There is one subtle way to give a reader a feel for a character without stating their personality outright.It’s sort of a subliminal way to prepare the readers opinion of how you want them to perceive a character.
What I mean is using influential words, words that lend a tone or perception to anything. These are words that hold a connotation on their own. When used in dialogue or descriptions for and by a character they add to the overall tone of a character.
The opposite of this is true as well. Be careful what words you use or the reader might either become confused or feel your character in a different way than you intended.
As with all thing helpful moderation is key. This should be used sparingly too much and it will come across as forced or campy. Too little… well that would be not at all. Even once is sometimes enough to convey the message.
Examples of some of the base personalities that can be illustrated by a well placed hint.
Quick to anger
A persons intentions, present actions and future actions can be seasoned with just a little help.
Scott sat across from Susie snagging his fingernail repeatedly on a scratch in the small table. The tired waitress brought them their coffees; setting down the water spot covered mugs.
Without glancing away from Susie, he thanked the waitress dismissing her with a flick of his hand.
Susie’s tongue darted out over her gloss covered lips, she cocked her head to the side narrowing her eyes. “Why’d you want to know exactly?”
Scott rested his hand around the hot mug rubbing his thumb over the glazed surface. “It’s a personal… issue. I just need to know.”
Susie smirked and picked up her mug nestled in both overly manicured hands. “So you’re the mystery man huh?” She sipped the hot liquid, scrunched her face, set the coffee down and nudged it away with her finger.
Scott moved his dirty mug closer. “Yeah I am. I need to know. Was there anyone else before or just after me?” The corners of his mouth twitched as he forced a smile.
“No. That bitch is all talk and no walk. Look man, we barely got along living together. She is a hard-ass roommate always nit-picking everything.”
Scott nodded. “Thanks. I just needed to know.” He pursed his dry lips.
Susie chuckled. “Sorry pal you were the only one in months, like many months.” She got up and brushed invisible dirt off her skirt. “Don’t go looking for sympathy from me. You’re the idiot that didn’t wrap it. Her problem is half yours now buddy.” Susie slipped her knockoff designer jacket over her slender shoulders. “If you see her don’t tell her we spoke.”
Scott’s eyes scurried from the mugs, to his fists and over to Susie’s ass as she took a step away. “Wait Susie.”
She sighed hard and turned. “What?”
“Would she have, you know, gotten pregnant on purpose?”
Susie gave Scott a leering once over. “To trap you? I might even. But no I don’t think she would. She’s too smart for that.” Susie turned on her two-inch heel and hurried away.
Scott watched her go and slammed his fist on the rickety table causing both full mugs to slosh over the rims and the table to tremble. “Dammit. Back to square one.” He muttered as he flung five dollars in the spilled coffee, got up and stalked out.
The negative words I used could have easily been left out, but they added a specific air to Scott’s intentions and present demeanor. Snagging, flick, dirty, forced, dry, scurried, slammed, fist, muttered, flung and stalked. They all suggest a negative intention or action. These words would never be used with someone good unless they are momentarily expressing an out-of-place emotional response. I had him move the dirty mug closer to give the image of embracing his bad intentions. Scurrying is a rat reference and I had him end up looking at her ass on purpose. It could have easily been her back or turned head or just a vague reference that she walked away. While Susie is a background character with very little substance in this story I made sure to convey her fake cheapness and her blunt raw honesty. I wanted Scott to believe her and set him back in his plot.
My advice on using key words to illustrate intent/personality.
Definitely use them, maybe not as bluntly as I did for the example. Just be careful not to mix the message.
Other wordy posts