’s not! You’re lying, why are you lying?” He tried to shove past the man, to get to the door, to see his mom once more, but one of the orderlies stepped in the way. The boy slipped aside, but the orderly grabbed him, and the boy went wild, kicking and fighting and shouting. The orderly wrapped his arms around the boy and took two steps forward, pinning the boy against the wall.

    “No!” The fat man shouted, pulling at the man’s arm. “Let him go! Let him go. He won’t believe until he sees her. Let him go.”

    After a moment, the man stepped back and simply opened his arms. The boy dropped, then scrambled across the hall and into the room.

    His Mom was there, just lying there with her eyes closed. Around her the nurses and orderlies were packing up equipment, starting to clean up the room. “Mom?” he said, a choked whisper. He cleared his throat. “Mama?” It was a little boy’s voice, the voice
    of a boy who has lost the last precious thing in his life.

    In the hall, meaningless voices, meaningless words. “Child Services is here, Doctor.”

    “Time to go, boy.” A hand on his arm, pulling him away.

    “No!” The boy lashed out, one hand clamped on the side rail of the bed, the other a hard fist. The orderly wrapped his fingers around the boy’s wrist and squeezed until the boy let go of the bed rail, and the boy spun around, kicking and flailing. The orderly grabbed him again, pinned him against the wall again, and the boy punched the wall over and over and over until the bandage over his knuckles ran red and dripping.

    “Stop, stop!” One of the nurses stepped in. “If Child Services is here, it means he’s got no-one else.” The nurse put her hand on the orderly’s arm. “He’s just lost his mother, for
    God’s sake. Give him a few minutes, you’ll get what you want.” She caught the boy’s hand in hers; put her palm against the boy’s cheek. “Shh, shh. Hush. Enough, you’re just hurting yourself.” The orderly let him go, and she took him in her arms. “Let’s see that hand.”

    The woman from Child Services walked out with him. “What’s your name, son?” The
    voice held compassion; the hand on his shoulder offered comfort.

    “Ryder. Danny Ryder.” His voice held nothing; no pain, no light. He wouldn’t look at her, just watched where his feet were going. After a moment he lifted a hand, and started rubbing his knuckles.

    Reply
    • Gladys Bauer

      `’Ragged shreds of sound, barely above a whisper.’ Beautiful!

    • Varina Suellen Plonski

      Thank you!

    • Stella

      Loved this! Great phrases – ‘swig of pure, cold sweetness’, ‘sweet goodness pouring away among glittering shards of pain’. Like how the scene escalates so fast and how we see your MC interact with the police and the doctors. He seems quite headstrong and determined, and it would be interesting to see how your story goes from here. Keep writing!

      Did have one question – is the mannerism you referred to your MC rubbing his knuckles? If so, it’s interesting that he had this mannerism before you even came up with this scene.

    • Varina Suellen Plonski

      Hi, Stella! Yes, as I said, he picked it, I didn’t! When I need something, a name, an action, something like that, and I don’t have anything in mind, I’ll just let my mind go blank and see what floats up to the surface. I needed something for my adult Danny to do when he was upset, when he was feeling lost and alone, with no backup, and this is what showed up. This is his major issue in his life, where he has no-one to rely on, where he’s lost everything. So this is what he does when he feels like there is no hope. But until this exercise, I didn’t know WHY he did it. I looked back over the MS to see WHEN he did it, and to see if I could get a handle on what he was feeling and thinking when he did it, and that’s when I got my clue.

  7. Jason

    This is important in a book for character, Indirect Characterization!

    Reply
  8. Nicola Tapson

    Here is my attempt at indirect characterization

    He slowly raised from the bed and stretched his hands above his head. He yawned. He was in awe of the red, orange and yellow rays of sunshine beating down on his pillow. The rustle of the leaves and the low roar of a nearby lion reminded him of where he was. He had not always lived in the bush. Before the accident he is had been quite the metropolitan man. Living it up in skyscrapers and partying at the latest club every weekend. He had a string of girls who tried to woo him but his heart had always been for one. She had silken blond hair, blue eyes and loved running around the city in sneakers and dungarees. She had a love for adventure which wasn’t easily quenched. His eyes started to moisten as he remembered her but he quickly wiped them away and slammed his fist against the side table. Why? She had never hurt a fly. She had a menagerie of animals and loved them equally. Including him. He walked over to his cupboard and slide the door open. He took out a crisp white shirt and khaki shorts. That was standard uniform for where he worked now. He placed them on the bed as he walked to the shower and prepared for his day.

