Indirect characterization is a technique used to develop characters in which the author provides clues that allow the reader to experience a character in more depth. Indirect characterization is showing rather than telling. Instead of saying, “John walked to his seat. He was tired,” I would provide clues that communicate the same idea, but in a way that would help readers figure it out on their own. I might write, “John shuffled through the door a moment before the bell. He yawned as he took his seat and rubbed his eyes, squinting up at the clock. Red pillow lines still marked his face, and his disheveled hair looked like he’d run his fingers through it maybe once.” In this example, I never told you John was tired. But you can probably assume it—from the yawns, the bed-head, the shuffling.
We could make the above scene even more interesting by adding a deeper point of view. Let’s say I’m in the point of view of the teacher. Maybe she’s having a rough day and is tired of students shuffling in late. We’re still going to stay in third person POV, but we’re in the teacher’s head:
“John shuffled through the door, a moment before the bell. Ms. Williams cringed as she put down her box of tardy slips. How that boy always managed to come in right before the bell, she’d never understand. He couldn’t be so lucky every day, though, could he? One day he’d be late, and then it would be detention for him. She suppressed a smile. While the rest of the students got out their homework, John squinted up at the clock. As if he didn’t know the bell always rang at 8 a.m. sharp. Teenagers. She marked him down as ‘present’ before calling the class to order. She’d call on John first. With those pillow lines on his face and the ridiculous bed-head, he looked half asleep still. If she couldn’t get him for being tardy, she’d get him for being stupid. The rest of the class would enjoy his sleepy attempts at analyzing Edgar Allen Poe.”
This POV gets us into the teacher’s head, and boy does she have issues! It’s much more interesting than the first, more neutral, scene, because it automatically adds tension. The teacher is out to get John. Whether John knows it or not, we aren’t yet sure, but I’d like to keep reading to find out. When working on each scene, think of it as a belt in a motor, or a rubber band if you don’t want to get your hands greasy. If there isn’t enough tension, the belt won’t be able to do its job. If there’s too much tension, it will eventually break. Readers like tension, but you don’t want them to have a heart attack while reading. Still, if there isn’t enough tension, there’s nothing to keep the reader glued to your book.