A Made-up Word That Will Add Depth to Your Characters

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Kramer bursting through Jerry’s door. Garfield kicking Odie off the table. Michael Scott turning an innocent statement into an innuendo by adding “that’s what she said!”

What do all these things have in common?

They are all arsidities!

What the heck is an arsidity?

  1. A word I made up.
  2. The phonetic spelling for the pronunciation of the acronym RCDT: Recurring Character Development Theme. This is a phrase, object, or quirk that bears significance to a certain character or characters, and appears more than once in a single piece of work.

Wait a second, isn’t that called a “motif”?

Yes and no. A motif is a type of arsidity. A motif represents something – for instance, the sound of footsteps in A Tale of Two Cities represents the oncoming troubles of the characters, particularly Carton’s fate. An arsidity doesn’t always represent something, and is not always “important” – it is just a detail that adds depth to your characters and soul to your story. Arsidities help make a story and its characters more lovable, meaningful, charming, or funny.

More examples of arsidities:

The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) – “my precious”     

The Outsiders (Hinton) – “gallant” and “stay gold”

Ocean’s Eleven – Rusty, Brad Pitt’s character, is eating in almost every scene

Silence of the Lambs – Hannibal Lector never blinks

Star Trek – Spock’s famous “Live long and prosper” gesture; Bones’ “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor not a [fill in the blank]”

None of these arsidities are vital to the plots of these books, movies, and TV shows, but can you imagine them without their arsidities? What a dull world it would be!

Do you use arsidities in your novel? How have they enhanced your character development, world building, and voice?

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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50 Comments

  1. Ah, yes. You have coined a great word that should be taught in writing courses worldwide. Thanks for the reminder about one of the most vital (I think) aspects of character development. Great article.

  2. This is so true and just as effective when used to enhance characters that are irritating or even offensive, right? I wonder if some writers of sitcoms overindulge in it intentionally in lieu of real character development.

    Thoughtful writers should be aware that arsidity is a powerful complement, but not a replacement, for true character development. And an observant reader would see through it very quickly!

    Once again I visit, I read, I learn. I like your neologism–it’s a keeper!

    • You’re so right! An arsidity shouldn’t stand alone. For instance, Gollum’s nickname for the Ring brilliantly shows his obsession with it – but the phrase “my precious” by itself doesn’t convey the full depth of Gollum’s inner conflict: his obsession with the Ring vs. his service to Frodo.

  3. this is good advice, i am 17 an am currently working on what i hope to be my first novel, its a fantasy novel about a soldier who falls in love. but its also gritty, lots of battles, and fighting, and the main character learns many vital lessons along the way.being that what it is, i have no college background, but am encouraged by friends and family that it will certainly be published. im currently contemplating how to add depth to my characters, and am looking for advice wherever i find it. I will certainly keep arsiditys in mind, any other advice?

    • Jeremy,
      First, I’ll warn you that writing a book – if you really want it to be good – will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But don’t let that discourage you. It’s also one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have (fantasies with romance and fighting are some of my favorites!). Education IS necessary to write and publish a book – but college is only one way to get an education. Read good books, and write something every day, and you will learn a lot.
      On character development – one fun and insightful excercise is to take an online personality test from your character’s perspective. The Meyers-Briggs test is really informative. You can take it here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp
      Answer each question as your character would answer it, then read the articles provided about that personality type. You can also Google your results for more insight.
      When you are writing, pay close attention to how your characters talk, and how they communicate through body language – this is the number one way people get to know each other in real life, and it’s also the number one way your readers will get to know your characters.
      Check out my blogroll to the right for more great writing resources. And good luck!

  4. Thank you and i will do my best. If you have any more advice please don’t hesitate to offer.I have a feeling I’ll be visiting this website, often

  5. ok i got a question for you, here i am editing for the first time, and im having trouble with this sentence; ‘His shoulder had been bandaged once more, and he lay dazed for a few moments trying to collect himself’, i know had is a ‘forbidden word’, but it seems to fit here, im sorry for being annoying, but i just HAVE to know, can you use forbidden words from time-to-time?