    Reply
  9. LaCresha Lawson

    I just learned something. Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Stella

    Time for a meeting again. No, that wasn’t quite right – given his luck, the time for the meeting would’ve been half an hour ago. He twisted his tie. Were all ties supposed to choke you, or did he just get unlucky with his? He briefly wondered if the momentary relief from wrenching the noose off his neck would be worth his father’s rage at seeing him turn up without a tie.

    ‘Master Wesley, you must stop fidgeting with your tie like that. It is quite unseemly for a young gentleman such as yourself.’ Philips, appearing from nowhere as he always did, whenever Wes was up to something. ‘You know your father has been impressing upon you the importance of proper attire.’

    Too late, Philips had seen him roll his eyes. The butler was uncannily sharp, in a way his father was too.

    ‘Dad tells me a lot of things – not my fault if I can’t remember all of them, right? Such as when the meetings are supposed to start?’ Wes tugged at his tie again.

    ‘I believe that would have been at three o’ clock sharp. I will fetch you a pair of mittens, and you can be on your way immediately.’

    ‘Mittens? What for?’ The non-sequitur from the usually straight-laced butler was enough that he forgot to fidget with his tie.

    ‘They are what I use when infants cannot keep their hands to themselves. In your case, if you touch your tie one more time, mittens seem to be called for.’ Philips’ face was professionally blank, but Wes wasn’t amused.

    ‘You wouldn’t,’ he said.

    The butler only smiled.

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      I like this one! I like that the only thing Wes would rather do than fidget with his tie is not to wear one at all. In these few words, I already feel as if I know this character.

    • Stella

      Thanks! So glad to hear you enjoyed it. Wes is one of my favourite characters, had fun writing this.

    • Nikita

      That made me laugh, and wonder about the butler in particular. Well done!

    • Stella

      Thanks! Haha. If you don’t mind me asking, what questions did you have about the butler?

  11. Luther

    Will stopped to talk to Mr. Glass, who was an adult in the neighborhood who truly seemed to like kids.

    “Hi Will. How’s baseball going?”

    Will said, “It’s great! The coach is going to let me practice pitching today.”

    Mr. Glass said, “That’s a big responsibility. Are you a lefty or a righty?”

    Will could never remember which hand was his left and which was his right until, using his thumb, he rubbed a wart that was growing on his right hand, middle finger, knuckle. He completed this action so fast, and almost unconsciously, that it was undetectable. He did not wish to be embarrassed by not knowing his left from his right hands at his age.

    Will said, “I’m a righty.”

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      So simple and so wonderful! Both the wart and the fact Will doesn’t remember which hand is which serve as indirect characterization. Also, this is a complete story in itself. It has exposition, an inciting incident, rising action, and a climax and resolution. Very well done!

    • Luther

      Thanks for the encouraging words.

