Helpful Hints on
Perfection Does Not Exist
No one is perfect, and that goes for the characters in our stories. The hero can have a heart
of gold, eyes as blue as the sky, hair as black as sin, and a smile that can make the sun look
like it is low on voltage. But come on now, shouldn't he have some weakness, some part of
him that is less than perfect? Maybe he doesn't trust any woman further than he could
toss her. Maybe he is scared of needles, and faints at the sight of one.
The same holds true for your villain and villainess. Sure they are awful people, and no
doubt their souls are cold and dark, but isn't there even one beam of good light in there?
Of course there is. The villain might hate everybody, but maybe he has a dog he would
give his life for. The villainess probably wishes death on those who defy her, but the sight
of a baby might melt her cold heart, and maybe she would even sacrifice something to
protect a child. I'll never forget the barkeeper from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. (I know,
really old show.) In lots of ways, he was this awful person, but there were times, when this
softer, good side of him broke free. It made him memorable -- it made him real. He wasn't
just a cardboard character, but a person with both good and bad inside of him. Yes, more
bad, but not all.
The difference between Cody and Egbert
One of the first things we need for a character is a name. It might not always hold true in
real life, but in fiction, it's necessary most times for the name to fit the character. That's
because -- right or wrong -- we all have preconceived ideas as to who a person is with a
given name. If I'm speaking to a female over the phone that I've never met before, and she
introduces herself as Ursula, Scarlett, Desiree, or Hildegard, I get a picture of that person's
appearance and character in my mind. I might be way off, but it's there. So when I read, I
do the same thing. I find that for me personally, Egbert just doesn't work as a good name
for a hero. In my judgment, Egbert, Egor, or Eugene just does not a sexy hero make --
although you might know one very sexy guy with one of these names, it's not the norm.
So, what kind of characters do names conjure up in your mind? Make sure there is at least
a good chance that those name will conjure up the picture you want your readers to see.
A tag word, tag look, or action tag can make even a character that has a small part in your
story stand out or be recognized when needed. With a main character, it can show a little
personality, a hint of tension, or just make them seem more human.
In one of my stories (set in the 1800's and will probably never see the light of day since it
was lost and I doubt I'll try to rewrite it) I have a heroine who always says "hell's bells"
when she is angry. It's her way of cursing. No one else in the story says this, so if the
reader sees that tag in a sentence, they know who is talking without a doubt. You could
also have a character that has a habit of calling everyone honey. Or a character that talks
with slang, uses bad English, an accent, or whatever fits that character and seems normal
for him or her.
Action tags work the same way. I for one, have this habit of playing with my hair, twisting
strands of it around my finger. I notice I do this a lot more if I am nervous, or even bored.
I could have a character in a story who has a slight limp, or the habit of jiggling loose
change in his pocket, sucking on a piece of hard candy, or maybe drumming his fingers on
Tag look (that doesn't sound right, but that's what I'm gonna call it) works the same way. It
can make a limited but needed character be remembered when they pop up again. Say you
have a character named Sissy, who only has a small part in most of the story, but you really
need your reader to know her when she does show up because of some twist you have
planned that's going to make her important later on. Well, those action tags and word tags
can do it, but so can a look tag. If she always has a certain hat on, or too much makeup, or
green hair, chances are pretty good when ever she pops up and you describe that look tag,
your reader will spot her and remember her.
Charlotte Dillon ~ www.charlottedillon.com
Copyrighted 2003 by Charlotte Dillon
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