Writing advice blog: characterisation

Susie Helme

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

One can never say enough about characterisation.

What readers are most attracted to when making their book buy choices is characters.[1] This is why people love those Detective So-and-So series and even Teen Vampire Saga Books 1,2,3. They fall in love with the protagonist and want to read more about their (fictional) lives.

I came across a lovely little piece of characterisation in Dancing on Thorns by Rebecca Horsfall. This is an email the protagonist Jonni is writing to her friend Maggie:

“What does he look like? Well, he’s no oil painting but he’s got a very jolly face. When he laughs it crinkles up like an apple that’s been left in the fruit bowl for a month. He’s got bright red hair but he makes up for it by being tall and having rather good physique (though of course it’s not in the same league as you know who). And he’s nice, Mags; oh God, is he nice! Though, I have to be honest, I think niceness is overrated. Give me a bloke with a good healthy temper any day.”

This is only a minor character, someone Jonni dates for a short while, yet in 99 words, she’s told us so much about him:

  • not very good looking
  • has a jolly face
  • crinkly laugh + vivid metaphor
  • bright red hair
  • tall
  • good physique, but not as good as her ex
  • nice, but a bit too nice

The piece is also a good example of Voice. Jonni’s personality shines through here:

  • he’s nice, Mags; oh God, is he nice!
  • no oil painting
  • you know who

and it tells us about Jonni’s character:

  • doesn’t like red hair
  • fancies tall men
  • likes men who laugh (we infer that her ex did not)
  • still dreams of her ex’s physique
  • is trying to forget her ex (eg referring to him as you know who)
  • wants a man to get mad once in a while (we infer that this was an issue between her and her ex as well)

[1] Fayet, Ricardo. How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market (Reedsy Marketing Guides Book 1) . Reedsy. Kindle Edition.

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