Revealing Character through Action

In my current WIP, my main character is a mystery character. She’s revealed via the Miranda, the narrator. Her personality isn’t instantly clear because it isn’t to Miranda. That means I have to reveal her as Miranda experiences her, we don’t get to see inside her head at all. Her thoughts are never something we can access.

So, how can I establish who she is?

I test her. I present her with situations, and she reacts to them, and Miranda sees those actions. From those, we can figure out that she’s brave, intelligent, selfless, but also arrogant, conflicted, that she keeps her emotions at bay, that she is intensely and deeply private.

It’s in some ways harder to reveal a character this way. For small characters it doesn’t matter all that much because there isn’t that much about them, we need to know, but Jenny is my MC. I have to test her over and over again; I have to make sure her dialog supports the facets of her personality I want to show.

In my past novels, I’ve had multiple viewpoint characters, or my MC has been the viewpoint character. This time the book is presented in the first person with the first person not being the MC. That provides a challenge I haven’t faced before.

It’s a great exercise, forcing me into a lot more show and a lot less tell, one of the things I struggle with is show don’t tell. I use exposition far too much.

I kind of wish I’d tried writing something long form like this years ago. On the other hand, I have a newfound respect for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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