We recently vacationed to Vegas with another couple. Young Elvis took the flight over with us. Our first Elvis sighting. Our friends had never been to Vegas, so I’d eagerly been preparing them to see Elvis in all his headlining incarnations, and I’m happy to say that we did! We saw Jailhouse Rock Elvis, Asian Elvis, Black Elvis, Little Person Elvis, and Fat Vegas Jumpsuit Elvis sitting on a curb with a Foster’s pint in hand. The Elvi were in bloom all up and down the Strip! Uh-uh-HUH!
But! Where there had a few years before only been a series of Elvi wanting to be your hunka-hunka burning love and peddle a few bucks from your wallet, now there was an entire Halloween menagerie of costumed panhandlers populating the Strip. We saw Jack Sparrow, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, Batman, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, SpongeBob, Zombie Guy, Zach Galifianakis (dead ringer in Hangover garb), KISS band members, Spartans from 300, Showgirls, Transformers, you name it! All of them willing to pose for $10 photo ops.
Characters. Vegas is bloated with them. See through, one-dimensional costumed characters. What you see is what you get. But they are a poor representation of real people and the believable characters we, as writers, must create.
I am a detail-oriented person. This makes life difficult for me to simply sit back and enjoy the pedestrian big-picture world view most people employ. I nitpick. I not only listen to what people say and how they say it, but to what they’re not saying. I balk at inconsistencies. I pay close attention to the undertow of story and conversation. I catch the nuances and slips that would rather stay hidden. I pick at scabs.
Basically, this OCD behavior drives my friends and family nuts. My constant running-commentary analysis of movies, TV, books, people and conversations spoils their fun. Because I never, ever accept ANYTHING at face value. There is always something buried underneath the surface of a person or a story that will work itself out like a splinter if you fuss at it enough. And more often than not, I figure out the reveal before the general populace of friends and family, and it pisses them off.
People come with baggage. The choices they make are motivated by deep seated fears and experience. When a seemingly normal person refuses to eat or drink something her own spawn has already consumed part of, there has GOT to be a root source to her issue. Like, oh, maybe, because when her oldest spawn was a toddler, he once pointed a shit-laden finger full of food in Mommy’s face and declared it “So yummy, Mommy must try!” which prompted Mommy to screech up a lung and jet-propel ass-finger boy into the bathroom to scrub him skinless. Hence, Mommy is now scarred for life and cannot stomach second-hand food, most especially if tiny hands have touched it. Her experience created the baggage that compels her odd behavior.
Or is that just me? Okay. Fine.
But you get the idea, right? Action – reaction molds our psyche, and accumulates the 8-piece matching pleather luggage set, complete with cosmetic case, that we will drag around with us for life.
Writing three-dimensional, believable characters, means creating these life-altering tells that will affect their interactions with each other and their surroundings. Odd reactions that make the reader question and analyze why your character would behave or speak in a manner that veers from expectations. This takes your character beyond the one-dimensional costume of those found in Vegas. Every layer you add draws a reader deeper in, picks at their conscience to know more until the last reveal explains it all and gives them the A-HA! orgasm that they knew something was up all along!
What has happened in your past that affects your behavior today? Sometimes it takes a bit of self-analysis to connect the dots. Hubby figured out my ass-finger tell. I was oblivious to it. So, maybe you might need to ask your significant other to list your abnormal behaviors (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the argument that follows.) so you can trace the origins to them. Your own quirks could be fodder for characterization.
To add dimensions and believability, what backstory trauma trick could you use to help make your characters’ off-behaviors authentic?
BTW, fair warning, the ass-finger horror is all mine.
Excellent writing advice, Betsy!! And totally hilarious in the process. Love it and thank you! Btw, did you kick Nano’s ass, or the other way around? (Yep, I just brought that up.)
I have no itsy hang-ups. I am scrupulously normal, inside and out. (BTW I absolutely refuse to ask my husband what he might suggest.) There’s this one little issue. I unintentionally embarrass my kids. It’s pretty easy to do. When I go somewhere with them, a shop or a restaurant, I start to sing to the background music. You should see the elbow nudging and eye-rolls! Wouldn’t it be healthy for them to join me?
Anne – not only should your spawn sing harmony with you, but they should break out in fully choreographed dance, as well. We are both normal. It was a great surprise to see you at the airport! I hope you had a wonderful trip!
Stacey – See the NaNo prints covering my ass? Therein lies the answer to your question. BUT! Got more written than usual, so it’s still win-win! How did you fair?
My main character had to deal with a standard trauma-losing his friends. But those friends were also the hope of a better life for him, beyond the purposeless one he was predestined to, so his hopes also died. There was also spiritual trauma, when he had to confront something larger and alien to himself. Then the repeated deaths…
Yeah, a lot of trauma in here. It’s going to be fun editing it to link them up more precisely. How is your nanowrimo project doing?
Sounds like an emotional piece. Hope you can navigate it in a way the reader can empathize and grow with the character. Thanks for sharing!
As for me, I suck. I let life get away from me and failed to reach the 50k goal – BUT, I did write a lot more than usual and will be able to continue on with what I’ve got.