Monday, June 14, 2010

Character Sketches with Eccentricity

Today, I want to talk to you about ECCENTRICITY!! One of my favorite words, and one of the things that makes for memorable characters. So….sit back and get ready for a LOOONGER post than usual, but hopefully a fun one :-)

Modern day television shows have quite a few examples. Shows such as The Mentalist, Monk, Big Bang Theory, all play with eccentricity of characters. It adds humor and interest to who those characters are. They 'stand out' in the crowd.

As far as classics go, Dickens wrote all sorts of important eccentric characters.

So what does ‘eccentricity’ mean when referring to character development?

Extremes. Out of the ordinary. Fierce passions. Unusual mannerisms. Odd humor. Larger than Life.

In a word: Different.

Very few people point out the individuals who blend into the general masses. It’s the ones who don’t fit in that stand out in a crowd.

Scarlet O’Hara wasn’t like the other ladies – she had a fierce passion about her land…and herself. She had an eccentric drive to marry Ashley Wilkes. Why? I’m still trying to figure that one out, but her passion gave her a uniqueness.

Elizabeth Bennett stood out from her sisters because of her wit, intellect, and independence. She may not have appeared as ‘eccentric’ as someone like Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre, but the reader is drawn to her vibrant personality. It was ‘different’ from those around her.

So, the main point of writing eccentricity, is to make your character 'stand out' in some way or other. Different than the rest of the people on the page.
Well, my writing can’t compare to the classics, but I want to introduce you to some of my eccentric characters.

Here’s the paragraph synopsis of my novel Here To Stay.

Eisley Barrett is a single-mom of three, who has no intention of putting herself in jeopardy of heartbreak again. When her husband traded her in for a younger version, she determined to steer clear of romance unless it was safely tucked between the pages of a book. But when a gift from her parents sends her to England to research her ancestry, she runs face to face into a wounded heart’s worst nightmare, costume-drama actor Christopher Wesley Harrison. Will she be able to solve the 400 year old mystery of her ancestor without losing her heart in the process? And if romance is in the air, can it survive a culture clash, a devious ex-girlfriend, and an Appalachian family with loads of humorous plans of their own?

When Eisely started forming in my imagination, I went in search of a picture of her. The closest I could get was Amy Adams, and Amy's personality suits my Eisley character too, so I got a two-for-one special :-).

Now…my hero was A LOT easier. Already had him in mind before the story began. British heartthrob Richard Armitage.

‘Seeing’ the characters helps me when I write – but having a visual is not a necessary tool. If you pay attention to some of the classics, detailed physical descriptions are hardly given.

In more contemporary novels, Mary Connealy doesn’t do a lot of physical character descriptions, but still her characters are gripping – because she spends her time on what counts most. A character’s CHARACTER :-)

So – to get on with it…

Eisley is a hyperfriendly personality, who has a tendency to say whatever is on her mind. That can get her into trouble, but it can also be endearing. Her father is a lot worse. Larger than life. I LOOOOVE writing him.

Let me give you a few excerpts so you can see what I mean by adding eccentricity in small doses. This first scene is where Wes and Eisley are investigating a 16th century tower in search of clues to Eisley's ancestor.

Dust swirled into the gray-gold rays of morning light filtering in through the vine-draped windows. Three windows rounded this room, allowing more visibility, but there really wasn’t much more to see. A few sconces lined the walls, a cross shaped one and then two oval ones, but other than that…nothing, not even another doorway.

“It doesn’t seem right, does it?” Wes walked to one of the windows and peered out. “The tower appears taller than this, but there are no stairs.” He glanced up at the ceiling. “No attic door or ladder.”

Eisley searched again, crossing the room to stare out another window and then back at the near-vacant room. She fought the urge to stomp her foot like a four-year old. Disappointment was never welcome. “Do you think there’s a secret door or something?”

Wes shrugged. “Where would it be? The only thing in this room is a bookshelf, a fireplace, and a bed?”

Eisley studied the sconces and finally touched the cross-shaped one, the metal cool under her fingertips. “Well, sometimes if you turn a lever, it will open a secret door.”

“Did you get that idea from Indiana Jones?”

She grinned at Wes' crooked smile. “Actually I was thinking more along the lines of Scooby Doo, but Indiana Jones works too.”

"Sorry, I don’t have the magic of animation at my fingertips today. Do you think your ancestors from the 16th century knew those rules when building the tower?”

Eisley ignored the challenge in his lifted brow and tugged at the sconce. “You’re hilarious. Sure you’re ancestors weren’t from the jester line?” The sconce didn’t budge, so she tried to twist it. It loosened under her grip, inflaming her determination. She grabbed with both hands and POP. The sconce shot through the air an inch from Wes’ head, and imbedded itself in the wall beside the bookshelf.

