Tall or short? What about somewhere in between?
Redhead, brunette, blonde…oh wait, I know. BALD!
Two hands, two feet, two arms, two heads. There’s something not right here.
We’re going to continue picking apart the characters in your novel(s) this week. Today class, we’re going to have a catwalk, of a-sorts. From last week’s roll-call of names, we’re going to move on to the full body mug shots.
First impressions count, no truer than this in a story, book or series. When your character(s) take stage, that initial introduce will stay with the reader throughout. How you describe them is key, as it’ll make or break them. A character needs to be memorable, discernible, distinctive, and bloody well interesting to boot. This is where a lot of novels fall short, particularly in the fantasy genre. My girlfriend loathes fantasy, and I can see her understanding after we duked it out over a Starbucks coffee. To her, fantasy is a far too complex world, with far too complex factions, with far too complex variables of characters, complete with far too complex names to read aloud. Needless to say, I have to agree…particularly on the character front. Sometimes characters feel all too much like place holders, forgotten in the turn of the pages.
This was a terminal I’d have to remedy if I ever hoped to have my girlfriend read my stories. That, or lure her along with promises of Dinner and Dancing (I’m not too bad a groover, I have you know!). She enjoys chick-lit (no surprise! But, then again so do I), but her reasoning is that they are easy books just to pick up and read, the characters memorable. Of course they’re going to be memorable, particularly the male lead. Tall, dark and handsome. Or, unkempt blonde locks, ocean-blue eyes and a dazzling smile. Well-built, rough around the edges, but gentle in all the rights places…enough about me, back to the 101.
However, what I’ve said is true. These characters stand out for their ‘tags’. A ‘tag’ is an identifier for a single character, and sets them apart from the rest of the cast. ‘Tags’ can be a physical aspect, a trait, a habit, a saying, anything! Used effectively, a character can be recognised without even their name being said (written, in this case).
Take for example:
Waylander from David Gemmell’s Drenai Series – double winged crossbow, a trademark piece in itself.
Logen ‘The Bloody Nine’ Ninefingers from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Series – having nine fingers is obvious enough, but ‘the heavily scarred Northman’ with a penchant for knives (you can never have too many knives) head-butts his way into readers’ memory.
Harry Potter from….obvious – a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
The Painted Man from The Demon Cycle by Peter V Brett - *SPOILERS* He’s a man…and he’s painted *SPOILERS OVER*.
Draven Reinhardt from From Man to Man and It Began with Ashes by D E M Emrys – when stressed, bunches his bandana in his fists (selfless self-promotion).
Kalekht Reinhardt from It Began With Ashes by D E M Emrys – grins, no smiling or beaming, just grinning. And it’s always mischievous, neither roguish nor feral, a mischievous grin…for mischief!
Hopefully, I haven’t lost you here. The idea is that when a reader picks up on a single tag, the character comes to mind. It’s the appetiser in a way. A character shouldn’t have too many tags, or they’ll never become recognisable, but not having any at all is like having a blank canvas walk around your story. But then again, even a blank canvas has a tag, because it’s a BLANK canvas, not a painted or a ripped one. Right, before I confuse myself any more, I’ll leave it there.
Anyway, I have to get find my dancing shoes, as I’m about to ask my girlfriend to read ‘From Man to Man’ before I finish it off.