Friday, April 15, 2011

Menagerie

1) A collection of wild and unusual animals, especially for exhibition.

2) An unusual and varied group of people

I have menageries in my books. Well, not animal menageries. Character menageries. And my favorites definitely fit the mold of “wild and unusual.”

I believe it’s essential to have a menagerie of characters in stories—do they have to be eccentric? No. But they should all be different. With distinguishing quirks, habits, physical traits, and backgrounds. Unless, of course, you write for the Bob Newhart Show, and you have three backwards brothers like Larry, Darryl, and Darryl.




But even if the brothers act the same and two of them talk once in a full moon - gosh. Look at them. They’re physically different. Distinguishable. Unique. They gave the show more character. More dimension. Richness.

And THAT should happen in books too.

In my first project, I wrote out several character analyses. In my head (and I know this is BAD), I had a movie poster of my five main characters—like this




I could picture each one of them because of that image in my head. And they were unique—from hair color to height to skin color. Different. Not only that, but they all had different powers (duh), and they all had extremely unique personalities, diverse backgrounds, and definitely dissimilar quirks.


For me, the menagerie was essential—two of my star players were named Brent and Bender—their names were so close, I had to make them extraordinarily different. But the variations added richness to my story. At times, I didn’t even need dialogue tags, because based on actions or manner of speaking, the speaker was crystal clear.

In my most recent project, I have to work a little harder at creating the menagerie. My mc isn’t a big guy, but his three buds are offensive linemen. They’re all about the same size and enjoy a lot of the same things so I dug a little deeper into their personalities to make them more distinguishable. And multi-dimensional. And frankly, more entertaining.

So menageries—I think it’s important to have them in your stories. They distinguish your players and add richness to the script. And while they may or may not be wild animals, I for one hope to one day see my collection caged up in a book and prominently displayed on many shelves.

How about YOU? Who are some of your favorite wild and unusual characters?

8 comments:

  1. Great post! Literary: Anne of Green Gables, Scarlett O'Hara, Scout Finch. From a film perspective: James Bond, Frodo, Luke Skywalker (I love that name!)

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  2. Never ask a Libra a question. This will take me all day to ponder and make up my mind on what characters I like. I'll probably tell you everyone I've ever read about or watched a movie on.

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  3. One of the best parts of writing to me is that initial stage when you're gathering all your characters together and getting them and seeing how they interact with each other.

    Also, love the Larry, Daryll, and Daryll pic.

    Dan

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  4. Great post, you found the best pictures to show rather than tell us :)

    I've been reading a lot about the Harry Potter books, so I have all those in my head. I can't think of a more unique bunch of people who you can pretty much guess who is talking without a dialogue tag.

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  5. A distinctive trio of characters came to me this week and I love them but they're driving me crazy because I don't have a story for them. Gah. But when I do you will definitely be able to tell these girls apart.
    - Sophia.

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  6. I'd never thought of it this way! But I seem to do it... My MG has a boy, a talking cat, an evil woman with limited supernatural powers, a Roman emperor and so on. And my historical romance has a girl who's just found out she was adopted, a Cistercian monk, an Ottoman scribe, a French merchant captain, and more. Neat!

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  7. Great post. Characters make a story, and it is so interesting to watch them interact!

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  8. Great post! Love the Larry, Darryl and Darryl reference, that made my day lol

    I love when you're reading a book and the characters are so varied and you really feel like you're learning something about them - like when they do something or say something or move in a certain way, you know they're feeling a certain emotion...or that for one character, when their lips twitch, it's a rare smile for a serious character and when that happens and you know what's happening, you make a real connection. I know that as a writer, I hope my readers feel that way and think 'wow, I know that character so well, like they're a real person'.

    "And while they may or may not be wild animals, I for one hope to one day see my collection caged up in a book and prominently displayed on many shelves." - I love that...I hope that too. Best of luck to you! :-)

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