Wes ducked just in time, his eyes wide.

“Oh goodness, Wes.” Eisley covered her mouth with her hand and ran to him. She could see the headlines now, 'Actor Christopher Wesley Harrison found dead in a 16th century tower. Clumsy American held responsible'.“I’m so sorry. I almost decapitated you.”

He threw up his hands in surrender. “I know that was the habit of the 16th century, but let’s not regress, shall we? I surrender. No more sarcasm.”

Eisley rolled her eyes and walked passed him, lightly punching him on the arm. Maybe she could be just friends with this guy. Maybe all this attraction would just disappear if she ignored it long enough. “Don’t loose your head, cutie, I wasn’t aimin’ for you.” \

The sconce stuck out from the wall? Eisley leaned closer. Or the bookshelf? How did it get stuck in a rock wall? She fisted it and tried to wiggle it free, but it was wedged. 

 “Eisley, do you feel that?” Wes was beside of her, his voice by her ear. Close.


He took her hand and placed it just above the spotwhere the sconce disappeared between the bookshelf and the wall. Frigid air cooled her palm. Wes’ gaze locked with hers.

“The air…it’s coming from somewhere.”

“Exactly.” His face was inches from hers, lips tilted even closer. Her eyes flickered down to them and back up. Heat crept into her face and her breath must have gotten caught in her throat somewhere, because it wasn't making it into her lungs. Friends? Maybe not.

Wes wedged his fingers behind the bookshelf and pushed, then pulled. After the third attempt, the click of a latch released and a crunching noise followed by another loud click. The shelf creaked forward to reveal another set of stairs.

A subtle way Eisley is eccentric is her wide-eyed wonder. The fact that she’d think ‘Scooby Doo’ instead of ‘Agatha Christie’ is a bit of characterization through eccentricity. Plus, her internal dialogue brings out her innocence and struggle.

Okay – here’s one of my favorite characters. Eisley’s dad – a mountain man who is determined to protect his daughter’s heart from another jerk…so Wes gets put to the Daddy-test :-)

Here is Wes and Nate’s first meeting and then another small excerpt to give you a little of Eisley’s mom’s personality too :-) Btw, I see Nate as an older Jon Hamm and her mom, Kay, as Michelle Pfieffer. It helps with description, plus when you see the characters acting, it gives great ideas for describing their movements.

He stood about an inch above Wes, his hair a medium brown, and his body boasted hard labor from one massive shoulder to the other. A tennis ball sized lump gathered in Wes’ throat, but he squared his own shoulders and offered his most charming smile. Or at least he hoped it was charming. It felt a bit stiff at the moment.

“Nate Jenkins.” The man extended his hand and gripped Wes’ in an iron hold. “I gotta bone to pick with you, boy.”

Wes stuttered. “Pardon me?”

“How dare you bring some Ford pickup truck up my driveway? Don’t you know that’s almost criminal? We’re Chevy people ‘round here.”

Wes hoped for comprehension, but Ford and Chevy strung between the word driveway left him at a loss, and the half-furious look on Nate Jenkins’ face didn’t help.

“Don’t’ mind him, Wes. He’s just territorial.” A petite woman, light hair curled up in a bun and pale blue eyes glowing, stepped forward and took his hand, her smile as welcoming as Nate Jenkins’ frown was discomforting. “We’re real pleased to have you here. I’m Kay Jenkins.”

“It’s a pleasure, and thank you for allowing me to stay with you.”

Nate’s grin lifted, viciously. “Best way to keep your eyes on your enemy, ya know.”

Wes met the challenge, their gazes locked for a few seconds. “Well, I don’t suppose you have any enemies within close proximity at present, Mr. Jenkins.” Wes felt his smile tilt and the corner of Nate’s moustache twitched.

“Mr. Jenkins? Oh naw, you can’t go ‘round callin’ me that. Only my wife can call me Mr. Jenkins.”

Kay rolled her eyes and produced an apologetic grin.

“Hey, daddy, did you see how the dogs took to him.” Emma knelt down and ran her fingers through the retriever’s golden fur, her smile still in place. “You always say dogs know a good person when they see one.”

Nate jolted Wes entire body with a firm pat to his shoulder. “Even dog’s can have an off day, huh Wes?” Nate shook from laughter and pointed to the three younger men scattered nearby. “We was just fixin’ to start up a game of football, now that everyone’s here ‘cept Eisley. We didn’t tell her to come ‘til 12:30 to make sure you’d get here first, so you got…hmm…’bout an hour.” Nate’s expression turned lethal. “Lots can happen in an hour, can’t it, boy?”

