Friday, May 8, 2009

Quirky Behavior...

Hey, psst, over here. On the wall.

Wow, you the only fly in here?

Yeah. Thank Larvae you showed up. If I had to spend one more minute in this room by myself, I’d pluck my wings off. Oh, by the way, don’t go near the window.

What in Spider’s name happened to them?

Not the brightest bugs in the bed. After the seventh attempt I told them we’d never escape that way, but would they listen? And you’d think one of these people would clean the carcasses off the sill. I spit up a little every time I look over there.

No use wasting good saliva on that. So who are these people?

As far as I can figure out they populate some writer’s stories.

They all look alike.

I thought so, too, but I’ve been watching and they all have little habits that set them apart. Like her, over there, in the funny dress. The one about to talk to the big guy in the metal vest? Hand Girl. She’ll burrow her hands in her skirts. And her shoulders will square. It’s like she’s nervous, but determined. There. See. Told you. She does it every time.

You named her Hand Girl?

Needed to give her some kind of handle. Oh, and watch him, Jaw Man. They’ve been arguing over the past day and a half and whenever she goes over to talk to him his jaw clenches and he curls his hands into fists. Watch for it. Yep, there it is. When I first got here they were happier and their mannerisms were very different. She’d place her hand over his heart and he’d section of a piece of her hair and rub it between his forefinger and this thumb. But she'd still have one hand in her skirts and his jaw would still be tight. I don’t know what happened, but I’d have to say there was a fly in the ointment.

You know I resent that stereotyping.

Yeah, one overzealous ancestor and we’re all at fault. I shouldn’t perpetuate the myth.

You shouldn’t. Who’s the one flicking her hair over her shoulder?

Hair Girl. She’s obsessed with her hair. When she’s deep in thought, she’ll twirl a strand of it around her finger. Or when she’s agitated she’ll run her hands through it. But right now she’s flirting with that dark-haired man. Watch how she flicks her hair off her shoulder exposing her long neck. Then she’ll give her head a shake, subtle, but enough to make her hair move again.

She knows to catch a fly one needs plenty of honey.

Ha, good one. Oh, here comes my favorite couple. They dress similar to Hand Girl and Jaw Man so I think they might be friends. But watch the young woman. See? Her hands are constantly moving when she’s talking. She’s smacked the guy in the arm a couple of times, but she just keeps going. It’s like her mouth can’t move unless her hands and arms are in motion. I call her Whirlwind. And he’s the exact opposite, hands behind his back or arms crossed over his chest. Calm Man. Mind you, I don’t think he gets a word in so what else can he do but listen and wait for an opening.
Holy Beetle Bug, what are you doing? I told you not to go to the window. I don’t care if it looks like you can get out, you can’t. Trust me.

Thanks, fly. The light is hypnotizing. How long have you been here?

A couple of days, I think. If you focus on the people, the light won’t be so tempting. Oh, look at those two. The Shoulder Roller and Nose Wrinkler. He’ll crank his neck over to the side and then roll his shoulders. If it’s quiet in here, I can here his bones crack with the force of his neck movement. She wrinkles her nose all the time. I don’t think she knows she’s doing it, but whether she’s concentrating or listening or laughing she scrunches her nose up.

I want to try naming one of them.

Only if you stop rubbing your front legs together all the time.

Sorry. That guy, the one coming toward us.

He’s meticulous. Straightens anything that’s not positioned correctly. He pushes chairs in if they’ve been left out, turns pictures so they’re angled on the shelf, brushes crumbs off the table onto his hand. I’ve never seen him roll up a magazine before –

*Character Tags: a quirk or habit that sets each character apart and gives them a uniqueness that makes them unforgettable in the mind of the reader. Caution – don’t overdo it. Mention it a few times then let it be the reader’s subconscious that supplies the quirk. Bring it back up at a crucial moment. Subtle, with impact.

*Think voice, hair, clothing, gestures, scent, mental state, body carriage, dialect or speech mannerisms when creating a tag for your characters.

*No flies were hurt in the creation of this story. Purely fictional.



Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, having just watched several episodes of The Office tonight, I cannot help but flesh out the area around your scenario despite so little info. I may be entirely wrong, but I wound up with a very clear image.

Great examples, all of them. Those little ticks are excellent ways to show emotion rather than dialogue tags or eye drama, and I love how you showed the way a quirk such as hands in pockets can fit multiple moods rather than one.