  12. Bruce Carroll

    Akiko enjoyed Ginger’s, the old-fashioned diner on 34th street. The home-style cooking was exceptional (as her nose always reminded her whenever she visited), and the selection of gourmet mac-and-cheese dishes was unparalleled. It was rarely busy, but this day seemed to be an exception.
    The school year was over, and Akiko was assured that wherever she might end up next fall, she would be a high school sophomore. She had done well in the weeks at William Henry Harrison High School; better than many had expected, including herself. The school was kind enough to provide Ms. Billings, who worked one-on-one with Akiko. This had allowed Akiko to attend the public high school instead of an institute for the blind.
    To celebrate the end of the school year, Mrs. Olsen had brought Akiko here, to her favorite restaurant in town. They sat in a booth near the front of the restaurant. Akiko decided on the Ham-and-Swiss Mac and Cheese. Mrs. Olsen ordered a salad, as usual. Akiko wondered if Mrs. Olsen thought of herself as fat. From their hugs, Mrs. Olsen didn’t feel fat. Akiko decided that perhaps the opposite was true: Perhaps Mrs. Olsen wasn’t fat because she ate so much salad.
    They talked. They talked about the weather, about how proud Mrs. Olsen was of Akiko. They talked about everything except Akiko leaving. Although her immediate family had not been found, there were several leads on Akiko Yamada from Charlotte’s Cove. A relative was bound to come forward any day. Akiko didn’t want to think about leaving the Olsens, and she was certain they felt the same way.
    The food arrived and they fell upon the meal. Akiko delighted as the savory flavors of ham, Swiss cheese and pasta filled her mouth. The conversation continued between bites.
    Akiko became aware of a problem at the counter, where the cash register undoubtedly was. From the gasps and murmurs around her, she suspected others were aware as well.
    “Put it in the bag,” a man suddenly shouted. Akiko could hear distraught whimpers from the other side of the counter.
    By now people in the diner were yammering. It was difficult for Akiko to separate one voice from another, although she was acutely aware of where everyone was.
    “Hands up,” the man shouted, and by the sound of his voice Akiko could tell he was facing the dining room now. “As I come to each table,” the man demanded, “you will place your cash, jewelry, and other valuables in this bag.”
    Akiko put her hands up beside her head. She could hear the man, two tables behind her.
    “In the bag,” he growled.
    “Okay! Okay, don’t shoot,” a woman pleaded.
    Akiko listened carefully. She could hear the man walk to the booth immediately behind her. The man hadn’t spoken to a partner, and from the sounds in the room she concluded he was working alone.
    She heard the rustle of his pants as he stepped back from the booth behind her and walked towards Mrs. Olsen and herself. In the merest fraction of a second, Akiko balled her right hand into a fist and swung hard to her right and behind her. She felt it connect with the man’s midsection, just as she had known it would. She heard the rush of air leaving his lungs and brought her fist up to connect with his face just as he was doubling over. She knew she had to get the gun to keep him from getting off a shot; or worse, accidently firing it. She hooked her arm back toward herself, trapping his outstretched arm. With her left hand she grabbed at his hand, digging her fingernails deep into his flesh and driving his hand down onto the table top. She heard him scream, heard the gun strike the table before clattering to the floor. She kept her hold on his hand as she drove her other elbow back, catching him in the throat.
    In one swift movement, she leapt out of the booth, kicking high. Her foot struck his jaw, and before he could fall Akiko delivered a powerful kick to his midsection.
    People were shouting in alarm. She had heard him hit the floor, and she leapt on top of him. He was fighting back, swinging at her. She tried to restrain him, but he managed to strike the side of her head with his fist. She curled her fingers into a Bear Claw (why had that term suddenly jumped into her mind?) and brought it down swiftly toward his face. She caught one of his eyes, as she had hoped. She grabbed his right arm and leveraged him over onto his stomach, sitting on his back. She kept his arm twisted behind him, took one of his fingers and bent it back sharply, teaching him a new kind of pain.
    “Someone call 911,” she said calmly.
    The man was cursing, calling Akiko all sorts of foul names. When she got tired of hearing him, she bent his finger back more. She knew it wouldn’t break. Probably.

    Reply
    • Nikita

      I really like this. Raises a ton of questions about Akiko’s past, doubly so because she herself has questions. I love all the non-visual description of the surroundings, too – makes sense since she’s blind, and it works really well to still give us a really good visual picture.

    • Bruce Carroll

      Thank you so much. Part of what has kept me writing Akiko’s story is discovering her past myself. And I’m glad to know the description worked. Stay tuned!

    • Gail Wofford Cartee

      Your story seemed to start a little slow but once you got into the action Wow! I love the way you showed us the scene without sight. Great job!

    • Bruce Carroll

      Thanks so much, Gail. It was a challenge figuring out how to write from a blind person’s POV, at first. Thanks to The Write Practice, I think I’ve figured it out. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes, I wanted the beginning to be slow, to contrast with the action which follows. Too much? Do you think I need another revision?

  13. Nikita

    Alright, let’s do this. Here goes.

