One of my relatives is fantastic…colorful…quirky.
At least a dozen times in the space of a fifteen-minute conversation, she ends a sentence with, “Ya know what I mean?”
Here’s an example of something she would say: “I left the house and realized I hadn’t closed the garage door. I had to drive all the way back. It almost made me late to work. Ya know what I mean?”
I try to overlook it, even though at times it is VERY distracting.
However, it is the perfect example of something authors can use to make their characters real…human…interesting…unforgettable.
There’s a fine line, though, between making our characters unique and belittling or mocking certain traits/habits they might have. The very thing you and I might think is clever, might offend a reader—especially if they happen to identify, on a personal level, with what you have written.
Imagine a nail biter reading about a character that constantly bites her nails.
Or someone with a small tic or speech impediment that encounters a character in a book that has the same difficulty.
How can we use some of these characteristics and still be empathetic?
First of all, we need to realize that these characteristics evoke real feelings in readers. Then, being sensitive to that fact, we make sure that we don’t present them as flaws to their worth as a person…don’t use them as demeaning remarks.
In fact, we can turn some of them around, making them their “saving grace,” their “redeeming quality”…the very thing that serves to transform other characters in the story as they come to know and love them.
Just last week, I started working on a new novel—one involving a mentally handicapped young man. From page one, it must be a constant effort on my part to be true to his intrinsic worth as a person. Although some of the things he does are humorous, the thrust of the story is not to laugh at him, but show the growth of the other characters in the story because of his involvement in their lives.
Sensitivity to our readers—and our characters—is just one more thing authors must keep in mind when choosing vocabulary, writing scenes, and developing characters.
Ya know what I mean?
(Note: The character arc is the subject of a previous post. See in “archived posts.”)