Nolan White, a native Southerner from Alabama, joins us today and gives writers tips to the creation of unique characters. Nolan is the editor of Great Days Outdoors magazine and composes a three-page section of news snippets as well as writing feature articles for the monthly magazine. He is active in numerous local activities and reaches out to those in need. In 2011, his concern for the poor led him to launch Alabama Hunger Relief, a nonprofit and made it a family affair. His brother, Alan White, runs fishing tournament to raise fund for needy families through local area food banks.
Nolan, former owner of a huge marketing firm, knows many local people and taps them to assist with some of his local projects. He served as the president of Baldwin Writers Group three times, including his current presidency. He’s won several short story contests and written two novels about behavior genetics, the first is due out in November 2014. His talents include drawing and he is currently illustrating a children’s book for a local writer. An avid believer in supporting authors, he founded a critique group in 2012 to help serious writers perfect their craft.
J. Nolan White
At age twelve I read a passage from The Black Stallion to my mother as she finished placing her famous layered jelly cake in the oven. A trucker in the story was trying to load horses into his trailer in Chicago. I pronounced the city as Chick-a-go. Being a substitute teacher, mom smiled and patiently corrected me.
It later dawned on me that butchered words strike people as funny. But it wasn’t until I wrote my first novel that one of my secondary characters, a quirky actress whose role ditzy humor, began to twist words as if they were pretzels.
Even a simple retort in dialogue such as, “Does a duck float?” becomes “Does a fluck dote?”
Another character has a mischievous streak. On impulse, she changes road signs. A sign reading Silver Queen Corn is now Silver Queer Corn.
Readers love unique characters who are memorable. To create them, why not assign unique traits to some? For example, a character in Messiah’s Proxy is often emphatic. Her words are often followed by jabbing a forefinger into the male protagonist’s chest. Her favorite expression is, “Good happens.”
Like a chameleon, she can change to a more sultry voice if needed.
Unusual traits help to differentiate a character from others in your story. Suppose a character, wanting to upstage someone, uses what she thinks is a hifalutin (that’s show off for you non Southerners) word? And what if she misuses that word? If she uses the word preternatural to describe her boss, not knowing it means existing outside of nature, what effect will it have on her highbrow colleagues? Fun-nee!
Such traits enrich your story by showing rather than telling the reader something important about the character. So, venture out and take risks. After all, it’s your story.
Tell us about some of your favorite quirky characters and their unique traits. Have you created one in your writing? Mahala