    Wrath crouched in the shadows, tail wrapped around their lower legs, an old habit to prevent themself from moving too soon. They waited for the security patrol to walk by. The two men walked slowly, routinely. They didn’t talk, perhaps they had run out of conversation topics. Once they had disappeared around the corner of the building, Wrath counted down from ten, and moved.
    Tail lashing the concrete wall behind them, they launched themself forward, razorwings unfolding for balance, and sprinted across the fifty meters of tarmac separating them from the warehouse. Hit the wall with one hoof, propelling themself upward. Wing thumbs catching the railing of the second-floor walkway, claws meeting metal with a sharp clang barely audible over the noise from inside the warehouse. Enough momentum left to climb the railing with ease. Wrath landed on the walkway, their hooves hitting the metal grate with a dull thud.
    Froze. Waited for a sign of alarms being raised. Nothing happened.
    The half-open window was a few meters down the walkway. Wrath opened it fully and slipped into the warehouse. Ears swiveling back and forth, they slowly crept down the gallery, staying in the shadows. The ceiling lights were off, but down on the ground floor several lamps illuminated a busy scene. Wrath couldn’t see them, but their other senses gave them a good picture. Five human heat signatures moving about, strong electric fields from the lighting and something else they couldn’t identify yet. No sign of radiation.
    Wrath brought the floor plans up on their HUD and considered their options, absent-mindedly scratching the thick scar tissue covering the right side of their face with one finger blade of the their prosthetic arm. A permanent reminder to be cautious.

    Reply
  14. Gladys Bauer

    „Are you hurt?” I heard him even before I saw him. He bent over me and offered me a hand.
    Scrambling up from the gue of broken eggs and split milk, the first thing I noticed about him was not his height, not his face but the crescent-shaped scar above the left corner of his lips. It hugged his smile like half of an inverted comma, an apostrophe.
    “A mark of the gods,” I thought, the pain in my ankle already forgotten.
    Three months later, we stood before the desk in the registrar’s office, the sliver of moon stretched above the corner of his lip as he bent his head to kiss the bride: me.
    Never married before, all I knew about honeymoons is what I had garnered from novels. Clive took one look at my silk underwear and as though he bit into lemon, the scar shrunk together with his lips. “You will not, I presume, waste house-keeping money on such rot?”
    He spent the next day reading in the garden, told me I could go for a walk if that’s what I wanted. I did. By lunchtime, he had bought himself a fishing rod and bite.
    For two weeks, we met at the dinner table. Up before cockcrow, he had instructed the cook at the guesthouse to pack his breakfast, and with books and fishing rod tucked under an armpit, would head for distant streams. I don’t know what happened to the fish he caught.
    I noticed within a fortnight of our honeymoon that ‘crescent-eclipse-mark of the gods’ had shrivelled to a rugged, mark of the psyche; a scar a vampire might incur if he accidentally bit his upper lip. He was fishing, reading or both when I knocked on the door of Mother’s apartment.
    “I thought your honeymoon would be over in another week.” She patted the curlers on her head in place, her eyes searching the landing for my husband.
    Finding my suitcase instead, she bobbed her curlers at me, her lips twisting into that lovey way of hers, minus scar, “I told you so.”

    Reply
    • Gail Wofford Cartee

      Good writing. My heart is aching for her.

  15. RevDr. Robert Foster, AbC, EfG

    Hope this works:
    _______________________________________________________

    “Not everything.” Carter reached into a special pocket sewn in his pants, and withdrew an enormous tome. “This is the Draconomicon. I’m sure you’ve heard of it?”

    The necromancer sat forward, hands gripping the edges of the armrests of his chair. The molten red of his eyes had brightened to a blue-white. “How did you come to have that?”

    “I took it from Havestad.”

    The man leaned back, affecting an air of disinterest. “Well, that couldn’t be the real book. She wouldn’t have allowed you to take the genuine article.”

    Carter smirked. “What makes you think she allowed me to take this?”

    “You stole from the Demon Lord of Knowledge? Are you crazed?”

    Carter shrugged. “Delena asked me the same thing. I’ll pose the same response to you: What difference does that make?”

    “I have no interest in a Demon Lord coming after me, no matter how much I might want that piece.” The vampire waved his hand at the volume in Carter’s hand.

    “She won’t come after you.”

    The other snorted. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you. Demons are notoriously covetous. None more so than a Lord.”

    “I guarantee she won’t.”

    “How can you?”