Hubby always twists the wheel in heavy traffic, rather than get openly frustrated. After listening to that creak of wheel padding for 6 years, it wound its way into the ms. Twisting of a sword hilt bodes ill.

Yunaleska said...

This has me giggling away! Yup, giving each character 'something' is a good tool, especially when the action heats up.

Janet C. said...

Hey, Hayley. Glad you liked it - since I don't watch the office though, I missed your intended reference.

As I said on Molli's post, I'm a people watcher. Just like that fly on the wall - and everyone has a quirk or habit. Mine, unfortunately, is gnawing on my fingers. The Husband's - a shoulder twitch. Choose a tic for a character and it enhances that personality, makes her/him more real.

Great example with a habit that takes place in a specific place for a specific reason. And beautiful transition to your MS - it will enrich your story and your reader will be involved (coming to learn the subtle movement as a foreboding)

Janet C. said...

Hey, Yuna. I'm glad you got a laugh. I wrote the thing, then re-wrote it, then almost didn't post it. I always manage to make myself giggle, but I never know if that humor will translate to the page.

In Lady Bells, Mena is the character with the hands in her skirts. Hugh is the jaw clencher. During an argument about having children (which brings up his past and his mother's difficulty with giving birth) they both call each other on their habits. It ends up breaking the tension and they are able to move forward.

Thanks for visiting today :)

Karen said...

LOL Janet, very clever and a great way to show the value of character tags.

Will be back later.

Helena said...

Loved it, just loved it. So glad you didn't ditch it. You are so talented, even the flies ended up with character quirks. I was amused that Special Agent Fly on the Wall would get annoyed with Young Leap-Without-Looking for not knowing about the glass in the window.

I'm reminded of the way that Maya (the little girl in "Definitely, Maybe") figured out which one of the women her father was describing turned out to be her mother. The way she reached out to move, twist, or caress the hair of the person she was comforting or connecting with. Turned out to be a key character quirk.

Thanks for the laughs, the hints, and the superb examples.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Thanks for my Friday morning chuckle. And thanks for reminding me to make every character an individual with their own unique set of quirks.


Janet C. said...

Good morning, Helena. Glad you enjoyed my little parable (can you call it a parable?). I'm glad you mentioned that movie - a brilliant example of character tags and how they can be an integral part of plot/story.

I think movies are a viable research tool for writers. Not only plotting, story, setting - but characterization as well. That's what I tell myself anyway as I spend hours in front of the TV watching movies :)

Janet C. said...

You're welcome, Jana. I know you do a great job on character quirks - I especially like Hildy's. Pushing her glasses up on her nose or straightening her suit jacket - gives us a non-verbal clue to her personality, and backs up the verbal inflections you include in her dialogue.

Hope your weekend goes well :)

Silver James said...

Janet, you crack me up, girl! You really need to make sure that your humor shines in your MSS! Srsly. And a great lesson for all of us. So many times, we as writers get caught up in eyes, breathing, and in my case, chin tilts. I need to remember to add other body language and quirks into the scheme of things.

Erika said...

Great post Janet. Took me a minute to catch on but I like it. Happy Friday everyone.

ban said...

what a HOOT !!! thanks for making a dreary day sparkle. silver's right - you need to put some of that into your stories (though you may have, i've only read 3 chapters so far :) the point is ... I got it and it made me laugh !!!
spam word : inglysh hee hee :)

connie said...

You Dear Lady, have an imagination to envy!
The screens at the cottage are the playground of many, many flies. I will think about tags as I murder every one of them!

ban said...

yes ... i almost hesitated before killing that wasp that got into my house ... then i imagined the things it was thinking about me - how many quirks it had 'observed' before it caught my eye :/

Janet C. said...

Thanks, Silver. Like I told Yuna - sometimes I don't know whether my 'quirky' sense of humor translates to the page. I thank the writing gods when it does :)

It really is the whole package, isn't it? Make our characters as memorable as possible, as complex as a real human being, 3 dimensional. Sometimes we get so caught up in dialogue and plotting, we forget to make our characters believable.

Janet C. said...

Thanks, Erika. Hope you have a great weekend too. Still working on Carly and Jack's story? I hope so - looking forward to reading more (even though I'm not commenting very much on BetaBloggers, I'm reading all the posts and comments)

Glad you enjoyed my little fly story :)

Janet C. said...

