Writing tips – bring your fiction characters to VISIBLE life

Bring your fiction characters to life!  Yes, it’s basic writing advice. But even more basic: can your characters be seen by your readers? Or are they invisible to the mind’s eye?
So often, I read fiction drafts where the characters don’t spring truly to life, simply because there aren’t enough visual signposts. If the writer has written invisible characters, readers will struggle to see them, and struggle to connect with the story.
This is particularly important when characters are first introduced, and the reader needs to start forming a relationship with them.
Invisible fiction characters are such a common issue, and yet so easy to edit and solve.
Here’s an example:
Lee strode across the street, swinging the heavy black bag.
“Hi!”
Jo was waiting, tapping an impatient foot.

Yes, there are some clear visuals here: the bag and the foot. But the people they’re attached to are pretty well blanks.

The mystery of the blank fiction characters

Imagine a drawing of a face shape, with no features filled in. Or a jigsaw puzzle with the crucial face and body pieces missing.
The reader can’t even tell if the characters are male or female, as there are no gender signals. Are they young or old, tall or short? Not a clue!
Nor is it clear who says “Hi!” in the example above. It could be either of them.
So the poor reader is left completely unmoored, without anchors. Meanwhile, these strange. blank-faced characters are milling around, without anything to contextualise them in our mind’s eye.
This is a basic editing issue, and easy to solve. Especially in your opening paragraphs and character setups, check you’re using some of these 10 Tips for Making Your Fiction Characters Visible.

Jules Horne is a writer and teacher on the MA in Creative Writing at the Open University.