Friday, April 19, 2013

Making a Character Real Part 1



TAGS.  Broken down into categories, we speak of tags as appearance, ability, speech, mannerism and attitude. A tag is a limited label.  It identifies a character and helps your readers to distinguish one person from another.

 A name is a tag.  It should identify the character and give the reader an idea of the kind of kind of person s/he is.  Examples: 

 Skinny black detective nicknamed “Biafra Baby” in William Caunitz’s Suspects.  “Nurse Ratched” in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  “Mr. Wasserfiend” 11/20/08 New Yorker, Think Hard, It’ll Come Back To You --Woody Allen.  “Malvonne” as opposed to “Violet” in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.

 Names also characterize by telling age.  “Esther,” “Ruth” or “Hilda” are not common names these days.   Names like “Kristi,” “Taylor,” and “Madison” have become more fashionable.

 Tag categories are broken down into appearance, ability, speech, mannerism and attitude
               Appearance.  Adolph Hitler’s mustache.  A bushy beard.   Extra fine or coarse hair.  Sloppy or fastidious dress, a missing ear lobe, a drooping eyelid.  Matted red curls. 
               You can bring appearance into action if you say,” she reaches up one small hand to adjust her beret, the same blue as the color in the painting.”   “She slipped on her sunglasses to hide the carved lines under her eyes.”

                Another tag that says it all:  “He was 47 going on 70.”   Or “Those clever coyote eyes” kept me wondering. “

               Ability.   One of my characters made quilts.  This was certainly not expressed in her nature.  I had to present the background that prepared her for the craft.  How about the skill to make a bomb, style hair, change a diaper, lay cement?  How about the character’s ability to perform such tasks? 

                Speech patterns.  Repetitions such as “sir,” “awesome” or “dude.”  Stuttering.  Never finishing a sentence.

                Mannerism.  Rubbing the chin, blinking eyes, a frown, a squeaky laugh, biting the lip, smoothing the hair.  These are sometimes called “tics.”  My mother was constantly wiping her hands on her apron.

                Attitude.  Mary Poppins’s eternal cheeriness.  Racism, sexism, cynicism, idealism.  Not to mention being paranoid, fundamental in religious beliefs or a born-again atheist.  A slacker or driven to succeed.

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