Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Reading People

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

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Aaron Brinker, Creative Commons

READING PEOPLE

Description: “Reading people” is the ability to size others up quickly and accurately. People with this skill are able to see through misdirection and outright deceit to correctly identify a person’s character or motives in many different situations.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being a good listener, being able to think clearly and in an organized fashion

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: observant, perceptive, extroverted (other-focused), discerning, objective, decisive, focused, sensible, empathetic

Required Resources and Training: While some people are inherently good at reading others, there are some things that can be done to improve one’s discernment in this area.

There’s a kind of science to lying, with certain tells that reveal deceit. Paul Ekman studied this in great detail and shares his findings in his book Telling Lies; studying these tells and the micro expressions that people use when they’re not being truthful can improve one’s ability to identify truth from falsehood in others.

Much of what we know about others, we learn by observation. Anyone who wants to read people better can do so by simply studying them. Paying close attention to people, listening intently to them, and engaging with them will result in a better understanding of people in general and will eventually help us to recognize patterns.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Con-artists, detectives, gamblers, psychics, and empaths are often portrayed as being able to read others well. While it’s a positive skill to have, it often has a negative connotation, being used by people to manipulate and take advantage of others. The other stereotype is that of the shy and under-valued but highly perceptive sidekick or peripheral character. This person keeps to the background and doesn’t seem to have much purpose until, at a pivotal moment in the story, he/she reveals some great truth about the hero or villain that everyone else has missed.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • when someone with power or influence is not who they appear to be
  • when a dangerous person is about to do something deadly
  • when someone is suicidal and is hiding their desperation
  • when a friend is in an abusive relationship
  • when someone is being conned
  • when a famous or highly regarded person needs to know his true friends from those who would use him
  • when trying to get to the bottom of an argument or long-lasting feud
  • when a police officer is interviewing a subject
  • when a con-artist or criminal is looking for a mark

Resources for Further Information:

18 Tips and Tricks about Reading People

What Every BODY is Saying

Telling Lies

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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6 Responses to Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Reading People

  1. Great resources and another great post. Thanks!

  2. I’m using this right now for a character who reads people but is herself deceptive. I figure who better to be a manipulator than one who recognizes the same in others?

  3. :Donna Marie says:

    Anyone who can read people quickly and accurately is totally gifted! It’s something that, when it comes to friends, I’ve sorely lacked. I think it’s because I want to believe people are better than most of them actually are : / Unfortunately, you often don’t find out a person’s true character until tragedy strikes! Again—great for fiction! 😀

  4. Julie Musil says:

    Great entry, ladies. When I first started writing nonfiction for kids magazines, I wrote an article about body language. Fascinating stuff.

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