Wes hoped Nate didn’t notice the tension in his smile. He’d never appreciated his acting lessons so much.

“Don’t you worry, Wes.” Kay patted his arm and whispered. “He’s not as mean as he looks.”

*** (here is a quick discussion about football later in the scene)***

“It seems in soccer one mostly uses ones…feet, thus the reason why the British refer to it as football. From my limited experience, in American football one tends to use one’s hands for the most part.”

“Naw, naw.” Nate shook his head and steadied his hand on Wes’ shoulder. “Football’s all about strategy.” He pointed to his forehead and then chopped the air with his hand. “You use your brain to really get the job done right.”

“And a few three hundred pound linebackers help too.” Greg started off at a run to catch the football from Brice.

“Similar to rugby, but I notice you throw the ball forward, not back? In rugby, a forward throw is illegal.”

“Boy, this ain’t rugby…this is football.” Nate spoke with the conviction of a preacher.

“Be nice, Daddy.” Emma called from the veranda with Kay sitting beside her on the steps. “He’s not used to your way of playing.”

Nate’s head jerked up and he patted his chest. “Nice? I’m always nice.” He looked at Wes. “You just ask my little wifey over there. I gotta heart of gold, right honey?”

Kay looked up. “Did you say as hard as gold?”


YOUR TURN – how are your characters eccentric? Maybe everyone else in your novel is eccentric except your hero or heroine (which would make them the ‘different’ one). Got any examples? Quirks are good too. Eisley talks with her hands when she’s nervous – to the point of knocking stuff over.


Mia said...

Thanks for allowing us a peek into your book, Pepper. I have to admit, I love Nate and Kay. They made me smile. And hidden rooms and stairs? I'm definitely hooked, now. Wes and Eisley sound like an interesting (in a good way. LOL) couple. I'd be curious to see where their relationship goes. I know how Wes feels about football, BTW. I moved to Europe, and kept wondering why the heck they were calling soccer football ;)

Hm, my main character in my WIP appears to be a normal teen on the outside, but she's probably the most complex character I've ever created. Every time I reveal one of her secrets, I discover yet another one hidden deep. She's not really what I would call 'eccentric', but rather deep or intriguing. I think one thing that makes her unusual is how even though I'm making her life miserable, taking away happiness the second she relaxes enough to enjoy it, she still has hope. Hope that in the end, she'll get some answers to her questions, survive her dangerous past, and get a taste of what normal is. Her quirk is she gets this rash on her hands every time she lies or gets nervous. Everyone thinks it's funny but her ;)

Pepper said...

Wow, Mia - your character sounds fascinating. And THAT's a hint of eccentricity. The depth of her character and her persistence to find 'answers' becomes her driving force.
PLUS you have a quirk.
Good job. So you write YA?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I loved hearing about your characters and seeing the pictures of them! It helps to visualize them! I have to say though, I would shoot myself if my mom looked like Michelle Pifer! I know she is old enough to be a mother of a grown up, but she sure doesn't look it! lol

Mia said...

Pepper- no, actually it's not YA, even though it is about a teen ;) It's suspense. I'm not sure yet if it's romantic suspense or inspirational/Christian/whatever you call it suspense, etc., but I do know it's suspense ;) Haha, at least I have that much figured out.

Casey said...

Great post, Pepper, I am so glad you chose this story, it is my favorite and all I have gotten to read is that one "kiss" scene. OH! We seriously need to talk about a week where we talk about passion in fiction and use some of our own examples and/ or get guests!!!

Pepper said...

Oh wow, then GREAT idea for a suspense. I have a booko I'm working on that starts with my character as a teen but I have no idea which genre. It's kind of like an Anne of Green Gables story :-)
Good luck with your book.

Pepper said...

Love ya MUCH!!

AND - if the idea involves KISSES - count me in.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post, Pepper.
The best way to teach is by example. You gave great examples.
You've hooked us with your exerpts, now we have to wait.......ooooo waiting is hard to do.
Thanks for the post:)

Casey said...

I know, isn't it Mary?? I can't wait until Pepper gets this book published, 'cause I will be the first in line to get a copy. :)

Pepper said...

Casey, Mary
Thank you for making my night!! I love this story because it's like visiting home every time I write it.
Eisley and Wes are dear to my heart - but of course, I think most of my characters become pretty important. I have a few who I'm extrememly attached to though.
Btw - IF (no, my mom says to say WHEN). Okay so WHEN this book gets published, you guys will be sure to get a special copy from me. Definitely. Afterall, we've created our own little group of encouragers right here :-)