We all make judgements about people we first meet. It is a survival mechanism that is hardwired in our brain which picks up on subtle clues such as a handshake, eye contact, how a person walks or dresses, or their “body” language. If you want more believable characters, use this knowledge of judgement making to your advantage in your novels.
If your character is an extrovert, let your readers learn this through the characters unconscious behaviors of speech, dress, and mannerisms. When you dress your character in an outfit that exemplifies their extrovert tendencies the reader’s brain will identify the character as an extrovert without you having to type the word "extrovert" into the story physically.
In Knitting Up a Murder, Mandy’s character was displayed in the clothes she wore to the courtroom and the way she behaved. If I had dressed her in penny loafers, and had her shying away from the media cameras it would have given the reader a different opinion of her character. However, her clumsiness in those stilettos also said something about her character.
Everyone will be on his or her best behavior when he or she is interacting with “important” people. How a character treats people without power or status can be a good way to show the character’s true nature without spelling it out. In Hooked Into Murder what was your impression of the alley bum when Imogene’s dog ran up to him, and he gave the dog some of his food? What were your feelings toward Garrett when he kicked a homeless man?
In the show Frasier, Frasier, a known self aggrandizer, showed his true character when he missed the “Fraiser Day” celebration to talk to a trouble cab driver.
Is your character bored? Do tell the read this, show it by his pacing or picking link off his jacket.
As great as this writing technique is, be careful of having your character be too close to the ideal of their character trait. Having a character that is too predictable will be boring for the reader. You might even want to sometimes turn a character trait around as a point of conflict. Imogene showed up late for her interview in Hooked Into Murder, but it was not because she was lazy, rude or not interested in the job.
Remember that showing a character trait by dress, deportment, actions, and deeds is always better then telling. That could be why I love the show "Fraiser" so much.
Celeste Bennett, author of the Yarn Genie Mysteries