Peculiar traits

Peculiar traits and where to find them

You are on the bus; there are tons of people to add to your character palette around you. Humanity at its best and worst awaits to be acknowledged. Then you noticed a bald guy with a beard, so skinny you can count his bones. The guy is in his forties; his feet move rhythmically, following an invisible tempo. 

You start imagining which songs it’s trapped in his head and start counting the time: tap, taptaptap, tap, taptaptap. When you descend, you’re sure he was humming Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

What did you do?

You tried your best to be a Sherlock, trying to guess a song starting from the appearance of the guy and the movement of his feet. What you did is OK if you want to write some boring novel swarming with flat characters. Here you’ve committed to building round-believable characters, so let’s try to go the extra mile.

Let’s do it again

Peculiar traits

The guy in front of us has something in his pocket, with a keychain bulging a bit out. From the colors, it seems it is the BMW symbol, so he has some car keys in his pocket. Why would a 40-years-old with a car decide to spend time on a bus on such a busy hot day? A mechanic, maybe? Or his car broke and he had to take the bus? Then, you notice his feet moving rhythmically, following an invisible tempo. It’s not the rhythm he’s following that attracts you, but something else. It seems he’s pushing on an invisible accelerator and breaking and repeating it constantly.

A good man

He’s a good man, he’s always has been, but then something changed, something deep. His values changed, together with his life, after the accident. He was a family man, stressed enough to have money to pay a loan but not too much to get insomniac.

He was working a night shift when it happened when he passed that guy with a scooter. They argued, as always, when you’re driving in a busy city. But, this time, it wasn’t a typical argument. The guy in the scooter started to follow him, shouting at our guy in his brand new BMW. When finally they stopped at the traffic light, the guy in the scooter descended and yelled again. Maybe he was under drugs, perhaps he was insane, who knows?

Our guy remained inside his BMW, just waiting for the green light to go. Too tired and too nervous about spending time with this useless prick. And then it happened. The guy outside gave the first kick at the car door and it got dented. The light was still red; the traffic light seemed frozen, a match ready to burn the city at any moment. 

People snaps

People snaps. People lose control for the most surprising reasons. For our guy, that reason was his car; he couldn’t stand another kick, and every time that foot kicked his car, it made him angrier and redder than the traffic light in front of him. He opened the door, grabbed the guy and threw him with all his forces to the other side of the street. 

Fatally, the guy in the scooter fell badly, his head on the edge of the sidewalk. They said it was a once-in-a-while scenario, an accident, and he got heavily provoked. Police left all the charges, and everything seemed to return to normal.

Everything except the guilty sensation hidden inside him. His feet still thinking about that moment when he could put the first gear and go, his hand reaching for the keys inside the pocket, turning on an invisible engine.

What did we do?

We imagined a layered character doing something unexpected due to background we don’t know yet. In a book, even the minor characters must have a background story, even if it’s barely a simple, sketched one. This leads to the “so what” moment we discussed earlier. After that, we ask ourselves how a person with such a background will speak, walk and so on.

Curved shoulders, slight tic on one eye, moving back the glasses, or constantly sneezing three times. Add whatever you think is accurate for your character and his background.

In the following article, we will start speaking about levels to structure your characters correctly.

In the meantime, keep reading my stories here and see you soon!

Daniele Frau

So what?

Let’s dive deeper

Over the silence

Did you ever spend so much time with a friend that, in the end, what remains between you two is only silence?

That’s not the worst sensation since it’s better than talking just for the sake of talking. So, you and your character are getting good acquaintance, then good friends and maybe best friends after your chat. You really want your fictional friend to strive and have a wonderful meta-existence.

Unfortunately, fiction writing doesn’t work like this. I have a friend that likes to write only real stories with a good ending. he said once, and I quote:

“Why imagine some adventurous sad story when I have a good one in front of me with a perfect happy ending?”

And I answered:

“What do you believe, speaking about Napoleon is a boring topic? But his life didn’t end well, did it?”

That’s the summa of what is behind the “so what?” moment. You need to understand your character better; to do so, you need some difficulties. It’s too easy to be a badass or a choirboy sitting in a bar chitchatting. I’ve met so many of these people in my life, and when it truly mattered, they disappeared like smoke.

Yes, smoke and glass disappear when you reach a certain point in the chat with your character. What remains? The bone, some nerves, you x-screen your character completely.

Let some people enter the coffee place where you’re supposedly chatting with your new dramatic persona. For example, in the movie “Danny the dog”, there’s a scene that depicts this moment. Some criminals enter a shop with guns and beat up a couple of customers. It’s quite a shocking scene; all characters are surprised and shocked. The reaction of the main character?

He appears on the screen and tells his new friend (Morgan Freeman) that he finally found a ripe melon. A ripe melon! There was a life-or-death scenario around him and what he was focused on was a ripe melon? Well, his friend would understand eventually that something is utterly wrong with him.

It’s a turning point in the movie, a powerful scene that tells us a lot, even if we were just tuning in at that moment and saw it alone.

So what?

So what? Graphic by Daniele Frau.

Stress them out

Let’s see what our characters do on a stressful occasion, exactly like Danny. They will turn to us with ripe melon in their hands, or we will find them behind the Kellog’s stand, shaking?

This method will allow you to undercover something that lies way under the surface: the values. Given a stressful situation, will your character react violently or remain as calm as a toad in the sun? 

What these values will uncover? Let’s discover it in our next article.

In the meantime, keep reading my stories here and see you soon!

Daniele Frau