Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is Your Character Cliché?



It's hard to get around making spooky characters dark and creepy. Seems like it's always been that way. Why? My guess is, because our fears are enhanced at night when it's harder to see, so our imaginations sometimes play tricks on us. Many people are afraid of the dark, so we associate "dark" with "scary."

 
How can you add a twist to a spooky character? 
Watch this video clip (less than two minutes) to see how I changed things up for my Goth lady. 
 The video has other clichés, too. See if you notice any.
How would you answer the question at the end?
I’m not saying that spooky characters shouldn’t wear dark clothes and look freaky. Just trying to think outside the box. Yikes! Another cliché. Sheesh, they’re slithering out of the woodwork.  

Here are some twists that came to mind for cliché characters:
  • Big bad biker dude who loves bubble baths
  • Sophisticated rich lady who chews tobacco
  • Fashion model who prefers to wear thread-bare repeat clothes and hates nail polish & makeup
  • The CEO who wears overalls to the office instead of suits
  • An auto mechanic who abhors greasy hands and gets regular manicures
Those are just a few. I bet you can think up some good ones.

How about real life examples of twists we weren't expecting?
In 1974, Tatum O'Neal showed up at the Academy Awards wearing a tuxedo instead of a dress. She was the youngest person ever to have won an Oscar. The category was Best Supporting Actress, and she was ten years old. She played Addie Loggins in Paper Moon.

Today on TV I just happened to catch the end of a news clip about beauty contestants running a race through the streets in their high heels! How crazy is that? The camera zoomed in on a high heel that fell off one of the women’s feet.

Zola Budd made headlines in 1984 when she ran barefoot in the Olympics. She grew up running barefoot in South Africa and preferred to run that way. She didn’t win the Olympics (instead, huge controversy ensued when Zola took the lead and Mary Decker, America’s sweetheart, tripped and fell when they collided), but Zola broke the world record for women’s 5,000 meters twice and also won the women’s World Cross Country Championship twice. 

I guess to sum it all up, idiosyncrasies in our characters can add cool twists and dimension, plus enrich our writing. 
Do you have fun creating quirky traits or habits in your characters? Care to share them?

P.S. June 8th was my blog's two-month anniversary. Time flies! (Sorry, just couldn't resist adding another cliche!)












33 comments:

Heather Kelly said...

Loving this post. I've always cherished the ways that I myself am not cliche--it is natural to try to give my characters that kind of depth as well.

I'm backlogged on reading your wonderful posts, Lynn. And I'm leaving Monday for a week. But the previous ones that I've skimmed are wonderful too--especially Stepping Into Your Character's Shoes!

Lisa Gail Green said...

Fun ideas! I'm all for adding depth to character as you know. ;D Even the spooky characters should have dimension.

Julie Musil said...

Congratulations on the blog anniversary! I need to remember this when creating characters. Too often I reach for the easy, when instead I should do what you suggested, think in terms of opposites.

rilla jaggia said...

Too funny, Lynnie. You are having so much fun with your blog and I love it. Two months, wow! Rock on...or is that a cliche too?

LynNerd said...

Heather - Good to see you again. You're having a super busy summer. I'll check out your Tour de Writing tomorrow morning.

Lisa - Yes, I've learned lots of good tips from reading your posts.

Julie - Thanks! I reach for the easy characters, too. Then I need to reach further and discover their quirks.

Rillie - Good to see you again! Yes, I'm really having fun with my blog, even though this post was a real comedy of errors from start to finish! Thanks!

Gracie said...

Happy two-month blogoversary!! This post was great -especially the real-life examples of unexpected events, thanks for those! I have only read two of your posts so far, but I am really enjoying your blog. :D It's funny.

Theresa Milstein said...

Happy blogiversary!

Rita Skeeter was a colorful antagonist. They don't have to all be the dark cliche we expect. In one of my unpublished manuscripts, I made the antagonist look blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and sweet-looking.

That said, Bellatrix looks pretty cool and evil in black!

Karen Lange said...

I like quirky characters too. Still working on getting the right balance with my WIP. Good food for thought, thanks.

Good to meet you too! Saw you over at Pen and Prosper and decided to check out your blog. I see we follow some of the same blogs. You know what they say, great minds think alike...:)

Have a great week!

Bryce Daniels said...

Here ya come with another GREAT post! I tell ya, girl, you dispense more good stuff than a gumball machine. (Too cliche?)

I fall into this trap a lot. I really need to work on thinking outside the box. So, in the spirit of doing my own research, I'm gunna don high heels and a tuxedo when I go into work tomorrow.

Yay for me! FINALLY, I get to work full time as a writer.

LynNerd said...

Gracie - Thank you. I love "blogoversary." I hadn't heard that before! I'm glad you enjoyed reading about those real life events. The story of Zola Budd is quite interesting. I wanted to keep writing about her but will save it for another post! Thanks for your feedback.

Theresa - Thanks! Making your antagonist sweet looking is a great idea. Those first impressions can be killers if our assessment's way off the mark. Sounds good.

Karen - Welcome! Yes, great minds think alike! I love quirky characters because I'm quirky, too. Finding balance, yes, that's always a challenge.

Bryce - You take the cake for the funniest comment of the day, and I've been reading lots of comments on other posts. You made me laugh out loud about doing research in high heels and a tux and will get to work full time as a writer! I love it!

J.L. Campbell said...

To answer your question - maybe, but I'd tell my kid to be careful.

I'm a fan of compelling characters, so when I read, I'm looking to follow a character who fascinates me. It's really up to the writer to develop traits that make the character unique.

