Friday, February 11, 2011

Writing Exercise: Character Identifiers

A good article in Mystery Writers is Murder suggests figuring some identifiers to make it easier to recognise your secondary characters. It might be an eccentric piece of clothing, a remarkable feature, or some strange habit but it should be memorable enough to implant the character in the reader's mind and later help them remember that character

So, as my belated writing exercise, I will do just that. I'll do it with some characters from my novel for the brainxercise.

Lirrian is a fairly major secondary character so she more has a style of identifiers rather than a single one. She's bratty. She's the girl who might say hello by putting her hands over your eyes or giving you a pinch (at least while younger). She's surprisingly cocky with her friends and will say what she thinks (though isn't dumb enough to do that to authority figures). So the sort of identifiers I use with her are things that are high energy, sometimes abrupt speech, and teasing. Yeah, with her it's not as straight-forward but she's on so many pages in that book that I'd be really shocked if a reader didn't remember her.

Ongar is a bit of an enigma, even to me. He's a manly man so he attempts to be macho as much as he can but he also comes from a culture that's more effusive and romantic so he comes up with these terrible poems and likes to think he's a really dry wit. He's also a nay-sayer and doesn't like taking risks. So anything showing superficial machismo, lame attempts at being romantic or at least sexual (cor, look at her), and nay-saying anything risky would be identifiers for him.

Kyliam is a bit more straightforward. He doesn't say much as he can't speak their language but he can be quite expressive in smiles so it often ends up being adjective-smile or more specific synonym of smile like 'grin' or even the the opposite of a smile - wince. He's also the calm and forgiving one.

Gerran is high energy as well but that's because he's an anxious person. Funnily enough, as he starts coming out of his shell he becomes less risk averse. He speaks poshly, formally, and somewhat pompously and reads like a character from an Enyd Blyton novel. Really, its his speech mannerisms and his cocky-cowardice that are my identifiers for him.

Hmm, these aren't great examples because they're all the more important characters who get so much air-time that the quirks vanish. Let's try the three possible fathers.

Gelebourne is a large man and I emphasize his muscles, his size, and his predatory nature. I sort of see him as a big, dangerous animal and I emphasize the boom in his voice and the way his weight creaks the stage floor and things like that.

Carrius is showier. He's all languid movements and deceptive smiles / frowns / winces. Everything is for show. The whole world is a stage. I often have to spend more time describing his gestures and I think that's his main identifier. Writing them out also makes the gestures seem longer and slower ... which they are. So if I write about Carrius bursting into a room through the double doors, keeping his hands on the handles, and lowering his head so that his hair falls artfully across his face ... you know which brother it is.

Alberic has a military background and it shows. Everything he says is measured, though gentle, and he has a very straight back. Everything has to be just-so. There's certainly a degree of precision about his movements. He also dodges all talk with an emotional content. Funnily enough, his precise nature (and his glasses) make him come off as a bit geeky. I simplify matters to identify him. He sits with his knees tucked together. He stands straight with his hands clasped behind his back.

Hmm, writing this out has certainly assisted me in figuring out what makes each character so unique. Why don't you write up one of yours and share it with us in the comments section?


  1. Claire. Major Minor Character.

    Force of nature. Surrounded by friends but lonely. Sometimes really naive. Loyal to those she considers real friends.

    She walks around with a bounce in her step and tends to see things in the simplest way possible.