    Cater tilted his head down with his gaze on the hilt of his sword which he then raised a couple inches and let drop back in place. He rolled his eyes to look up beneath his eyebrows at the being on the throne and winked.

    “Why did you not simply say you slew her?”

    “You never simply asked.” Carter strolled over and sat on the edge of the coffin. “So, ready to negotiate?”

    “Please don’t sit on that.” The vampire gestured and a stool appeared near the casket. “Use this. My bodyguard doesn’t like it when his bed is disturbed.”

    Carter perched on the edge of the seat. “You’re not the vampire?”

    “I’m a necromage, not an undead.”

    “Why didn’t you simply say so?”

    “You never simply asked, Sir Lavitz.”

    “Touché.” He waggled the book. “Will this be enough to persuade you to join us, and leave the valley?” Carter leaned forward. “And, by the way: What is your name?”

    The necromage chuckled. “Took you long enough to ask. Abelard is my name.” He then sat back and tented his fingers. “The Draconomicon is a tempting offer but how do I know it, or your offer, is genuine?”

    Carter tossed him the book. “Take a look.”

    The necromage caught the volume and flipped through the covers. “Okay. It is real.” He set the book on the wide arm of his seat. “What is to keep me from killing you and keeping it?”

    “Me.” Carter folded his muscular arms, causing his leather spaulders and vambraces to creak as they rubbed together. “Remember who I took it from. You weren’t too thrilled with the idea of her coming after you.”

    Abelard leaned back on his throne in an indolent slouch. “Maybe I overestimated her if a mere mortal was able to kill her. She couldn’t have been much of a demon lord.”

    “Or,” Carter crossed the room and planted his boot on a wooden chest, and leaned over his right knee, resting his elbow on it, “You are dangerously underestimating me.”

    The other man stroked the short patch of hair under his bottom lip for a moment before smiling. “Alright. I’ll join you.”

    Carter straightened. “Good. You may keep the book. Provided, of course, that you never betray me.”

    The necromage narrowed his eyes. “You know a lot of magic, Sir Lavitz.”

    A shrug. “I know some. There are gaps, of course.”

    “Maybe I can fill in some of your gaps.”

    Carter’s left eyebrow went up. “I’m flattered, but I’m happily married.” He folded his arms again, almost protectively. “To a woman.”

    Abelard trod slowly and heavily down each step. “I was referring to the gaps in your magical knowledge.”

    “Oh.” Carter dropped his arms and moved out of his way. “Well that’s embarrassing.”

    “You’re a strange man, Lavitz.”

    “Sir.”

    “What?”

    “You forgot the title. I am a knight, after all.”

    “You are not very good at diplomacy, Sir Lavitz.”

    Carter bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Forgive me, Abelard. I get snarky when overtired. I apologize for any affront.”

    Reply
  16. Emma Lajoie

    I love all of these little “story snippets”, it’s so fascinating to hear everyone’s interpretation.
    Here’s mine:

    Clara crept softly towards the stable, the sound seemed to be coming from somewhere inside. A dim light slipped faintly through a chink in the door, yet the stable yard was dark and shadowed in the moonlight.

    What was that brushing her her foot? Nothing. Just a twig. She was glad Kady hadn’t made her put her shoes back on, or she would have snapped it. Why did people think shoes so important, anyway? They only get in your way.

    The door was only a few feet away from her now, the sound reaching it’s highest. It was almost familiar. There was something pleasant in the sound that made you feel as if you could taste it’s sweetness, like the sugar candies Papa sometimes brought home from town, and yet there was something else, too. Something sad. Painful, even, that was so sharp, so piercing, that you felt it in the very depths of your soul.

    Another step. Clara cracked the door open and peered inside the lantern-lit stable.

    Reply
  17. Harper Hodges

    Dear Mr. Elkins,
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
    I am going to write spy thriller mystery books. The protagonist will be a cat.
    I learn so much from your articles.
    Wishing you all my best, and, hello to Pea-low.
    xo
    Love Harper

    Reply
    • Tina

      There’s that cat again. :S …
      (Note to self:) Better make peace with cats …

  18. Brittany Beasley

    Great article, I never thought of it like that. In the past, my teachers would say, “show don’t tell.” They would never really be specific about it, which frustrated me to no end, but this is a great example. I’ll keep this in mind.

