Inside: What they perceive

So far we’ve described characters from the outside: how they look or sound, what they do, what’s happened to them in the past to make them who they are.

But we can also describe characters from the inside.

For instance, we can describe what a character perceives—what they see, hear, smell and so on.

Above her somewhere, Stella could hear the flapping of wings. She looked up at the black sky, but couldn’t see where the owl was. The sound of the wings was getting louder and louder. Wagner was getting nearer and nearer.

This snippet uses a combination of seeing, hearing and sensing—but you could also talk about smelling, tasting and feeling.

When we describe a character's perceptions in this way, it brings us closer to them and makes us feel like we are experiencing what they are experiencing.

That's a good question! The boundary between character and action is famously blurry.

We can describe characters in terms of traits—tall, short, clean, stinky, young, old—but this is only part of the picture. When we think about people, we think of them in many dimensions, and the most important dimensions are often what they do: how they treat people, what they spend their time on, how they react to different things.

So action and character are intertwined.

Booger heard the deck groan and creak underneath him. The storm was causing the waves to swell around the ship. Howling winds drowned out the shouts of the rest of the crew. The ship was going to tip at any minute.

I see the tip of a cat’s nose barely peeking out past the door frame. Behind me, I can hear a faint scratching noise as the other cat wiggles into position. I look over my shoulder, but the hallway is empty. Even so, I know I am walking into an ambush.

Describe a character through what they perceive.