Daily Archives: August 31, 2010

Writing Lessons from a Mannequin

While in Chicago, DH and I awoke one night to a very loud, bothersome and still-unidentified vibration.  It was 4:30 in the morning.  My courageous DH braved the boogey man and opened our hotel door. 

“You have to see this.”

I braved the hotel hall in my nightie only to be confronted by a slim porcelain leg.  Actually four.  I would post a pic of the mannequins outside our door, but they were lounging in a rather compromised position. 

Needless to say, we giggled ourselves back to sleep and shared the hysterical pictures of the motionless mannequins that soundlessly made their way throughout the hall (and poses) over the following days.

Then I got to thinking about characters. 

To me, they are the essence of a great book.  I would rather read a dull plot with exciting characters than an inspiring plot with motionless mannequins. 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Mister and Missus Mann E. Quin’s Chicago antics.  I just don’t want to read about them for an entire novel.  In fact, following lifeless, expressionless characters through the twists and turns of a riveting story is the fastest way to get bumped from my TBR list.

And so I give you:

Lessons from a Mannequin

  • Give your characters a head.  Seriously, Mister and Missus were headless wonders.  I suppose it’s so we don’t get freaked out by finding our neighbor’s mug on an overgrown doll, but still.  In real life, MCs need to have the tools to succeed.  They shouldn’t necessarily utilize them or even realize they have them immediately.  But they should possess some sort of strength that gives them an edge.  As an FYI, brains come in handy.
  • But, if you want to go brawn, I ask that you give your characters some flaws.  The perfectly sculpted creatures in the hall were a bit nerve-wracking.  I mean who wants to gaze at flawless wonders?  No scars were visible.  No wrinkles or stretch marks or love handles could be found.  Not a single mole or ingrown toenail existed between the lovely couple.  Ugh.  Make your MCs real.  
  • Don’t forget the details that make your MCs unique.  Mister and Missus Mann E. Quin were barely distinguishable from each other.  Granted Mister had more muscle tone and Missus had larger…pecs.  But all in all, a slimmer build doth not set characters apart.  Nothing about Mister indicated his penchant for scotch and water, and we had no clue that Missus was a bit capricious with a loyalty stronger than our aging black lab’s.  All we knew was that clothes were hard to come by and they enjoyed frolicking in the halls of a very prestigious hotel.
  • Throw in a little intrigue.  Aside from obvious character traits, it’s fun to give your MC a bit of mystery.  Provide a quirk of some kind that plays into the larger picture.  One that subtly speaks of the past and promises interest in the future.  Yep, our otherwise silent friends did have one quirk that made DH and I scratch our heads in wonder.  Mann E. wore a hard hat.  One day it was yellow.  Another day it was white.  Sometimes there was writing on it and other times it was blank.  Intriguing to say the least.

I hope you enjoyed this lovely tutorial.  I only wish I could illustrate it so you could truly experience the humor behind this post.  However, as I do write for younguns, I’ll leave the pictures to your imagination.

What other tips do you have for building strong characters?  Or, if you feel so inclined, please share your mannequin moments with the rest of us.  We could all use a good clean laugh.