WRITE ABOUT PEOPLE
1. Make your people realistic.
Something appears realistic
when you recognize its similarity to your life experience.
Your characters must “ring true” for your readers. How do
you describe people so your readers can clearly visualize
them? You must somehow capture the qualities that make them
This is difficult. People can seem ordinary
to us because we’ve associated with them for so long. We
forget what sets them apart, the qualities we noticed the
first time we met.
People also appear realistic when they seem
human, which means...when they’re not perfect. When you make
your loved ones saints, you make them lifeless, cardboard
characters. You have all read family histories—especially
those written more than fifty years ago—that portray
everyone as paragons of virtue and industry. These kinds of
books are boring because the people are boring. No one can
relate to them.
2. Capture the “look” of the people in
The descriptions you
write of your characters’ physical appearance should capture
their “look”—those physical qualities that make them who
they are. Nearly everyone has something about his or
appearance that stands out.
Be precise. Steer away from vague, general
descriptions. Stating that your mother is short, attractive,
and a stylish dresser may mean something to you but it is
too inexact a portrayal
to be meaningful to your readers.
3. Show behavior; don’t just
summarize the quality it illustrates.
We draw conclusions from what we observe. She
is a good person. He is a bad person. She is attractive. He
is a talented musician. She has a green thumb. He is a
gifted artist. These are all conclusions based on
As you write your life story, refrain from
simply providing summary statements to describe the people
in your lives. Create indelible images by describing the
behavior and letting your readers draw their own
4. Show how people affected you.
We grew up surrounded by people who inspired
us, irritated us, cheered and depressed us. We can’t be
around others without feeling some kind of reaction to them.
You can enliven your characters and your story by capturing
5. Put your people in a scene.
There’s no more effective way to make
your people come alive on the page than to recreate an
incident that lets your people speak and interact with
others. A scene lets readers see your characters in action,
engaging in conversations that reveal their personalities