Strive for Variety
When creating major characters in your novel, variety is the goal to strive for. Sameness can dull the effect. You want each character to portray a different dominant impression in the mind and eye of your reader. One of the ways to create these impressions is by using tags.
A tag – or label – is designed and implemented by you, the author. The list below will give you an idea of what tags might be:
- Slump shouldered
- Nail biter
Notice the variety not only in the tags themselves, but also in how they are revealed. Character tags can fall into four types:
This is the tag that most beginning writers actually get. This is because we are, for the most part, visual and appearances are obvious. For instance, we can see that the skinny guy is the proverbial bean pole. While appearance can be vivid, remember this is surface. Looks are only skin-deep as the old cliché goes. Relying on appearances alone can produce weak characters.
Speech is a powerful method of individualizing a character. It can become a fascinating pastime to listen to how people talk. The idioms and colloquialisms they use, as well as the use and misuse of the English language. A West Texas rancher will not sound like a New York cab driver. Some people can speak clearly and succinctly, making points that cannot be misunderstood. Others fumble and grope for the right word and the right phrase.
Use of language has to do with upbringing, geographical location, education, social status, psychology and a number of other things. Use speech tags skillfully to make your character spring to life.
When I was a member of Toastmasters International a number of years ago, the club I joined had just begun to video members’ speeches. We played back the videos in order to critique our own — and each other’s — speeches. Here is where we saw mannerisms vividly portrayed. Whether it was playing with a ring on the finger, tucking hair behind the ear, pushing glasses up on the nose, excessive blinking, and a dozen other mannerisms, all came to light as we watched the videos.
Envision your character. What mannerisms fit that character’s personality? How can those mannerisms fit into the story line?
Creating your character’s attitudes can be a highly entertaining part of characterization. There is no end to the variation here:
You get the idea. Fun stuff, right? These attitudes will determine how that character thinks, acts, and speaks.
Distinguish / Separate
By waving tags throughout your novel, you are creating vivid characters who spring to life on the page. The purpose is to distinguish each character so he or she is separate from others in the story. For this reason you will want to avoid duplication of the tags used in one novel.
In my next blog post, Wave Your Tags – Part II, we’ll talk in more detail of how to effectively use the technique of waving your tags.
The first two titles in the Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection will be available in print form.
Flower in the Hills and Tiger Beetle at Kendallwood will soon be in bound copies.
Watch for upcoming announcements.