When we say of a real person that he or she is a "character," we usually have in mind someone who stands out from the crowd. Maybe she only wears the color purple. Or perhaps he reads the dictionary for pleasure. Such eccentricities help us see the person in action, but also give us a peek inside the person's personality.

When we call a real person a "character," we also mean that the person is colorful enough to be a player in a work of fiction. In fiction, of course, details of character can be drawn from real life and can be fabricated. In nonfiction, we have no such privilege. Journalists have only the raw material of real life to draw upon in forming the shape of a person on the page. But what are the sources from which the best details are extracted? And, if you have 100 details, how do you decide which ones to choose?

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