So is showing a character's personality through their actions, instead of... *shudder*... TELLING the reader what they're like.
Fortunately, there's a way to accomplish both at the same time.
In this blog post, I'm going to give you a simple technique for showing off your character's personality AND describing their surroundings at the same time, so you can turn those vivid word pictures into an intriguing exploration of the character's mind.
Check out these two writing samples, and focus on the differences between them.
As the bar's thick door opened in front of him, the music hit Leo full in the face, along with the welcoming scent of booze, sweat, and several different types of perfume.
From the steam that rose from a fellow patron's glass, and the intricate layering in another drink, it was clear that this was not a bar where one ordered the basics. This was a place where people paid extra to look and feel fancy.
At least, until they got hammered enough to hit the dance floor. Not that the two women who were currently grinding against each other looked sober enough to tell that their air of fanciness had flown out the open window and into the night sky.
The sight of their lithe, writhing bodies sent a tingle of fire through Leo, but he knew better than to act on it. Either they were doing this for show, or they were more into each other than they were into men; either way, it wasn't worth the trouble.
But he could still watch. At least for a few seconds, until the siren call of the beverage menu lured him away.
With a smooth, practiced motion, he slid onto a barstool, relieved to turn his eyes away from the flashing rainbow of dance floor lights. They looked nice on the smooth hardwood floor, but when they hit the eyes directly, they were stabbing, burning... but still infinitely better than the flashing lights he'd once had to get accustomed to.
Anything was better than gunfire. Especially drinking.
Especially drinking enough to forget the gunfire. Screw looking fancy - he wanted something simple and strong.
The name of his favorite drink slipped from his mouth without the need for thought, and he found it telling that the bartender had already started pouring it before he voiced the request.
He'd forgotten how many times he'd drowned his sorrows here, and he didn't care to remember. He wasn't here to remember things.
He was here to party, try to enjoy what was left of his life, and drink enough to forget why he couldn't enjoy it when he was sober anymore.
The bar's thick door swung open easily, far more so than barriers like it had in the days of Reuben's youth. It was strange, to think he had once been so small and weak that he could have used the kind of service he planned to perform tonight.
As he entered the building, he gave a brief, courteous nod to the towering bouncer who stood to the left of the door, surreptitiously noting the presence of a second man looming on his right. They were both equally large and intimidating, but his research told him that only one was likely to be a threat.
Still, one was enough. Simply dragging his target out through the front door probably wasn't an option; he was good, but not take-on-three-people-when-one-of-them-could-fight good.
Besides, he wasn't keen on going to jail anytime soon. He would have to play this smart.
As he strode further into the bar, Reuben pretended to let his eyes be drawn to the gyrating dancers. The turn of his head enabled him to get a better look at the patrons who were watching the two women, as well as the wall behind said onlookers.
Above the rows of booths and tables, a window had been opened to let out the heat, and it also offered some relief from the thick miasma of sweat, perfume and alcohol that permeated the air. It wasn't big enough to let him out, but at least it made the room more bearable.
He hated the smell of booze.
But at least this wasn't the same smell that had taught him that hatred - not the kind a person turns to to forget their past, their civility, and the difference between son and enemy.
No, these were fancy drinks. The kind most people ordered for the purposes of looking good, enjoying the taste and socializing, not for getting drunk on the cheap.
Not that that stopped everyone from getting sloshed, but it did mean there was a higher chance that any participants in a fight would be more inhibited and less stupid, and there was less chance of starting a fight that didn't involve him in order to cover his escape.
A particularly overzealous flare-up from the dance floor's flashing, multicolored lights drove Reuben's eyes to the hardwood floor, and he used the excuse to look a bit further to the right, directly toward the people watching the inebriated dancers.
Ah. There you are.
A slightly round, clean-shaven face, framed by messy blonde hair. A small red birthmark on his neck, shaped kind of like Australia. A wedding ring on his hand, worth considerably more than the promise it symbolized.
And, most importantly, an intent, predatory stare that told Reuben most of what he needed to know about the plans the man had for the dancers he was watching, and the reason why a certain angry mother had hired him to visit this particular bar.
Both characters saw the same things, but they observed them very differently.
The jaded hedonist, Leo, saw a lively nightclubbing and dancing scene, with hot women, good drinks, and a chance to forget his past.
The mercenary, Reuben, observed the room in a far more tactical light, noticing exit points, strategic disadvantages, and indications of the presence of a predator.
They also reacted very differently to the smell of alcohol; one found it welcoming, while the other despised it.
In these descriptions, you saw a bit of the characters' personalities and backstories, as well as hints of events to come. They weren't just plot-halting infodumps; they gave you insight into the characters, and moved the plot forward.
When you want to describe your characters' surroundings, ask yourself:
1. What would the POV character notice in this situation?
2. How would they feel about it?
3. What would they half-notice, and dismiss as unimportant?
4. What would they think they noticed, and believe was important for completely personal, non-objective reasons?
5. Can they notice any of these surroundings in the process of doing something, so they can keep moving through the plot while describing their world?
This will help you to write more interesting place descriptions, while moving the plot forward and helping the readers to get to know your characters in the process.
Want to see more of my characters, plots and place descriptions?
If you enjoyed those two quick samples of my writing, there's lots more where that came from!
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