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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14 comments:

  1. Good thoughts. I'm just starting a new book and I'll have to keep this in mind as I develop my characters. Thanks, Katie!

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  2. The best part about character possessions is that they're just plain fun to come up with!

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  3. I've been told by a critter that I need to infuse a bit more of this into my character's home... sad thing is, she's not really making it a home in the traditional sense, she's just existing there... So, aside from the pictures of her dead fiancé, there's not much to put in there until she moves on!

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  4. That in itself says a lot about your character's personality and inner issues.

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  5. I've been doing this, especially with aliens. By putting the Izeni family in a semi-regular looking farmhouse, I'm saying they're really similar to Earthian farmers. We also see Baqi's bedroom, and Oqak's bedroom in the course of the story; same general effect.

    In my newest Coalition story, Black Widow's Bite, I have half the girl gang smoking, and their leader living lavishly. I also have a former gangster who's fond of weed (though I can't allow him to get too high or it'll bog down the story).

    ~ VT

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  6. Our stuff tells a story - and so does our characters'! Fun to work it all into the book, isn't it?

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  7. Good advice. I've been trying to do that in my WIP.

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  8. I love exploring characters' personal spaces, and a large part of that is illuminating their personal stuff. Always fun!

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  9. Wow, never thought about possessions as a way of illustrating a character, but it makes sense. Thanks

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  10. This is one of those things we often take advantage of without even realizing what we're doing.

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  11. My MC's most cherished, most read book is Behold the Dawn. What does that tell you about him? ;)

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  12. This is so interesting. I never thought of the belongings a character has, or doesn't have, as a reflection of his character.

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  13. It's just the same as with real people. Who we are is often manifested in the stuff we choose to have around us.

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