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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 unique.

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 your story.  
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 portraya
l 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 observations.

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 conclusions.   

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 those reactions.

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 and attitudes. 



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