Stuck? Use These 5 Indirect Characterization Techniques

We’re closing in on the end of National Novel Writing Month. Many writers are stuck in the saggy middle. Many don’t know how to end. Some still don’t know where to start.

I’ve heard complaints from friends:

I don’t know where to start.

I don’t know what to write next. 

I’ve hit a wall. I’m just going to take a break . . . and watch Netflix . . . forever.

My characters seem boring. My plot is saggier than Grandma Mildred’s . . .

I’ll put my money on one main cause of all these problems:


Meaning, the portrayal (and knowledge) of your characters.

Character drives story & plot. If I didn’t care about Walter White, I’d stop watching Breaking Bad. After all, the pace is a bit slow. But I care about Walter White and his family. I’m rooting for him, even while he’s degrading into a deplorable humanoid.

He’s killed. He’s lied. He’s done this and that–all of it, terrible.

But I kept watching.

Why? The showrunners made him a complex character with DESIRE and WANTS. However, what he wanted, he couldn’t have.

Bam. Conflict.

And because the writer knew their character so well, they knew what was going through his mind. However, they never TOLD us; they showed us.

And that’s the key difference.

They used Indirect Characterization.

Here’s the difference between indirect & direct characterization:

Direct characterization = you simply tell the reader facts:

  • “Walter loves his family, but he’s becoming a bad man.”
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Indirection characterization = You balance five techniques in order to show your character. This is why people love TV and movies; both mediums show characters and their development.

Here are the five techniques:

  • Dialogue: What does your character say? How do they say it? Are they sarcastic, robotic, serious, careless? Show it through their dialogue.
  • Thoughts: What goes through your character’s mind?
  • Relationships: How does your character speak & interact with other characters? Don’t tell me he’s a jackass; show me through his interactions with friends/family/enemies.
  • Appearance: What does your character dress like? Does appearance mattter to your character? Does it influence his/her daily life? Think of Jack Reacher. He’s a 6’5 brick house. This influences everything he does.
  • Actions: What does this person do on a daily basis? Actions define who we are. Likewise, actions define your character.

If you get stuck after juggling these five aspects of characterization, odds are, you need to do one thing:

  • Get to know your character better.

For example:

  • What do they want?
  • What do they fear?
  • What has happened in their past that influences their present/future?
  • What do they value? Money? People? Relationships? Sex?

Once you get to know your character better, you’ll probably have more success with your writing. And once you use the five characterization techniques, you’ll probably have more of a concrete story that blends all of what we love in TV and movies: Conflict between characters in physical locations.








Stuck? Use These 5 Indirect Characterization Techniques