    • You can definitely use it! In fact, it would be wrong if you didn’t. While we try to avoid the word “had,” it isn’t forbidden, particularly in past tense stories, when it is necessary to describe something that is not currently happening, but already did happen. If you said “his shoulder was bandaged once more,” it would sound like someone is bandaging his shoulder as he watches. If, as is implied by this excerpt, he has just awoken to find that somebody already bandaged his shoulder, past perfect is called for – “had been.”
      You’re not annoying! Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any more questions.

  6. I don’t see why “had” should be forbidden either, it’s one of the most common words in the language! I wouldn’t, though, say “had had” which I see sometimes…such as “he had had his shoulder bandaged once before.” Sometimes, even if the words mean exactly what you want to convey, it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s OK to go with your gut feeling though! You can always edit it later.

    • Agreed. “Had” isn’t forbidden, per se, but it is better to avoid past perfect if at all possible.

      • wat about ‘they’ ‘then’, or ‘and’. these are words i am coming across frequently, and some writers tag them as “forbidden”, describing them as a disease that should be routed out.

        • I’m curious; what writers are you talking to? These are all common and necessary words. The only reasons I can think of to avoid these are:

          “They” – if you are referring only to one person, but are trying to avoid being gender-specific. Traditional writing has preferred “he” in these cases. Since the feminism movement, it changed to “he or she,” but that is so clunky, most people now accept “they.” However, “they” is sometimes unclear. Personally, I prefer “he.” And since your story is a fantasy, I’m guessing you want to use an older, more elegant style – “he” would probably be best for you.

          “Then” – in “if…then” pairings, “then” is usually unnecessary. For instance: “If you have flu-like symptoms, then stay at home.” The sentence reads better “If you have flu-like symptoms, stay at home.” However, when you are emphasizing chronology – “he did this, then this” – “then” is necessary.

          “And” – although technically, you shouldn’t begin sentences with “and,” people do it all the time for effect. I’ve already done it in this comment. Check out the DailyWritingTips post on this very subject: 7 Grammatical Errors that Aren’t

          A good rule of thumb: if you need the word to make your meaning clear, keep it. If the sentence is still clear without the word, cut it.

          My latest post also happens to be about cutting unnessecary verbage: Word search: the magic diet pill for novels

  7. I really do appreciate the advice your giving me, and the other advice im taking is from a post by aaron lazar. I really want to get this book published. Though i hear that the demand for young new authors is low, and my odds are slim. i have a passion for writing that i cant get anywhere else, but its frustrating, because as much as i enjoy it, i take a break and read terry brooks, or tolkien, and i feel like i cant amount to that. But at the same time i got a college professor from the university of alabama, telling me i got potential (my aunt is a bio professer there) I feel like im going to find out how bad a writer i am, and then give up. So my question is, how do i become a better author in general. How do i take that step from amateur to professional. And how do i know im cut out for it.

    • Debra is right. But I know exactly how you feel. So let me give it to you straight, writer to writer.

      Based on some research I’ve done, you have about a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting published. Published authors have about a 1 in 10 chance of making a living writing fiction. All told, that means your chances of being a successful novelist are 1 in 100,000. But you know what? Terry Brooks had the same chances. Look at him now.

      So, are you as good as Terry Brooks or Tolkein? Probably not. But neither were they at your age. It took Tolkein 12 years to get Lord of the Rings where he wanted it. You are born with talent and passion, but skill takes time to develop. Your book could easily go through ten more drafts before you are happy with it. When I graduated high school, I was convinced my novel was finished. Five years and countless drafts later, I’m only just now gearing up to query literary agents again – for the same book. If could be ten or twenty years before either of our novels get published. Does that mean we should give up? Heck no. So, my advice:

      1. Never give up.
      You will be discouraged and frustrated along every step of the writing process. It is the nature of the game. You will love your novel one day and hate it the next. You will shake your fist at the sky and burn manuscript pages and sigh over dozens of rejection letters. So what? You’re an artist. True artists don’t suffer FOR their art – they suffer because of it. So just keep working on it.

