Monday, May 23, 2011


In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight Swain suggested choosing a dominant impression for each character. The Dominant Impression provides a snap shot of your character.

 According to Debra Dixon, a character’s dominant impression is described through a marriage between an adjective and a descriptive noun; for example, an analytical intellectual or an arrogant showman. The adjective is how a character does things and the noun is what they are likely to do or their worldview.
If you have more than one protagonist in your story, as is typically the case in Romance or Romantic Suspense, Ms Dixon suggested that the individual dominant impressions could be the initial source of the characters’ internal conflict.

If you keep your dominant impression in mind, you'll be able to figure out which details to focus on when the characters are introduced to the reader.
You'll be able to modify—and deepen—that impression later, after you have a firm foundation to build on.

Dominant Impressions
To create a dominant impression for your character write down the first ten  adjectives and nouns that came to mind when thinking about your hero/heroine. The first word is not always the correct one – many can describe your character but one will fit to a T. When listing the adjectives for my hero, these came to mind… bitter, angry,  loyal, distrustful of women? And was he a rebel, fighter, survivor, hottie? When I finally settled on wounded warrior, I just knew it was right. And my heroine – sure she is passionate,  loyal, headstrong, desperate, emotionally tortured. And yes, she is somewhat a control freak, an optimist,  But ultimately, deep down, she is a determined idealist .

 For a List of Impressions go to this website Squidoo
This website contains a large list of adjectives of impressions you might want your characters to make.

 Ms Dixon says that The dominant impression can be helpful in several ways. According to her, throughout the course of the story, the adjective may change and you must show this to the reader. So far, my heroine is a tortured soul with secondary PTSD and I must show how she makes peace with that side of herself. If the hero/heroine don’t change, then they have to accept who they are and how they come to terms with it.

You can assess your character's emotional journey over the course of the novel. The dominant impression that your character generates as the novel opens may evolve into something different at the story’s end. Or the impression itself may not change, but the character’s perception of self may change. They may accept who and what they are and value traits that they formerly despised.

Once you’ve clarified your dominant impression, how do you communicate that to your readers?

Ms. Dixon Recommends The Use of Distinguishing Tags:
appearance – let it mean more than a particular hair color. Details are important. Let the situation reveal a character’s appearance.

ability – what special trait or ability does your character have? Can he put out a fire? Is she able to calm anxious children? Let your readers see your characters in action. Contrast their weaknesses and strengths

speech – how do they say things? Simple? In contractions? What are your character’s speech rhythms and cadences? Does he pause and think carefully before speaking or answering? Or is she impulsive, jumps in feet first and thinks later?

mannerisms – how do they behave when nervous? Anxious? Angry? Do they stutter? Walk with a limp? Rub their heads before telling a lie?

attitudes – what is your character’s habitual view towards life? This will be well rooted in their worldview.

In Summary:
Figuring out your character’s dominant impression will give you a handle on how that character moves through each scene in your story. It gives you a starting place for what a character might say or do in response to the story events.

Look at your character’s history. What life events have shaped him and how does he feel about them?
Find the attitude that your character wears day in and day out and use it to show the dominant impression that make your character memorable.

How do you develop dominant impressions for your characters?

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