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How to Create Believable Characters in Short Stories

In the creation of a short story, one only has a very short window in which to convey the full range of a character. A short story is typically about five thousand words or less which is roughly about ten pages. Within those ten pages you need to be able show, not just the character but also the setting, plot, and the different scenarios leading up to the climax. How do you create a character in depth when you only have such a limited amount of words to do so with? By utilizing every single sentence you write to show things about the character.

Don’t spend valuable words describing a character when you can show the character through dialogue and actions. Let’s say your heroine has long black hair. Saying that she has long black hair would describe her, but in a wasteful way since that statement does nothing but tell the reader that she has long black hair. Instead, why not show her impatiently pulling on her hair as the strands stubbornly coiled around her glistening arms like sinuous black snakes. With this second description, you’re not only telling the reader that she has long black hair but you’re also telling them that she’s in a hurry and is impatient with how her hair is sticking to her arms. Her arms are wet, could be raining or perhaps it’s sweat. The fact that strands of her hair are able to coil around her arms tells the reader that it’s pretty long. Long enough to tangle around her arms. Using black snakes as a symbolism not only tells the reader that she has black hair but also sets the stage for something suspenseful to happen. In a short story there’s only so many words to set the stage for climax so they need to be carefully chosen in order to convey multiple meanings.

Make dialogue and attitude count for your character. Everything that’s said needs to show who and what the character is all about. Using a dialect can tell the reader where the character comes from. Create attitude for the character through how they talk. Use slang. If one is trying to show a nervous man, there’s no need to come straight out and say that he’s nervous and stammers a lot. Show it in his actions and the way he talks. Describe him looking down at his feet with hunched shoulders, trying to get a sentence out. Show him breaking up the words such as, “Sh…she, umm, she went over th…there, that way.” Have him push his glasses up on his nose with trembling fingers and tilt his head slightly to peer at the other person through his lens. These kinds of statements keep the story moving along while imparting a tremendous amount of information about this particular character. Immediately one starts to sympathize with this guy. The writer shows him either as a painfully nervous character or someone who is scared to death of something that’s happening or going to happen. It makes the reader want to keep going so they can find out exactly where the cause of his discomfort is coming from.

Your goal as a short story writer is to create characters that are believable to the reader without them ever knowing that you’re telling them. Make it so that they feel as if they’re figuring it all out and picturing them in their minds. By doing so, you’ll carry the reader right along to the end of the tale.

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