We’ve given our character looks, goals, a motive for the goals, we know what role their are playing, now, how do we make them unique? It not that hard to make a character unique. In fact, one of the best ways to learn about uniqueness is to go to an enclosed mall and sit in a traffic area (let’s hope there’s a bench) and watch and listen to the people. You’ll hear patterns of speech, you’ll see actions that one person uses, that another does not. Observe how a mother watches her child, how young teens or older people react to each other. I love shopping at Wal Mart. That’s a great place to watch people’s reactions.
Okay, now you’ve listened and watched, and you can give you characters some of the reactions, you’ve seen – occasionally. In other words don’t over do it. You can add a reaction following dialogue, or as they come and go in the story but their speech patterns are a little different. For example, if you have a heroine who had a disadvantaged childhood, and grew up around some pretty crude individuals, her English is not going to be perfect and she might on occasion throw in a curse herself. The opposite goes for the girl who attended a girl’s finishing school along with a private boarding school all her life. She wouldn’t dream of using incorrect English, nor would she use some of the crude words my first example would think nothing of using.
Then there are people who end every sentence with a question, and some who end each statement as a command. We have the character who pauses often, or uses a lot of ah’s and oh’s. The trick is to make certain you character speaks the same all the time. I always thought Dutch Leonard was a master of dialogue, so you might want to skim through a couple of his books to see how he does it. If you are really good, you won’t even need the tags authors use, you know – the he said, she said stuff. You know just by the way the person talks, which character is doing the speaking.. And that is really building a unique character.
One thing that bugs me a lot is the historical author who didn’t bother to check on how modern the word she/he has the character using. I have a dictionary that dates the first time a word appears in something written. That usually means the words was in common use for it to appear in print. So if the word didn’t show up in a text until the late 1800’s chances are, it wasn’t a word that was in use in the middle ages. So when I’m writing, I also check the age of the words my characters are using. There are tons of words today that held no concept at all fifty years ago. A mouse was a squeaky little rodent, a scan probably only had a medical connotation and tablet was a stack of paper glued together at one end to keep it in order, or it could be a piece of slate on which you wrote important information; we call it a blackboard today.
I like the example of a spirit and a ghost. Look it up, that one is fascinating.
Tomorrow, I’ll explain how I keep all of this stuff straight.