How to Write a Homeless Character? 9 Useful Tips

Last Updated on January 13, 2023 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD


Do you have a story or character in your head that you’d like to write about? If so, consider writing about a homeless person. Homeless people are often fascinating and complex characters, and their stories can be inspiring and moving. In this blog post, we’ll provide tips on how to write a homeless character in a meaningful and compelling way. So don’t hesitate – to start writing today!

How to portray homelessness?

Even though homelessness is a common occurrence in real life, literature often follows certain conventions when it comes to depicting it.

1 – The victim

The narrative will often concentrate on the more disturbing aspects of a protagonist who is homeless; they will be prey to predators, abused, or innocent surrounded by non-innocent people. The community that exists among persons who are homeless is often overlooked in this isolated victim within a sea of danger metaphor. In Max Brooks’ The Extinction Parade, the victim is depicted through an analogy, such as when they are being hunted by those who are homeless. 

2 – The corpse

Being a homeless person who dies, becomes an anonymous corpse, and solicits pity from the protagonist is one of the most prevalent roles for such individuals. They serve as a means of eliciting emotion and moving the narrative forward. This is a common occurrence in crime dramas, such as the episode of Criminal Minds “Legacy” in which homeless victims only become important when they become the clue to catching the perpetrator.

3 – The invisible homeless

Despite its flaws, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” has some intriguing similarities to sofa surfing as a form of homelessness. The main subject of the narrative is societal exclusion; however, Marcie’s living condition as a hidden fugitive inside the school and thus unseen to the rest of society is also a fascinating examination of non-street homelessness issues. 

4 – The first victim

The first victim is very similar to the final concept, but it is so prevalent that it requires its mention. The homeless person is the first to witness aliens land, monsters roaming the streets, serial killers slaughter them, and they are the first to be taken over by them. This is exemplified by the X-Files episode ‘The Jersey Devil’ and The Matrix, in which Agent Smith possessed the body of a homeless guy.

5 – Homeless and outside time

Homeless people in literature are usually estranged from history, time, and their lives. These are often portrayed as having no future and being in a continuous situation from which there is no escape. In England, numerous individuals were born in the same town as they are now. They’ll run into people they know regularly. They are embedded within that society, and individuals may assist them, or they may encounter individuals they avoid.

Nine useful tips to write homeless characters in fiction

Our writing is represented by the characters in our stories, songs, poems, and essays. They’re what we call flesh and blood. They also speak for us, taking on a large portion of the storytelling, theme, mood, idea, and emotion. Until we write them down on the page, they do not exist. Until we anchor them with words, they drift and etherealize.

So, we present you our top 9 useful tips for writing homeless characters in fiction!

1 – Their details must appeal!

Whether or not the information is correct, it isn’t enough to relay just facts when we describe a person. For the details to be meaningful, our senses must be appealed to. Labels (tall, middle-aged, and average) do not provide a vivid picture in our heads. It’s natural to represent our characters using visual pictures since most people create their first opinion of someone through visual clues. 

2 – Don’t just use adjectives!

Bulging or ropy muscles, clean-cut good looks, and frizzy hair are all adjectives that have been overused. If you use an adjective to characterize a physical feature, make sure that the term isn’t just correct and sensory, but also imaginative.

Emily Dickinson, for example, described her eyes as “the color of the sherry that guests leave in the glasses,” rather than simply as “hazel.”

3 – Detail them specifically!

The descriptions not only generate visuals, but also convey the father’s background and personality. The simple phrase brown hair would be more effective than these descriptions. Similarly, he might swap his baby blue oxford shirt for a white oxford button-down or the same style of baby blue oxford he’s had since prep school.

4 – Write the strongest and most revealing physical details

A dozen random photographs may not effectively reveal character than one well-chosen physical feature, item of clothing, or quirky mannerism. Both nonfiction and fictional characters have this trait. My grandmother’s strong, protruding chin is often the focus of our stories about her, not only because it was her most prominent characteristic but also because it conveys stubbornness and determination.

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5 – Offer a backdrop for the significant and sensory details

You might need to provide these things if your character lacks a job, a pastime, a residence, or a wandering location. Your character may relax enough to reveal his secrets once he is comfortable. Nevertheless, you may purposefully discomfort your character to see how he’ll react. When we say that your character should be made uncomfortable, we mean it. Let’s say you’ve provided several characterizations of an elderly lady preparing in the kitchen, but she hasn’t yet revealed herself to be the three-dimensional lady you’d like her to be. On a Saturday night, take her to a gay club, a tattoo shop, or (if you’re up for a little trip back in time) to Appomattox, where she serves Grant and Lee her famous buttermilk biscuits.

6 – Don’t just limit yourself to the present life!

The early surroundings of fictional characters, as well as flesh-and-blood people, influence them. According to Flaubert’s portrayal of her childhood years in the convent. Emma Bovary will grow into a woman who lives in a romantic dream, dreaming of exotic locations and loves. We learn about her through direct, tactile descriptions of the location that shaped Madame Bovary. Furthermore, Flaubert describes a sick lamb with a pierced heart, which she was fixated on during church.

7 – Reveal the inner lives of characters

We meet the primary characters in the first minutes of The Big Chill by observing them unpacking their bags for a weekend vacation to a mutual acquaintance’s funeral. One guy has a calculator, another has condoms in numerous packages, and another has enough pills to stock a drugstore. We get glimpses of the characters’ lives via the things that define them before a word is spoken, even before we know anyone’s name.

8 – Consider the strong placement of verbs

We don’t have to limit our usage of verbs to the deeds a character performs, though. Almost any physical description of a character may be sharpened using well-placed verbs. Look at the following excerpt as an example from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping.

“… in the last years, she continued to settle and began to shrink. Her mouth bowed forward, her brow sloped back, and her skull shone pink and speckled within a mere haze of hair, which hovered about her head like the remembered shape of an altered thing. She looked as if the nimbus of humanity were fading away and she was turning a monkey. Tendrils grew from her eyebrows, and coarse white hairs sprouted on her lip and chin. When she put on an old dress, the bosom hung empty, and the hem swept the floor. Old hats fell over her eyes. Sometimes she put her hand over her mouth and laughed, her eyes closed and her shoulder shaking.

9 – Don’t also limit yourself to the actable actions of characters!

Milan Kundera’s works don’t include any characters or action descriptions. Rather than a sensory description of a person or action, Kundera is more interested in a character’s internal landscape and the “existential issue” he refers to.

Since the concept of the body does not define Tomas’ internal struggle, Tomas’ corpse is not described in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Her body is described in physical, concrete terms (albeit not to the degree of detail most novelists would use) because it represents one of Teresa’s existential preoccupations. According to Kundera, a book is more about thoughts and the inner realm of the mind than human beings.

Final Words

A successful homeless character can be one of the best you have ever written. However, it all comes down to how you write them and handle the situation they find themselves in. Remember not to lose your grip on reality and keep a healthy dose of empathy for your readers when writing this kind of character.

By following these tips, you will create an intriguing tale about a homeless character that will make readers want more!

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