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Character is Everything

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Creating Memorable Characters in Your Story: The Art of Character Labeling






Crafting compelling characters is a cornerstone of storytelling. One effective technique to bring your characters to life is through 'Character Labels'.


This idea is from Dwight Swain's book "Techniques of The Selling Writer" is a must read. His techniques are precise and transformative.


This method involves defining characters using specific labels or tags that paint a vivid picture of who they are, their background, and their personality. Here's how you can use character labels to add depth and realism to your characters:


1. Noun of Vocation: Start by identifying your character's vocation or profession. This goes beyond just a job title; it’s about understanding how they make a living and what this says about them. Whether they’re a writer, mechanic, father, or son, each vocation carries with it a set of daily tasks, joys, and challenges. Develop a list of what their job entails, what they find fulfilling, and what they consider tedious. This insight helps shape a realistic portrayal of their everyday life.


2. Adjective of Manner: How does your character appear to the world? Descriptive adjectives play a crucial role here. Are they pudgy, rail-thin, bald, old, young, a tech bro, or a power player? These physical descriptors immediately give the reader a visual image of the character, making them more memorable and relatable.


3. Tags: Include specific tags that highlight unique physical traits or attributes - like a wooden leg, skinny frame, or bald head. These tags not only help in creating a distinct image of the character in the reader's mind but can also be symbolic or relevant to the character's backstory.


4. Traits: Delve into the character’s personal traits, especially in how they relate to others. Are they stingy or a spendthrift? How do they treat people around them? These traits reveal a lot about a character's personality and can drive their interactions with others in your story.


5. Inner World: Consider what goes on in their head. What is their past history? Are they haunted by past events or content with their life? Understanding the psychological makeup of your character provides depth and explains why they behave the way they do.


By blending bits and pieces from different people and real-life experiences, you can create multifaceted characters that resonate with readers. Remember, the goal is to use these labels not just as static descriptions, but as tools to explore and unveil the complexities and nuances of your characters, making them not just believable but unforgettable.


I apply these techniques across the board in my work. I always develop a character. Even if I'm performing announcer copy in an ad, I give the voice character tags. It helps deepen my creative process.


I hope this proves useful. And I hope you consider subscribing. It helps free us from the tyranny of social media and supports our work as we build a response to these challenging times for artists. - chris

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