From the Archives: The 4 “A”s of Characterization

Posted March 21, 2014 by Briana in characterization, characters, Fiction, write, Writing / 7 Comments


Every writer understands the importance of creating believable characters. Story revolves around people–therefore, characters are arguably more important than plot. Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, memoir, or personal essay, it’s vital that you make your actors as three-dimensional as possible. Consider the following four “A”s of characterization:

1. Actions. What risks has the character taken in the past? How has he or she treated family and friends? What about enemies? What hobbies does he or she enjoy? What has your character done? What is he or she doing in the story?

2. Attitudes. How does the character feel about gay marriage, abortion, religion, and other  hot-button issues? What are your characters’ views on the world?

3. Artifacts. What are your characters’ prized possessions? What shelter do they have? What cars do they drive? What’s the first thing they’d save in the event of a fire?

4. Accounts. What are some noteworthy anecdotes about these characters? What do other people have to say about them? What rumors have been circulated?

This is a rough list of just a few questions you can use to generate information for your four A’s. If you want better characters, give this system a try. And good luck.

What do you think of this system? How do you like to flesh out your characters?

Click to tweet: Want fully-formed characters? @thecollegenov has some tips.

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7 responses to “From the Archives: The 4 “A”s of Characterization

  1. I finally found what my short stories are missing. I have been accused of over description while failing to make the details a part of the story telling.
    Do keep the writing tips coming in. You may have helped dissolve my writer’s block; this made with reference to your post/s encouraging writers to continue writing frequently in spite of the mood they’re in.

  2. I’m glad you’re finding my blog helpful! And if you can think of any specific topics you’d like to see covered, feel free to request some. 🙂

  3. I need time to look over my stories to figure out what else I need to work on.
    Although I also struggle with lengthening the plot of a story. Any tips on how to work on lengthening my plots?

  4. The only tip I can give you for lenghthening your plots is this: focus on fleshing out your characters and lengthening their arcs, and the plot will follow naturally. For example, The Great Gatsby takes place over the course of a single season, yet Fitzgerald’s attention to his characters’ thoughts, actions, and transformations allows him to carry the story’s events through an entire novel.

  5. Great idea! I think I needed to hear it from someone else. Thanks again! Will keep you posted on whatever progress I make in this regard.