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Friday, July 31, 2009

Five on Friday: Character Traits

What a character!

We've all heard the phrase. Sometimes it's accompanied by a shake of the head, a roll of the eyes or a laugh. The person to whom the speaker is referring has made a real impression, albeit not always a favorable one.

As a writer, however, I would take the phrase as a compliment if someone were to say that about a person in one of my stories. I'd know I did a good job creating a distinctive character, one who has made an impression on the reader.

There are many ways to make a character jump off the page: appearance, dialogue, mannerisms, unique hobbies or interests, attire. For a major character, writers employ many of these. However, a single aspect used well can make even a minor character come to life. One of my CPs likes the stagecoach driver in my wip. He doesn't get much page time, but his speech patterns make him fun and memorable.

We're all characters. Our families and friends who know us well are aware when we're acting out of character. Our job as writers is for our readers to know our characters so well they can spot those times when one is (intentionally, of course) acting out of character.

Just for fun, here are five facts about me that go into making me the unique character I am.

1) I'm addicted to Taco Bell. I could eat there every day. In fact, when I was in my twenties, working full time and going to college, I often ate there twice a day. My hubby asked me just this week if I wanted to stop at Taco Bell for lunch. I laughed and said, "Do I even need to answer?" If I were to turn down Taco Bell, Gwynly would know I was seriously ill.

2) I love Coach bags. I began carrying them in the early eighties before they were even a blip on the fashion radar. If my family walks through a mall and my head suddenly jerks to the side and I cease to participate in conversation, they know I've just made a Coach store sighting. I don't always indulge my desire to go inside, but my heart races nonetheless. Sometimes I resist the urge to splurge, thereby sparing the store's staff the need to mop up the trail of drool behind me as well as sparing Gwynly the need to confiscate my credit card.

3) I'm organized–or I like to think I am anyhow. My canned goods are lined up military fashion in neat rows, right side up with labels facing front. My spices are alphabetized. My clothes are hung facing the same direction in color groups arranged by sleeve length. (My office, however, is often a disaster area. Somehow, I'm able to glue myself to the screen and ignore the growing piles surrounding me.)

4) I like puns. They're one form of humor I understand. I'm a bit slow when it comes to getting jokes, often laughing moments after everyone else. I can't tell them well either. If I don't blow it by laughing at my own joke before I'm even done telling it, I'm apt to muff the punchline. I enjoy Toastmasters, where we assume many roles in addition to giving speeches, but I dread the days when I'm Joke Master. If I can find a joke that incorporates a pun, though, I can usually limp through the experience without totally embarrassing myself.

5) I like to make up words. Often I do this by adding syllables to an existing word. For example, when I've thoroughly embarrassed myself, I might say I'm mortificated. Sometimes though, I mangle a word completely. When Gwynly or the Fashion Queen have done something nice for me, I've been known to say I apparici-illiate that. I credit my mom for nurturing my tendency to create new words. Growing up, when we made spaghetti sauce, we started by jibbling the ground beef. It wasn't until I made the sauce with a friend years later and asked her to jibble the ground beef that I learned my mom had made up the word.

So, there you have it. Proof that I'm quite a character. :-)

• • • • •

What are some of your unique character traits?

What are some unusual or memorable traits you've given characters in your stories?

Who is a memorable character from a story you read, and what made him/her unique?


Eileen Astels Watson said...

I've never heard of Coach stores. We mustn't have them in Canada, or at least not near me.

One trait I gave one of my characters I stole from myself. Finding humor in accidents. Seriously, the expressions on people's faces when they blunder just make me howl (when it isn't life threatening of course). And no, none of them appreciate my take on their mishaps, but I just can't help it. So I made one of my characters have that distasteful habit too. The hero accuses her of being sadistic.

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Keli,
Great to get to know more about you! You already know so much about me because of the interview! And thanks again for hosting me. I thought it went really well and had a lot of great comments!

sherrinda said...

That's funny about Eileen! I am the same way! I also tend to snort if I get really tickled at something. I even let my character snort some in my WIP. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Eileen, Coach produces quality handbags, shoes, scarves and other items. If you're curious, the company Web site is Warning: the products can become addictive. :)

I wouldn't have pictured you as a person who sees the funny side of others' mishaps. I'll have to remember that if I want someone to help me see the humor in one of my disasters, you'll be there to laugh with me.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jody, I had a great time learning more about you and was honored to have you as my guest over at Romance Writers on the Journey. It's clear from the comments that you have a group of loyal fans. I enjoyed hearing what they had to say.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sherrinda, so you're another one with a great sense of humor, huh? The next time I'm struggling to find a good joke when I'm scheduled to deliver one at Toastmasters, I'll drop you a line. I'm sure you could give me one that might make some of my club members snort. :)

sherrinda said...

I'm sorry to say that I am the funniest when I am not trying to be! Things just come out of my mouth that are just weird and makes people laugh. I don't know why....

Anne Barton said...

What a cute post, Keli. I love quirky characters, in real life and in books.

So, if you had to give up either Taco Bell or Coach bags for one year, which would it be? :)

Hope you're having a great weekend.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sherrinda, wish I spend time with you. I could use a good laugh today. I've been busy with gotta-do stuff instead of wanna-do things. So, do you have a funny story to brighten my day?

Keli Gwyn said...

Anne, how can you be so tough on me? Coach or Taco Bell? Yikes.

I like quirky characters, too, and you've got a great one in your wip. Love Aunt H.

Anne Barton said...

I notice you avoided the question. Tsk, tsk. ;)

We should all have an Aunt Henrietta in real life, don't you think? Part fairy-godmother, part . . . something else entirely.

Keli Gwyn said...

Anne, considering I'd go into withdrawal after three days if I didn't have a Taco Bell fix, I think I would have to forgo my visits to the Coach store, be grateful their handbags hold up so well and take good care of mine.

I'd love to have an Aunt Henrietta in my life looking out for me as she is for your heroine.