Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quirks, foibles and traits

Sounds like a collection of ultra-small physics particles, doesn't it?

In reality, the insertion of these idiosyncrasies into a book are a key part of what delineates a potentially great author from a mediocre one. If that sounds like an exaggeration, I'll say it again in a slightly different way - leave them out at your peril.

Let's look at an example. A typical breakfast scene where the main point of the act is the dialogue that's taking place between the principal characters. No doubt you've polished this and it works perfectly so I’m not going to consider the conversation, only the actions that are going on around it.

Thus, what you may not have done is to have considered the 'little details', such as having one or other of the characters:
  • Leave the milk out of the fridge so it gets warm
  • Burn the toast
  • Have an impromptu 'seconds' from the cornflakes box so that there isn't quite enough cereal left for the other person to get a full serving
  • Open their boiled eggs upside down
  • Make a ritual out of sweeping up every last crumb of toast
... and so on.

There's nothing particularly magical about this list and you could easily add hundreds more bits of human weirdness that regularly take place around any breakfast table. While those details recounted en masse might well be terminally tedious, scattered sparingly over the breakfast scene just like pepper over one's scrambled eggs, will 'pep it up' considerably.

In fact, that's the key to the correct use of these qualities. When you choose your book’s cast, pick on a selection of ones which you feel are both in keeping with your characters and which will also allow you to inject interest into scenes which might otherwise be too dry or complex.

If I've not quite convinced you of how relevant this is, I'd like you to think of another scene that occurs regularly in your life such as going to work, eating dinner, preparing for bed – anything like these will do. Now make a mental list of what you actually do on each occasion and then make another list of how many processes you actually need to do. For example, take 'going to bed'. You don't NEED to line up your watch, jewellery, wallet etc - you could simply just chuck them down on the bedside table or the dresser. You don't NEED to put both shoes together - as long as you can find them, that's all that matters.

... and so on.

Whether you choose to make your quirks, foibles and traits amusing, frustrating or plain irritating, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you have made your characters human and depicting their weaknesses - weaknesses which we all suffer from – will be a major influence in getting your readers to identify with them.

Now, where’s my protractor? I like to leave my laptop screen at exactly 115ยบ when it’s not in use.

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