It seems like we’re frequently discussing character traits. Yes, the time and place or location of a story can be critical. And in some situations, they can be an important part of the story. For example, “Jaws” would not have the same impact if it took place in a small town on Lake Michigan. “Die Hard” wouldn’t happened in a four story brownstone apartment building. Imagine “Lonesome Dove” moving north along I-75 from Kentucky to Michigan today.
But it’s the characters that really move the story along. While it’s important to give your protagonist traits that people will expect, relate to and possibly admire, as a writer you have to extend the same effort to your antagonist and your other characters as well. Some bad guys can have their own levels of panache and charm. Consider Hans Gruber from “Die Hard” flawlessly played by Alan Rickman. His portrayal of the character shows flashes of brilliance with his appreciation of a world class education, finely tailored suits and his ability to mastermind the heist.
There are times when you want a character to be annoying. It’s true. Every once in a while, you long to create a player that no one will like, who has no redeeming qualities, who is a caveman in these modern time. This is the kind of guy who everyone will cheer if he gets gunned down. Because he’s so annoying.
It’s not uncommon for a writer to take certain traits from people they know, or come across in the course of their day. Lately there have been a few people who unknowingly are providing me with insights and examples of just that type of obnoxious person. Eventually I’ll weave a few of these together to create a new character. And if it’s appropriate, I won’t hesitate to bump them off.
Because that’s part of writing.
So be forewarned if you’re in the presence of an author. You might just be providing them with the incentive to bump you off in print! Along those lines, I developed “The Author’s Warning” a few years ago. Here it is.
· You are in the presence of an author. Anything you say or do may end up in a published story or novel.
· These interactions may be altered to fit the character and ultimately may not be flattering to you.
· Your physical appearance, wardrobe, behavior and demeanor may be adjusted. Any body art, piercings, hair extensions and surgical enhancements may be exaggerated or eliminated.
· All characters created are the result of the author’s imagination. Any similarities to any person living or dead is strictly coincidental. Yes, really.
· You will not receive compensation or acknowledgment for your contributions to the story.
Here’s a glimpse at an annoying character from “Why 319?” In these scenes, the squad of detectives are discussing the best methods to begin investigating the three homicides they believe are the work of a serial killer.
“We need to determine the common denominator,” Megan said. “There’s got to be something that all three of our victims shared. We just need to look at them closely and let them tell us what that is.”
Barksdale made a derisive snorting noise beside her. “Just how do we do that, McDonald? Call the psychic hotline? Break out the Ouija board?”
“We look at the evidence,” she said with a sneer.
“We look at the evidence,” Barksdale mimicked, waving his hands like a cheap carnival magician.
“Knock it off,” I said. “Megan’s right. We have to go through every bit of information we can find on the victims. That means reviewing the files, repeating every single interview. We have to take the investigation a step further. If the locals talked to three coworkers, we need to talk to six. If they interviewed one neighbor, we interview five.”
Barksdale turned his scowl to me. “So how are we going to do that before this pervert strikes again? We got other cases going.”
There was a lot of head shaking then Barksdale said something that had been obvious to all of us.
“This sure isn’t a bunch of beauty queens. I wonder if this guy’s got a thing about homely girls.”
Megan and Laura looked ready to slap him. Tess was too new to know if he was joking or not. Barksdale wasn’t politically correct, but he’d nailed it. This was what all three women had in common. They weren’t gorgeous, or famous or worth millions. They were just three plain women, similar in age, all with variations of brown hair. Was that the connection?
Here are some links where you can find "Why 319?"
Music this week comes from Jesse Cook.