Bish Denham said...

Characters with depth are always the best. As for your question at the end of your video...sure, I'd let my kid retrieve a ball from her yard. A wild haired woman wearing a colorful dress has GOT to be interesting and/or humorous.

Misha said...

I know from looking at myself that one doesn't have to look a certain way to be a certain way. I mean, looking at my pictures, I don't think people would automatically think of me as a rocker chick with a twisted sense of humor.

But there I am.

So I approach characters by how they are instead of how they look.

:-)

cleemckenzie said...

The unexpected is always intriguing. I love it in life and I love it in stories. It's great to be able to give a character those quirky bits and a touch of darkness never turns me off when I'm reading.

Super fun, Lynn

The Golden Eagle said...

I agree that characters shouldn't be stereotyped, cliched, or otherwise boring . . . but for some of my characters I'm afraid that adding some traits would make them too strange. I find that it's the subtle things (like a single, but important superstition no one else has) can be effective, too.

Great post! :)

LynNerd said...

J.L. - Thanks for answering the question at the end of the video! I think we all like reading about unique characters.

Bish - I like your answer about the wild haired woman. You're either very trusting or very brave!

Misha - Rocker chick with a twisted sense of humor, my kind of lady!

Thanks Lee. I love hearing about real life quirky people!

Golden Eagle - Yes, it's the author's call. You know what works and doesn't work for your own characters, and I think a subtle detail like a superstition unique to your character is a great idea.

Stephanie, PQW said...

Wow, Lynn. Great post and a lot of fun. Keep it coming.

nutschell said...

Lynn,
I am so loving all these pictures you've been posting. Where do you get all these costumes? YOu must have a magical trunk somewhere. :P I can't wait to see what you'll come up with next time.
nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those certainly remove the characters from stereotypes to someone unique.

LynNerd said...

Stephanie - Thanks! I like to make it fun whenever possible!

Nutschell - I love the idea of a magical trunk. My grandfather was a magician and had a big, black drum trunk that seemed magical to me! But we happen to have a box that we keep old costumes in from past Halloweens and parties. And I'm always on the lookout for crazy hats at the dollar store. Great props for school visits, you know!

Alex - Thanks! I'm glad the little twists take care of the stereotypes!

Judy Croome said...

My husband was born and grew up in Bloemfontien, and his family was close friends with Zola Budd & her family (my Mom in law is still in telephone contact with Zola's sister). But Zola's life and career have somehow always been dogged by unlucky breaks - like the Olympic fiasco with Mary Decker who, as a more mature woman and very experienced athlete, could have been kinder to a 17 year old barefoot naive kid who was so far from all she knew. I know Decker's hopes and dreams were smashed by an unfortunate accident, but still...

Oh well, I'm biased, of course!

Love the idea of a auto mechanic getting manicures. In my book I've an angel who has tattoos on his fingers and wears a silver earring!

Judy, South Africa

Jen (emeraldsunshine.org) said...

I like the characters that seem polished on the outside, but the book reveals how they have just as many troubles and problems as anyone else, and then their polish wears off. I like ones with weird quirky habits and things that make me realize I'm not as eccentric as I think I am.

I think that's all rather cliche. :)

Talei said...

Quirks are good for characters, keeps them interesting for the readers. Definitely gotta have em!

Talli Roland said...

I like quirks! I think they add something fun to the characters. :)

LynNerd said...

Judy, that's so interesting about your ties to Zola Budd. I wanted to keep writing about her because her story is so interesting. She got so much flack about Mary Decker's fall, and it turned out Zola wasn't at fault. One of these days I'll have to do a post about Zola. I love your angel character with the tattoos on his fingers and the silver earring. That's unique!

Jen - Yes, habits is another great way to distinguish our characters and make them non-cliche. And the idea that they seem so normal on the outside!

Talei and Talli - Yes, quirky is good for our characters, and I like real life quirky people, too!

Jess said...

I loved your video! And for the question...I might let my kids retrieve a ball in that lady's yard. She could just be eccentric, and I like eccentric people. It would depend on her overall vibe--her tone when speaking, her level of creepiness, whether or not she has a cauldron boiling in her backyard, etc. The floral print dress makes her seem more accessible than the black outfit.

Happy blog anniversary!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Happy Blog Anniversary!

When I revise, I often find myself replacing cliche's with, what I hope, more original descriptions.

LynNerd said...

Jess - Thanks for watching the video and answering the question at the end. I love your answer. I don't think the lady has a cauldron - yet! Haha!

Sharon - You make an important point. Tweaking our characters in the revising process is a good idea. Makes revising more fun, too.

Nancy Thompson said...

Oh my gosh, that auto mechanic one is my husband! How did you know?

Anyway, I loved your post. Very insightful. It's always the unusual moments, the peculiar people, we remember most vividly.

I'm new follower. Come join me if have the chance.

LynNerd said...

Hi Nancy! Are you kidding about your hubby? Good for him. How cool is that? Yes, we always remember the unusual, peculiar stuff! Thanks for stopping by. I'll come visit you.

Lynda R Young said...

Love your ideas for twists on the standard characters. Loved the video too.

piperbayard said...

Hey, I know that biker. Actually, he photographed flowers. It was his passion besides being a biker. I've known lots of different kinds of people in many different walks of life. Quirks aren't manufactured eccentricities. They're the touch that makes the character real. Enjoyed your blog. :)

LynNerd said...

Thanks, Piper, for stopping by and leaving your comment. I love the spin you added to the biker!