Characterisation. We’ve all heard about the importance of character in our fiction. We all know it’s important to establish it, but how exactly do we do that? Mostly, it’s down to a few core elements:
The initial description- the way you first describe a character is important, because first impressions matter as much on the page as in the real world. It isn’t just the features you describe, but the tone you choose for it.
Their actions throughout- readers don’t know that an action is out of character unless you go to a lot of trouble to show that, so they tend to take every action as contributing to an overall picture of the character. Actions are more important than words here, because if you describe a character as nice and then have him/her killing people, no one’s convinced.
Small actions/quirks- don’t overdo these. Bad fiction is full of trombone playing, unicycling bosses (all right, maybe not), but part of fiction is always about picking the right details to focus on.
Symbols- small things can be symbolic. Items they consistently carry or use can come to represent them, serving as a kind of shorthand for them.
Dialogue- People go on about characters having a unique voice, and maybe that’s true as far as it go. Quirks of dialogue can help to identify them, and possibly should, but I find that it’s a lot less pronounced than people think. Often, it’s you. It’s all you, and attempting to get a totally distinct voice can just come across as someone putting on a silly accent.
Above all, try to have a clear idea of the essence of your characters. For me, it’s not about page after page of detail. It’s about knowing who, at their heart, they are. The rest flows from that.