      2. Read good books.
      Tolkein, certainly. I’ve never read Brooks but I keep hearing good things about him. Also, read C.S. Lewis (who was a friend of Tolkein’s – you’ll see similarities in their work), Ray Bradbury, Charles Dickens, and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. The more you read good books, the more your brain will be able to recognize good writing from bad, the better your own writing will get.

      3. Write every day.
      Even if you can’t work on your book every day, find some way to write. Even if it’s just a few sentences in a journal. Join (or start) a writer’s group so you can get and recieve constructive criticism. You may be able to find one through your school or library. Enter story story competitions. Work on the school newspaper. Start a blog. I was lucky enough to get a writing internship at an ad agency (which led to my now full-time job) – you might look into something like that after you graduate high school or in your last year of college. If you have a chance to get a job in which you are writing every day, grab it. You will learn a ton.

      4. Subscribe to some blogs!
      There are tons of FREE writing resources out there. The two I would most recommend are: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/ and http://www.writersdigest.com/GeneralMenu/ (subscribe to the free e-newsletter). DWT is usually more on the technical side, like grammar and punctuation, whereas WD gets down into the nitty gritty, like writing great dialogue and fixing plot holes. They both consistently produce really useful content.
      Of course, there’s my blog, too. : )

      Wow, you really got me talking. Sorry for the long comment, and thanks for listening, Jeremy!

  8. Can I say something to Jeremy? Jeremy, you’re stressing way too much about “forbidden words.” I’m not a fiction writer, but I write for reference books and dictionaries. Here we cut out unnecessary words that don’t add to the meaning. It’s a good policy for all writing. When I write an essay or whatever, I first spill my guts. Write write write and get it all out. Then read it over and over and cut, cut, cut. Write 1000 words, cut 500. Make each word count.

    You already are ‘cut out’ for writing because of your passion.

  9. thanks, i feel anxious every time i mail you guys waiting for a response. Your advice is not wasted, i promise. I am determined to be a published author, my grandfather said my determination to never give up comes from my Scottish heritage. You guys have given me the best advice i could ask for. I’m just a horrible self editor. You guys have been awesome and I appreciate every little bit , and i will never quit.That said, nobody i know wants to read and give my work an opinion, I don’t have any friends who share my passion, and my family is just plain disinterested. I cant give up on it, but i feel that I cant judge it effectively myself. And u cant just give it to a stranger. What do you recommend?

  10. Publish it on a blog! Then you’ll have real readers who’ll be happy to give you feedback.

    • This is a really good idea. And as Debra pointed out in a comment on her own blog, it is really easy to get started. It can be scary putting your work out there for strangers to read, but that’s what getting published is!

  11. BeKind, I panic every single time I hit “publish”! I postpone, procrastinate, think it’s no good. Every time.

    • I don’t panic when publishing a blog or submitting work (anymore), but just telling someone about my novel is still pretty terrifying. I’ve made such a huge emotional investment into it, that if anyone thought it was bad, it would be a pretty big blow. I think the fear is a good sign you are truly being honest in your writing. My former priest (retired) once said that he is always a little scared before he preaches. If he’s not scared, he know’s there’s something wrong. I think that applies to what we do, too.

  12. i have a blog now and posted chapter 1 of the book i want published, please enjoy, and i would appreciate any feedback

  13. thank you bekind, and outlet, i appreciate all of your feedback. You both present allot of points i never even thought of. The thing is, Tristan is human. even though he owns (sorry i live in cali, its just how we talk hehe) them, hes still just a man. He bleeds like a man, needs food like any other man, and can die like any other man. However the book works that every other chapter is like a flashback. the first man he killed, the first time he was stabbed, and the death of his twin brother, marcus.Some of these ‘flashbacks’ are told through the eyes of said brother. I have high hopes for this book, and will post a revised version soon.

