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Describing Fictional Characters

The object of the game Guess Who is for two players to guess which of the 24 characters their opponent has selected and visa versa. The first one to guess right wins. Players narrow down the field of “suspects” one question at a time such as “are they male or female” and “do they have brown hair.” After several rounds, many of the “suspects” are still standing because they all fit the same descriptions. The bottom line, physical descriptions given in great detail are wonderful for a police sketch artist but not for characters in a fictional story.

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Physical Attributes Just Scratch the Surface

A character’s hobbies, habits, gestures, likes and dislikes will give a reader a more in-depth look than a running list of physical descriptions. In The Troubled Souls of Goldie Rich: The Zombie Next Door, my young adult/safe for middle grade adventure, the main character is 14-year-old Goldie Jean Rich.

Goldie’s physical attributes are petite, curly hair and young-looking. The rest I’ve left up to the reader’s imagination because it is not an integral part of the story. It doesn’t matter if Goldie is a blonde or redhead nor does it have any bearing on this story if she is of Hawaiian descent or Italian. The same goes for her best friend, the eccentric and fun-loving Rita, and their classmates, Jonny and Blake, who hang around the girls because they have crushes on them. Goldie is also adopted and may/may not look like the rest of her family. That’s up to the reader.

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Characters Need Problems, and Goldie Has Her Share

The problems a character has and the way they handle them add to their personality. Entering high school is scary and exciting. Shy Goldie is anxious to be a freshman because of how she sees herself. She confides in Rita “I’m going to look like an eight-year-old when I start high school in three months” to which Rita replies, “Get over it, Goldie.  You look at least nine.”

Gema, Goldie’s adult sister, is watching her over summer break while their parents are on vacation. The sisters butt heads constantly. After catching Goldie reading a book about voodoo, Gema asks her sister if she plans to make a voodoo doll in her image. Goldie fumes silently, “Obviously, she (Gema) didn’t know me that well.  I couldn’t sew, make crafts, and I didn’t fare well with pointy objects.  My last experience with a serrated knife left a permanent scar on my hand from the three stitches I received at the emergency room.”

Goldie’s teenage attitude sneaks out here and there. When she and Rita are plotting to hide a video camera in Gema’s house, Goldie has the situation under control. “Gema has all this stuff already, and I know exactly where she keeps it.  It’s in her art studio that I’m not supposed to go into, locked up in a file cabinet that I’m not allowed to look in.  But I know where the key is hidden, so we won’t need to pick the lock.” She added, “It didn’t hurt that gadgets and computers had become a hobby of mine since I’d joined the computer club at school.  It wasn’t as geeky as it sounded.  Or maybe it was.  At least, I was putting the knowledge to good use now.”

Habits, Hobbies and Gestures Make a Character

Goldie blushes constantly, especially when she’s around her crush Blake. But, as usual in teenage drama, the guy she doesn’t like, Jonny, is the one who shows interest in her.

The tennis court seems to be the only place Goldie isn’t a walking disaster. She falls down more than a bowling pin and is in double trouble when she doesn’t have her glasses on. “I jumped backwards and stumbled over my own feet. My cellphone flew out of my hand and zoomed through the air. It smashed into my flimsy, green aluminum lamp, knocked it off my nightstand, and it crashed to the ground.”

She is a horror movie addict, watching everything and anything scary—especially zombies. With a big bowl of buttery popcorn, her little dog, Chanel, on one side and Rita on the other, she’s a happy girl. When the zombies are in real life and not on the TV screen, however, Goldie doesn’t find them as fun, but it’s exciting for the reader.

Goldie has a definite personality, which I hope readers find likable, and her image will vary from one reader’s imagination to another. I keep in mind something I read a long time ago that fiction writers shouldn’t force their opinions about the characters on the reader. Lay it all out there, and let the readers decide.

If you like mysteries, a short, fast-paced read, dogs, and, of course, magical zombies, give The Troubled Souls of Goldie Rich: The Zombie Next Door a try.

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