Thanks, ban - I had fun writing it :) And isn't it interesting when we think of quirks and then ourselves - gives us a whole new perspective on our own personalities - good or bad.

I'll give the wasps a head's up - your house is not safe ;)

Janet C. said...

Hey Connie - yeah, my wacky imagination got me into a lot of trouble as a kid. Now I can justify it as being a 'writer's mind'. Yeah, right :)

As your smacking bugs up at the cottage, remember they have hearts, too.

Erika said...

Yeah, I'm working out time for it. I have to be honest and say I haven't made it a priority lately. There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day. I know it's an old excuse and not a very good one, but it is honest. I'm going to play the Lotto this weekend, if I win I'm quitting my jobs and staying home to write. Think positive lottery winning thoughts!

Karen said...

I've been thinking about Lily and Chase's quirks today. Chase grinds his teeth frequently and he likes to play with Lily's hair. Do those count? Because Lily's a teacher, she has a few "I didn't give you permission to speak" hand gestures which are just plain fun to stick in.

I got my index cards ready to go. :)

Janet C. said...

Positive lottery thoughts coming your way, Erika. Just remember us little people when you're a millionaire :)

And I hear ya about not enough hours. I don't know where the time goes.

Janet C. said...

I remember Chase grinding his teeth - I liked that about him. He stays in control, his little quirk really is unnoticable. And I like that you found different ways of saying it.

With Lily - you could add some little body thing she does with her teacher speak - placing her hands on her hips (I did that all the time when I taught). Chase could get wise to her and jump in before she admonishes him (take a little fire out of her tirade). And, again, I like Lily's teacherisms. You made me smile with memories more than once when I read your first 6 chapters.

I want to know if the index card thing works for you. Keep me up to date on the progress. And get writing, already :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

That's precious, Janet. Your posts are just what I need to end the week. Frivolous Fridays et al.

Your timing is perfect. Last night when I was revising MMM, I had Brew rubbing the back of his neck at something Belinda said. He does this when he's worried. I'm 30 pgs into the ms and I decided this was only the second time so I'd clearly show his worry, but from now on, he'll use the motion and leave it at that.

Excellent post. Your humoristic approach brings it in so clear.

Janet C. said...

Thanks, Anita - I like to end the week on a little laughter as well.

You reiterate a good point - don't underestimate the smart reader. You've set the stage - shown the quirk and given a reason why your hero has that particular habit. Now, let the reader bring that information with them as the story progresses. Don't spoon feed them - give them credit for making the connections - then tell your story.

Good luck with the revisions :)

M. said...

One of the most creative posts I've read in a long time. Well done. The ending reminded me of the famous quote from a soldier during the Battle of Spotsylvania (I swear I'm not making this up): "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dis-"

Janet C. said...

Hey, M! Or should I say 'Apprentice Writer'? I'm going to bookmark your blog and have a good read (just skimming, it looks like fun - and a fellow Canuk, what's not to love!)

Thanks for the kind words. And thanks for visiting The Prairies. We hope you stop by again soon :)

Yeah, in hindsight, I should have put the dash in the middle of before - I also noticed a homophone error (hear/here), so I apologize for that.

connie said...

The poor little fly on the wall
He ain't got no clothes on at all
No panty, no shirty
No slippers, no skirty
The poor little fly on the wall


Molli said...

Well, ma'am, you usually make me smile at the least, and chuckle out loud quite regularly. Today is no exception, and you're right on track with your advice.

Your timing is great for me, too. I'm still learning who my characters in my latest story are, so I'm going to pay more attention to the small, unconscious habits they exhibit, and the insight they'll reveal.

Now, I know how much your humour is appreciated by all of us who have been treated to it, so tell me -- how about including it in your Lady Bells ms? It's so obviously one of your strengths and, personally, I think it would give your story an edge that I haven't seen in others set in that era.

Janet C. said...

Connie - great poem! I always am in awe of people who can do poetry. Me, I'm not that talented. Thanks for sharing :)

Janet C. said...

Ah, Molli - I'm here to make you smile :)

I just finished posting a comment on the private blog about getting my humor into my manuscripts. I get so hung up on plot and subplot that I don't think my humor could carry a full story. But, maybe THAT is my voice and I should be showcasing that (move away from murder and mayhem). Food for thought *she rubs her hands together in anticipation - or to activate saliva glands*