12 August 2015

When to Reveal Character Traits

If you want your characters to feel like real people, then they should have different traits to make them seem realistic. What sort of traits you give each character will depend on the story you're writing and the characters themselves. What exactly is important for the reader to know about this character? It could have to do with physical appearance, hobbies, beliefs, or pretty much anything you could think of being important to convey a character's personality. But when exactly should you let the reader know about these traits?

The answer won't always seem obvious. It can depend on when or if a certain trait is important within the story. If you want your readers to know what your characters look like, it's probably a good idea to convey that as early as possible. Of course, you don't really have to convey this information at all if you don't want to, but if you wait until halfway through a novel to show what your characters look like, it may seem strange. It's probably best to get it out early or not at all.

It's important not to force these sort of traits on the reader all at once. It should just come up naturally within the story. You wouldn't want to dump every single detail about your character like the reader was looking at their dating profile: "he was tall with brown hair, brown eyes, liked going for walks and listening to music and..." Sounds silly, right? Whatever trait you're revealing should feel natural within the scene itself, but it should also be important to the story. If you mention a character's hobby and it never comes up again, maybe you didn't need to mention it at all. If it's something that they do several times during the story, then it's something your reader needs to know.

What I'm actually struggling with right now is revealing my narrator's sexuality. It is definitely relevant to the story by the end of chapter one, but it's not something that's actually discussed between the characters for several chapters. So he has to tell the reader that he's gay before he tells anyone in the story. I originally had it come up in the first scene (in the giant info dump I talked about in Monday's post) but I realized there was already a lot going on in that scene and his sexuality really wasn't important to know at that point. So I'm planning on moving it to the second scene. I think I have it figured out but I won't know for sure until I actually write it (like most of the editing I still haven't done...)

While there are plenty of character traits that your readers will need to know, figuring out where to reveal them can be tricky. You'll need to decide what is actually important and how early on in the story it should be revealed, but also making sure these facts aren't just dumped on the reader out of nowhere.

How do you reveal character traits? Which traits do you think are most important (or least important)?


  1. Absolutely right! You can't force these traits. They will pop up as you write about your character and discover him/her more.

    Reveal a character's sexuality can be tricky. I've never had to do that with a gay character, but the stories I've read...the narrator tells the readers pretty much on the first page or so.

  2. Great points. My biggest concern is about keeping my characters consistent as the story progresses.
    Susan Says

  3. I've had character traits I know, but never got revealed in the story. Like Joe in PoA, he's Latino, but it never comes up. The only hint is his cover. I searched "latino guys" while looking for a model to use. I thought of going the cliche way and having Joe throw out a few words in Spanish, but didn't like how stereotypical that was. I have Hispanic-American tagged in the Amazon keywords too. I guess if people notice yay, if not, oh well.

  4. Character traits, history, family stories...UGH, I hate exposition! Whenever I try to sneak it in, I always end up feeling like there's a giant neon sign, saying, "EXPOSITION HERE." It's something I'm trying to get better at!

  5. Some great recommendations here.

    Personally, I've always had a very POV style of writing. I tend to discover the characters AS I work versus doing a large amount of pre-planning regarding their traits and set up. I'm not sure why, but it's always just worked best for me. Maybe it makes my characters seem more real and less "this is my character because x, y, and z". Maybe it's just me though.

  6. I unveil as I go along. Descriptions are usually my strongest suit, so quite often that is the one thing that I perpetually sprinkle about throughout a given story. Not sure what is least important for a trait, other than a last name for someone. I rarely give my characters a last name, and when I do, it's usually such an semi-obscure inside joke that you would have to know a quite a bit about the seamier side of pop culture in order to get it.

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