Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Illustrate Character Through His Possessions

The items on which we choose to spend our hard-earned money tell a lot about us. The possessions with which we surround ourselves in our homes, leave inside our vehicles, and pack into our office spaces often present an interesting view of our personalities and values. When we view someone else’s possessions, we instantly and unconsciously form an opinion about them—and the same holds true for the characters in our books.

As authors, it pays for us to give special attention to our characters’ personal spaces. Their homes, cars, and cubicles all have the power to reveal much about their inner landscapes, if only we spend a few extra minutes dabbing in the details. Daphne du Maurier gives us a fine example of this in her delightful historical novel Jamaica Inn, in which she deftly shows us the sinister side of the albino vicar through a few simple items in the parsonage: ominous paintings with their faces turned to the wall and, hidden in his desk, a rough caricature of his parish as a herd of sheep and himself as the wolf.

Showing your character living in a rickety trailer house is good, but don’t stop there. If he’s a man obsessed with straight lines, who sees the world through a black and white viewfinder, perhaps you could illustrate this by exemplifying his neatnik tendencies inside his house. Don’t go overboard: adding descriptive details just for the sake of description is rarely a good idea. But by putting a little extra thought into the places your characters live and the things they choose to own, you can give readers extra insight into the personalities that fill your pages.
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