BAPA 3: Effective Characters Descriptions for Novel Writers


Characters, like people (comma) are more than a name. Readers don’t take to characters with no substance or dimensions. As a writer, it is up to you to show all facets of the character to the reader.

Publishers and agents don’t get along well with writers who populate their books with one-dimensional characters. They are looking for a return on their investment in you and your book. Getting out of the starting gate will be difficult with characters that don’t leap off the page.

Let us consider The Sentence. As the story’s creator, you are charged with describing each main character: protagonist, antagonist, and the situation that brings them into conflict and any twists for interesting reading. The Sentence is essentially each part of your story idea laid out in a manner that can be understood by others.

What would you say about the protagonist? Let’s start with this character. The description starts with a good noun for a general shaping of your character. The process continues when you add adjectives to flesh out the protagonist. Use these questions as a guide:

· What is your character like? (This question relates to the character’s wants, desires, and needs out of life)

· Who are the people in his or her life? (This question relates to their personal life)?

· What does your character do? (This question considers their professional life)

Using the above questions, here is an example for you. Suppose that the protagonist is a female. She could be “girl”, “sister”, or “wife.” The noun gets the ball rolling but an adjective provides insight. That female turns into “teenage girl” or “schizophrenic wife.” Now, the reader begins to “see” her as you do.

What about your antagonist? Whether he or she is good but misunderstood or purely evil is up to you and your character descriptions. Each story has a character that is in conflict with your protagonist, or main character. The questions used to describe the protagonist are applied to flesh out the antagonist as well.

The best thing about characters is that they come from our brilliant minds and can take many forms. The protagonist can be a secret society, an apparition, or even a non-living entity. With that said, your characters must still be seen as complete in the minds of your readers.

Character description is not easy. It if takes you a few times, don’t worry. These characters are yours to shape, reshape, and grant life. Fine tune them until you are happy. Effective descriptions use few words to say a lot.

Want to create compelling characters that help sell your writing? Holly Lisle is a full-time writer who has sold 30+ novels to major publishers and is the creator of the “How to Think Sideways Career Survival School for Writers”. Go to and access 3 free lessons that teach you how to write a novel that sells – straight from her highly-acclaimed course.


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