Do you identify with your characters?
If you don’t, how do you expect your readers to? Well, OK, of course you identify with them. You write from life, don’t you? Some people say you should talk to your characters. I try, but most of the time they don’t answer. You remember Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters–it’s dangerous to get too far into your characters.
But lately I’ve found myself talking like my characters, more than to them. It started with the ones on TV series or movies we watch on TV. What happens when you’re around people from a different part of the country, speak with a foreign accent or have a cultural vocabulary wholly apart from you. Do you become a verbal chameleon, emulating them?
If you can do that, you can build better dialogue. You can better identify with your characters. Caution–be careful trying on the verbal tics of others, they might find it a tad offensive. Duh!
OK, back to TV and scripted shows. Did you watch this year’s eight episode installment of “True Detective” on HBO. Outstanding for me and frustrating for her. The continual time shifting between 1980, 1990 and 2015 drove her crazy. Truthfully, I did find it confusing at times–OK, more often than I’d care to admit. All right, enough background–on to the writing tips (through the television lens).
Wayne Hays, played by the outstanding Mahershala Ali, has episodes of dementia/Alzheimer’s in 2015. Watch those parts to see how you might write a character with that problem (or, heaven forbid, you have family or friends who have experienced either of these and you don’t need the show).
Watching the final episode, I saw Ali stagger in confusion a bit during an incidence of the disease. But it wasn’t just that, it was aging. It brought the memory to me of an introductory/survey course to Theater decades ago. The professor illustrated how an actor portrays age–showing the effects of gravity on his or her limbs. Ali did that. Unless you’re adding illustrations to your stories, you must find words to show that aging. Words like ones I’ve used in the past:
He had attained that age in a man’s life when the hair on arms, legs and chest grows brittle and breaks off while other hairs sprout and flourish mysteriously from nose and ears.
For more of this aging sketch, see the rest here.
I would be remiss in failing to mention the irony. Wayne Hays spends much time digging deeply in the recesses of his mind for memories of the case that bedeviled his partner and himself. Things pop into his head that explain it all, better than Clarissa. So, as I am watching the show, Wayne’s walk takes me back nearly 50 years to Arthur Ballet’s class–a teaching moment that I clearly visualized. No, I’m not on the verge of Alzheimer’s but there was an odd sensation. A reminder of how amazing the human mind of memories is.
You can find incidents in your life, moment by moment and day by day that will enrich whatever you write. Trust me on this.