    • Ooo. Sounds intriguing. It must be incredibly heart wrenching to lose a twin. It would have completely changed his life, wouldn’t it? Maybe your opening paragraph should be about his brother?

      • thats something ive given thought to, later in the book i reveal he was wandering the battlefeild in search of his brother, who he presumes dead, im weighing the pros and cons. If marcus survived that battle, and returned to the king, then this could be a tender moment between brothers. If hes dead, than that leaves just one more scar on Tristan’s already scarred mind. Its not final and i do want this book to have a sense of gravity. I want to make fantasy characters that aren’t invincible, characters that go t hrough struggles that people can relate to. I want people to feel for my characters, feel for there losses. At least, thats what im aiming for.

        • Good call. I hate “perfect” characters. They are unrealistic, and it’s pointless to root for them because you know no one could possibly defeat them anyway. Weaknesses and flaws are a must for lovability and relatability.

          Your dilemma reminds me of the movie Stranger Than Fiction, but I can’t give you any advice on killing Marcus or letting him live. I know you’ll make the right decision. : )

      • I saw this and thought I would throw in something that may help Jeremy (I haven’t read his work, but personally any real-world details people can give me help inform my fantasy story :).

        My grandfather was a twin. There are intriguing dynamics between twins that are different from dynamics between other siblings. I grew up with two sets of twins, one set male and the other set female, and their bond is profound. Anyway, back to my grandfather. He was the older twin, but his brother was the “social” one, more outgoing and leading my grandfather in social situations. This is not always the case between twins, but it is a common situation.

        Then my grandfather’s twin brother was killed in an accident. This was when they were young men. My grandfather changed from that day forward, and I believe he went through his life with half of himself missing. He was able to live a full life, be a husband and father, be happy and sad, but it seems that he carried the hole where his brother should have been until his death.

        I don’t know anything about you, Jeremy, (for all I know, you could be a twin!) but make sure to gather as much real-world information as you can on the subjects you address in your story. This will make it solid and meaningful. If you choose to write of twins (regardless of whether or not one dies) make sure you understand twinship enough to write it convincingly. 🙂

        • wow it has been a long time since i have been here. well, i joined the army, finished school, and havent been on my book in a while. but i have been keeping tabs on whats going on in wordpress. yeah, i want my characters to be realistic, i have been doing alot of research and am recieving help from a friend whos taking a psych class. I apreciate all advice i can take. you will be seing alot more of my by the way, miss stephanie. Its time for me to get cracking on my writing.

  14. id like to admit something, when i write i dont think about how to write it, or if it sounds proper. I just let it flow. Ive failed every english class i ever took form elementary school up, only to discover i love to write. Now i wish i had taken them seriously.

    • That’s funny, because most writers (myself included) will tell you to just let it flow for the first draft. Just write, and get all your thoughts out and get through the entire first draft as quickly as possible, without worrying about grammar at all. Then, for the second draft, go back and fix, clarify, expand and cut.

      Don’t worry too much about failing past English classes. Find yourself a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style – it is a super cheap, super thin paper back that will tell you everything you need to know about grammar (anything it doesn’t cover, you can find online). And practice, practice, practice.

  15. I do have gnomes in my book, and as a little joke, there home city is called Lwan, which comes from lawn, where we see lawn gnomes. Its even pronounced the same.

  16. What are ‘minor events’, and how can i use them to improve my story?

    • Minor events? Any events that are not major events, I would guess. Tristan’s fighting the beast is a major event, because it is vital to the plot. Tristan’s conversation with Atelina about the places he has visited is a minor event, not necessarily vital to the plot, but important for character development and world building. They are the sort of “everyday” scenes that help create a sense of the passage of time, and let us get to know the characters and what they are feeling. Just don’t go crazy adding whole scenes of pointless dialogue and reminiscing; every scene should reveal something or move the story forward in some way. Like the way you mention the orcs killing the elves – that is another important clue to Tristan’s past and the war they are presumably fighting; it shows your readers that even though this is a “minor” scene, the conversation is important.