    Reply
  19. T.R. Kelley

    The damned hair was driving him crazy – again. Every five
    or six days an almost invisible white hair started to grow out of a freckle on
    his left nostril. Sometimes the hair would be long enough to curl and hang down
    over the side of his nose if he did not see it. Once it was this long it was
    easy to get rid of. He trapped it between the fingertips of his thumb and
    finger and yanked it out. Easy. It was when he noticed the hair before it got
    long enough to pluck that really drove him crazy. In the mirror he would see it
    sprouting out of the brown tip of the freckle and begin digging at it with the
    tips of tweezers that were too thick and too blunt. Five minutes later, his
    patience gone, the tweezers were tossed back into the sandwich bag with his
    other personal hygiene items. One disposable razor, two pairs of fingernail
    clippers, a toothbrush with dirty, flattened bristles, and a piece of elastic
    thread from a sock that served as dental floss. For the next hour the white hair
    that only he saw poked out of a red, swollen nostril that gave everyone a target
    on his face to aim their conversation.

    Reply
    • Sundeisi

      This is great. The sandwich bag and flattened toothbrush bristles tell so much about this guy. I imagine he lives alone in a minimally furnished, yet cramped apartment.
      I’d like to hear more about him.

    • Axis Sheppard

      I love the orginality of the hair in the freckle! I’m sure I’ve never been told about this one, good work! 🙂

  20. sherpeace

    Thank you for this. This is a very simple way to show the importance of “Showing vs. Telling.” I will take this to my writer’s group soon! 😉 <3
    Sherrie Miranda's historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

    Reply
  21. Jonathan Hutchison

    Remind me please how to post something I write. Can I compose my piece elsewhere and post here? Sorry for such a basic question, but I have found each site has its own intricacies. Thanks

    Reply
  22. Axis Sheppard

    Chandler is crying, alone, in a dark corner somewhere in this big castle of her. She didn’t even knew why she was crying, but she could feel the pain in her chest, squeezing her heart. She neither did scream, like most of kids of her age. She was crying in silence. She didn’t want to ashame her parents, once again.

    “Boys don’t cry,” said her father to her, “Girls do”. So why did she felt this feeble if it was only in her nature? She hugged tight her little doll with all the force she had. “Girls can’t fight, but boys can. It’s because they’re weak, right dad?” asked her brother to their dad, “Of course. That’s what nature decided,” he answered back. At this moment, Chandler turned back to see the reaction of her mother but she didn’t say anything. Her mother kept standing straight.

    “Mom!” Chandler yelled because her mother wasn’t answering. Her mother’s hand slaughter against Chandler’s cheek: “You annoying spoiled brat! Just listen to your father: He knows way much about the world then you do!”. ” -B-But he said tha…” tried Chandler before being interrupted by her mom: “I know what he said! I am not deaf! Now get out of my sight you little scamp! Leave me alone and for god of sake, do not call me «mom»!”.

    “Is that true?” Chandler finally asked herself, “Are boys better than girls?”. Chandler shaked her head, disaproving what she just said. “No, that definetly can’t be.” She looked at her quiet doll, tears finally about to stop. “What do you think Miss Kore?” she asked her doll. Her sewn black opaz eyes were the same colour as Chandler’s, but they weren’t crying; instead, they were totally empty and frigid. Her stitch lips made with pure gold were smiling at her, hypocritically, giving her a sadist expression. The white skin of the doll made her also looked like she didn’t belonged to this world.

    “How do you do this? How can you still be strong at a time like this?” Chandler asked her, tears coming back again. “Why can’t I be more like you? I am sure that if I was as perfect as you, mom and dad will like me more!” she tried to say while she was sobing.

    “They will… Like me more…” she repeated to herself. Then, it hit her. She just needed to try to replace her doll! Kore will not even notice something since she will act quick. Chandler waited until Kore falled asleep and rapidly putted her in an old brown copper bag and closed it. After having done this, she launched the bag into her wardrobe and shutted the door.

    She grinned and jumped, happy. That’s right. She was going to change herself and become a strong lady. As strong -or maybe stronger- then Miss Kuriozity.

    Reply

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