20 Things


How do we determine the depth of a character in our stories? We can envision them sometimes or know bits of their personality but that does not always show in the body of our text – why? Are those little bits not enough? No, not quite.

Yes, it is important to have their goals and a name, and a general description, but what are the little details of their lives? These little details help to flesh them out, make them real instead of static sticks on a page.

Enter our list! The number of things varies from article to article that I have read but they all agree on at least 10 things and up to an infinite number if you’re so inclined (I am not) of traits and flaws that the reader does not know. You read that correctly. These are things that will never really make an appearance in the novel as anything of particular note. These things are especially helpful if, like me, you spend days trying to name your character as if it were your actual child and all life depended on the single most perfectly fitting name for this fictional individual at the tip of your fingertips (or pen).

Things like the color of their eyes or hair are not adequate for this list as those are things that become known to the reader. Now, say, your character has a strawberry mark in the shape of a banana somewhere on his bottom – that might go on the list cuz, really, how many times is the reader going to see your character’s bottom? Do they prefer puppies or kittens? Are they side sleepers or do they like to stretch out? How long does it take them to shower? What’s at the bottom of their underwear drawer? Favorite book as a child; DC or Marvel; hash browns or home fries? Do they use a handkerchief or disposable tissue – – or are they one of those savages that walks around with a toilet paper roll in hand?? Some things may be dependent on setting or time period. Obviously an elf would not have any knowledge at all about comic books and, thus, would have no opinion on DC vs Marvel but they may have a strong opinion on a particular color or the arrangement of the flowers in the shop that they pass day after day. Perhaps they don’t like flowers at all or have a terrible allergy to blackberries. Write that down! Maybe someone in the distant past still carries a piece of their baby blanket around wherever they go. No one needs to know that, it’s embarrassing! But you, the writer, should definitely know it and keep it close at all times.

All of these little things add up to the actual human (or elf or whatever it is you’re writing about) coming to life on the page before you. They are things that make him or her more real in your mind thus it will make them more real in the mind of the reader as well. I am partial to a happy 20 for things to write down as it fits rather nicely on my Moleskine journal but some characters need more ‘things’ and some less. Tailor it to the needs of the character and then let your imagination run wild from the mundane to the incredibly silly. You’ll totally thank yourself for it later when they almost literally jump off the page to hug you in thanks for giving them ‘life’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *