Character Tags

What is a tag?
It’s a label you slap on your character to make him/her identifiable to your reader.

Tag Categories:
1. Appearance
2. Speech
3. Mannerisms
4. Attitude

Appearance: A tall, broad shouldered man leaves a much different impression than a frail, hunched-over man. Well-dressed vs. sloppy. Manicured fingernails vs. callused palms. Appearance says a lot about your character.

Speech: Does he have an accent? Does she talk fast, without taking any breaths? Does he stutter? Does she use verbose vocabulary or does she stick with monosyllables? How a person talks says a lot about his or her background, level of education, career, and social status. Pay careful attention to the speech tags you give your characters.

Mannerisms: nail-biter, hair twirler, fidgeter, lip licker, eye-batter…the list could go on and on. Be careful to avoid cliche mannerisms. Get creative here. My favorite is by Jill Kemerer, who has this awesome post about a character who picks the same scab on her arm over and over again.

Attitude: AKA Traits. punctual, bitter, energetic, flirtatious, competitive….

The purpose of tags:
1. To distinguish one character from another
2. To characterize

If a woman is flirtatious, show it via tags. Does she bat her eyes at men? Bite her lower lip in order to draw attention to its fullness? Does she touch men on the shoulder or forearm when it’s not necessary? If a man is high-strung, does he pace? Does he mess up his hair when he’s stressed? Is he a chain-smoker who holds his cigarettes with trembling fingers?

That’s basically it about tags. Thus ends my series from Dwight Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. Sad, right? I hope they were helpful! I highly recommend the book. It’s wordy, for sure. But chalk-full of insightful information.

Question to Ponder: What tags do you give your characters?removetweetmeme

18 thoughts on “Character Tags

  1. LYD

    I love your blog. Thank you for all the great advice. I need to be more mindful of developing better tags for my characters. I've just started writing (seriously) and need all the "free" help I can get. πŸ˜‰

  2. sherrinda

    This has been a great series, Katie! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Krista Phillips

    LOVE character tags:-) I need to use them more sometimes to show movement… I am a dialogue lover and sometimes I forget to show the picture when I'm writing. Or I only show the movement, and forget the other senses.

  4. Heather Sunseri

    Thanks, Katie! What a great post with lots of mannerisms and traits to think about.

  5. Jeannie Campbell, LMFT

    i'm quite sad that Swain's book isn't endless. i've enjoyed your posts from his signature book. what's your next craft book to give us offerings from? πŸ™‚

  6. Katie Ganshert

    Hey everybody! I'm right there with most of you – I need to be more conscientious about my tags. Sometimes, it seems like my characters all do the same things. I'd like to mis it up a bit. I think Jody's idea is FAB! πŸ™‚

  7. T. Anne

    I have to develop the tags a bit more. I feel like they each have their own interest but I need to throw in more than a hair flip πŸ˜‰ Thanx for getting my wheels turning.

  8. Beth

    This was really helpful! I usually focus on appearance and speech, but I'm thinking that distinguishing mannerisms would definitely benefit my characters as well!

  9. Erica Vetsch

    Hmmm…I've had a nail-biter before, and a guy who was precise in his dress, and a daydreamer, and a math-geek.

    I love mining other authors' works for unique mannerisms and great visuals.

  10. ElanaJ

    I didn't used to think about tags, but I do now. I'm tired of the "he looked at the ground" or "he shrugged". I see so much shrugging I decided to do an experiment. I monitored how much I shrug in one day. Not once! So now I work really hard at coming up with other mannerism tags besides shrugging. And don't get me started on biting the bottom lip. Who does that? For real? I have never…

    Great post!

  11. Galen Kindley--Author

    I try to use a series of related mannerism tags. I really like the idea Jody suggested of a matrix with characters and tags…not too structured, but still, organized. Gonna try that.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  12. Jeanette Levellie

    Since I and my family are my main characters in my books, these tags are easier to nail down than if I wrote fiction.

    I have, however, noticed that my tags are not always as postiive as I'd like them to be– LOL! But I must be honest in my writing, and not paint a too rosy picture of myself, or I won't help anyone.

    Thanks for posting this– we know how busy you are right now, and appreciate your time, Katie

  13. Elizabeth Spann Craig

    I usually use mannerisms and speech tags–if they're impatient, they cut people off in dialogue, etc.

    Great series, Katie!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  14. Terri Tiffany

    Very helpful!! I tried to give mine some tags but should do more!

  15. Marybeth Poppins

    I do fear that my characters do not have enough tags. I may look into this while I am revamping my MS. I want to make my characters pop…right now they may possibly just laying on the page πŸ™‚

    Great Post!

  16. Tabitha Bird

    This is where writing a memoir is really interesting. Essentially I am a 'character' in my book and I had to really look at my mannerisms, motivations behind them and sometimes the picture was more telling than I perhaps wished it was. Being honest when writing about yourself can be HARD. We all have things we would like to ignore about ourselves, but if you are going to share a journey to healing with readers you have to open up. That meant painting my attitudes. mannerisms etc in a truthful light. It wasn't pretty sometimes πŸ™‚ I never thought about them being tags, but that's exactly what they are. Great post Katie.

  17. Jody Hedlund

    On my character worksheet, I have a place where I try to assign them each of the tags you mentioned. It's hard to find something unique that fits with their personalities! But it definitely helps to have them defined before writing the story because then we can naturally weave them in and make our characters richer.

  18. Jessica

    This is really good! I need to consciously think about tags more, because I haven't worked on any of this. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I don't even know if my characters have tags… LOL


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