Writing Story and Character

Character Traits

Character traits should match your story, create drama, and make each character stand out from the crowd. The more extreme their traits, the better the character. They must be nuanced, however, with both positive and negative traits. Focus on core traits, not minor quirks. Those same traits should appear in that person in every scene. The main characters’ traits should work against each other, like a match to a fuse. As readers, we learn to know your characters by their actions and their dialogue:


Even in novels, characters are described and differentiated by the way they react to situations: For example, delayed reactions, angry silences, rude departures, violence, fearlessness, questioning vs. acceptance, habitual gestures, and so on.


It’s important to create a distinct voice for each character in your story. None of them should sound like you. A character’s voice consistently reveals his/her traits, beliefs, and background. As a writer, you must maintain consistent speech rhythms, cadences, and emotional volatility, among other things. There will also be character-specific subtext that goes with lines of dialogue, based on backstory, needs, and wants.

Dialogue Differentiation Methods

You can make your characters more easily distinguishable by judicious use of:

1. Stock expressions, tag lines.
2. The way their objectives push the conversation into different paths.
3. Local or foreign accents.
4. Trait-specific speech, e.g., silences or cursing.
5. Reactions to a given situation.
6. Speech rhythms, pacing, and pauses.
7. Incomplete sentences.
8. Jargon or slang or new words.
9. Breathing patterns.
10. Speaking speed.
11. Talking at cross purposes.
12. Not keeping up.


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