  17. i wanna start looking for a publisher in the bay area.Any suggestions. Now i do want to tell you that just because i want to look for a publisher, doesn’t mean that if I find one im gonna just get up and scoot to his office. Im gonna keep refining my work, until I’mm comfortable with showing it to a publisher, but id still like advice.

    • Most publishers don’t accept unagented submissions – any manuscript submitted by the author himself. Instead, you’ll need to look for a literary agent. An agent knows the publishing industry and will know which publishers to submit to. They will also negotiate your contract once you get a publisher interested. Also, you don’t have to go with an agent (or publisher) near you. Most are in New York and have “long distance relationships” with their authors. The best way to find an agent is probably Agent Query. Then, you write a query letter…actually, the publishing process is too involved to go into in one comment. I suggest you read up on Nathan Brandford’s site. He’s a former literary agent, and on his site, on the right side, there is a list of blog posts that outline all the basics. Really informative.

  18. ok i took your advice about rewriting that scene, and i have to thank you, i was blocked really bad, but after rewriting this scene i just blew threw a ton of now pages. So here’s the revised ‘love’ scene:

    She finished tying off the fresh bandage and grabbed his hand, tears still fresh in her reddened eyes.
    “Is that what you think of yourself, truly?”
    His face tightened.
    “Its what I am. There’s no denying it. No matter how you rationalize it, it is what it is.” His words were like daggers to Atilina.
    He stood and she fell into him, pressing her body against his. He gazed intently into her green eyes, as if gazing down into her very soul.
    She leaned into him, stretching her neck out, eyes closed. He pushed her away in gentle rejection. She peered up at him and sulked. He turned his head aside.
    There was a brief pause, and nobody moved, they were statues lost in a garden without time. Without warning the front door slammed and the two jumped back. The old man stepped in the room and leaned heavily on his staff with one hand and tugged at his ragged beard with the other.

    I decided to go with Tristan rejecting her instead of her rejecting Tristan because i think it plays with Tristan’s personality better. He’s the one who is socially inept right? Anywho, that’s my line of thinking. Any thoughts?

    • Good work! I like this. I like her sulking, I like the imagery of the statues. I’m not sure “his words were like daggers to Atelina” is quite the tone you are going for though; it makes the next part seem like he is trying to comfort her, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I get the feeling that he is a broken man, she is desperate to help/heal him, and he is afraid to get close. You convey all that well, but the “daggers” line throws me off a little. Try rewording, to emphasize the hard reality of his words without directing the harshnesss at Atelina specifically.
      I’m probably not explaining this very well; it’s been a very long week. Am I making any sense?

  19. sort of. ive had a long week too. Oh well, hope yours gets better.

    • Saturday makes it better. Sleep makes it better. Now let me see…now that some of my mental faculties have recovered, I think the daggers line throws me off because you are telling, not showing. Try describing her reaction instead, her expression. Like, “her eyes widened as if he had just slapped her across the face” (even that seems too extreme, but something like it). I hope this helps. : )

  20. Pingback: The one thing you should be doing that you probably aren’t « BeKindRewrite

  21. O.C.D. moment. This post is sitting at 49 comments. Must… make… it… 50!

    But I will refrain from commenting just for the sake of number. This is a very intriguing post and I have mulled it over since I read it. Before I read it, I had not given any thought to arsidities (there you go creating ideas, you devil… though I can’t help seeing my British friend’s spelling of “donkey” when I read it o_O). Now I find myself looking at my characters. I cannot find that any of them have something this intriguing, and I feel that I should not force the issue lest their arsidities seem false and… well… forced. I will, however, be more aware and more open to the organic development of arsidities in my charries. I already have a paranoid schizophrenic (not to be confused with dissociative disorder/multiple personalities), and if he doesn’t develop something I will be very much surprised. Thank you for giving this idea a monicker. 🙂

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