Now that we have our characters, we have to present them in a way that makes sense to the reader. And very rarely should that presentation happen as a description block – for instance, we wouldn’t come to Sue like this:
Sue, who has a slight limp and was always singing under her breath because she wanted to be a pop star and always deflected the blame to other people which she learned to do as a child because her father would beat her over every mistake when he was in an alcoholic rage, approached the table.
Nor would we do it like this:
Sue, who stands 5’3” in flats and has blond curly hair, approached the table.
These are what we call tells, and they don’t help to engage the reader and keep them reading; instead, they produce an effect not unlike sitting in a history lecture with a teacher that simply recites dates over and over again; in other words, they’ll put the reader to sleep.
Instead, we want to show the reader the character, so that it creates a mental movie about what is going on. It might look something like this:
Sue approached the table, the light from the window catching her blonde curls and wreathing her head in a halo. As she passed other patrons, their conversation would cease as they tried to catch the tune she was quietly singing to herself – today she was singing Lana del Rey’s Young and Beautiful, her voice perfectly suited to the haunting melody.
That last paragraph paints a picture – we can see her moving among the tables, the effect she has on the crowd, and she becomes interesting to us. We accomplish this by focusing on specific details about the character – we don’t need to (nor should we ever) find out everything about them at one time. As such, we have to ask ourselves one question: What is most important about the character at the moment, and how do we highlight that? When we first meet them, the most important features are a basic description, both of their physical appearance and their personality. The more we interact with a character, the more they reveal to us, but it’s a slow process. Small quirks and traits come with long observation, while other qualities of a character might not come to play until the character in question trusts the main character and confides in them.
Of course, the aspects of a character are what motivates their actions, so even though the main character doesn’t know everything about this person, they’ll still act according to their natures – this will often lead to other characters making assumptions about them and acting on those assumptions, which can lead to conflict. For example, let’s say Sue constantly avoids our main character, the Wizard, because he looks like her alcoholic and abusive dad. However, the wizard might assume that her avoidance of him has to do with a charm against demons that he carries, thus leading him to assume that she is a demon of some sort, which would in turn lead to him suspecting her for a string of ritual murders. This is not only a great way to further the story, but to bring a secondary character into the story at large, for good or ill.
Adapted from Evil Hat Productions’ Dresden Files RPG