Craft of Writing
Dear Writer-Readers of the Blog,
I use a little trick for creating rounded characters that might come in handy to you at some point. This is not their inner motivation — that comes from the inside, way down deep. Crafting character arc is a whole different and much more complicated post (let me know if you'd like that one sometime — I draw most heavily from John Truby's and Michael Hague's techniques, which might give you a starting point).
This technique, on the other hand, is something that gets me a little deeper into my characters after I've worked out their character arcs and interior/exterior motivations. It's something that's super useful if I come up with it ahead of time, instead of being 75% into a first draft and realizing I still don't have a good handle on my people yet. (In that case, I go back and pepper this stuff in during edits.)
Tic Tack Talk
Tic: A repeated physical action used to show inner emotion.
Everyone has one. I've had characters that create made-up words under stress (phloobts! stamzik!) and characters who tap their teeth. Their tic can be pushing their glasses higher every minute or two or forgetting to say the last few words of their sentences. The tic should be both physical (observable) and unconscious, and it should say something about the character that she herself isn't keen on revealing to anyone else.
Tack: A concrete object used as a place to store a character's emotion.
It's a touchstone. Let's call it a tack because it's just fun to say tic tack talk. It's normally (but not necessarily) small and it's always meaningful. It could totally be a tack (like, if the main character sat on a tack left on her seat by her annoying but adorable brother who died later that day from a random but wildly-vicious rabid-squirrel attack), but I bet it won't actually be a tack. That would be a pointy, possibly dangerous touchstone (ooh, now I want to use one in a book someday). I have used coins and pebbles and pieces of beach glass and knitting and jewelry. They're clutched and treasured until, as the character's arc resolves, they are needed less.
Talk: The character's diction, taken directly from his passion.
This one is super obvious but it took me a while to figure out how effective this shortcut to point-of-view voice is. Here's a grossly-exaggerated example: If your hero is a fisherman, he won't see pink and white clouds at sunset, he'll see a school of salmon and whitefish in the sky. His lover's skin won't be clammy after she's poisoned (go with me here), it'll feel like the inside of a wet wader. When he finds out he's going to jail for poisoning her, he'll feel like he's swallowing rusty fish hooks, one after another. And when he cries in his death-row cell, he can still taste the sea.
As readers, we love these three things, all of them. We eat 'em up as long as they're not too overdone, something that's completely possible, see previous paragraph. Sure, we can see them for the devices they are, but something in our brains, that simple part that wants to sit around the campfire and listen to a good yarn, still loves them.
Take your main characters (who are already rich and round, who are already going places in their arc) and give 'em each one of these. Let me know if it helps.
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