Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Give Your Protagonist Some Distinctive Quirks or Habits

I had a professor in college—an ex-merchant-marine captain-turned-Jesuit—who was almost a stereotype: he was short, well-muscled, balding with a thick "St. Anthony fringe" around the edges and a tuft of fiery red hair sticking straight up from the middle of his shiny pate. I was always reminded of the paintings of “The Descent of the Holy Spirit Upon Mary and the Disciples,” when everyone had flames standing over their heads.

His name was Father Thomas J. Walshe, and he was a bundle of energy, striding up and down before the class. His voice was constantly rising and falling, harsh one moment and silky-soft the next, expounding with laughter and Irish brogue and sober statements the great philosophical tenets of the Greek Philosophers.

I loved him like a dear uncle.

He had a habit—undoubtedly developed aboardship—of scrubbing rapidly at his dry, red, potato of a nose with the back of a fist when he got excited, which was often. And he was right, there was so much in his teachings to get excited about. I’ve never forgotten him, nor the lessons he taught, knowingly or unknowingly.

Let’s consider another example:

In Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” the character named Uriah Heep keeps proclaiming his unworthiness, his humility, his complete and utter lowliness—to underscore which he keeps bowing, hunching and looking up at the world from under his brows. He’s a despicable character, full of false pride and nastiness, but the idea of his hunching and glowering from beneath his brows sticks with me, even today. It’s memorable, and is another proof of Dickens’ genius.

There. That’s it. Your lesson for today. The bringing-to-life of a person or persons you have never known, giving them distinctive quirks and/or habits, “seeing” and “hearing” them clearly. You did “see” and “hear” them—didn’t you? If not, please let me know. No one is above learning from his colleagues.

That’s all for now. We’re under a tornado warning, and I’m watching the weather news.

More next week.

Lang out.

PS Oh, I almost forgot to mention my “Simon Lang’s Basic Writers’ Course” which will be available shortly at http://www.youpublish.com/simonlangbooks/ I’ll also be putting up a workbook for Catholic High School Students as well, for homeschoolers and others who are interested, as well as my unique story-plotting aid, HANDS-ON STORIES®. Check it out!

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