We’ve been looking at how to select character details and introduce characters. Today, we’re going to select some concrete details for the main character of one of the stories we’ve been working on and then next week we’ll try out some introductions.
Let’s use the main character from our human-rights-attorney story:
Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, a human rights lawyer joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgendered partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.
Here we go!
Name: Amos Anderson
Vocation: Human rights attorney
Dominant Impression: He’s a coward who’s falling apart at the seams, literally and figuratively. So we could put him in tattered suits, and we could have opposing counsel call Amos out on his clothes–get a new suit, man–and have Amos not have a comeback. He could just leave the situation as fast as he can, almost running away.
Wants: He wants to protect his partner, to right the wrong that’s been done to his loved one. In a scene that could open the story, we could have Amos in the courtroom wanting the judge to rule in his partner/client’s favor. Maybe twisting a piece of paper in nervousness.
Difficulty: He has difficulty putting on an optimistic and brave face for his partner/client, especially now that the case is going to trial and they don’t have any money to fund it. When the attorney comments on Amos’s tattered suit, we could also have him tell Amos that it’ll take a lot of money just to lose. With the money he could save dropping the lawsuit, he could buy a new wardrobe. And his partner/client could miss the conversation, but not the body-language and what they were talking about, and Amos could put on his cowardly optimistic face. “Nothing. Just trash talking.”
Vulnerable: Amos is broke and the sole attorney on a case against the government and all the government’s attorneys and resources. We could show little old Amos in his tattered suit, sitting next to his partner at one table and the government’s eight, well-dressed attorneys at the other table and spilling into the aisle.
Contradiction: He’s a cowardly human rights lawyer. He’s idealistic but lacks courage. In a novel, this could be shown through inner monologue vs. actions. He’s a lot more courageous in his head than he is in action.
Secrets: The legal community doesn’t know that his client is also his life partner, since dating your clients is generally an ethics violation. So in the courtroom scene, we could have Amos’s partner seeking comfort from Amos, maybe trying to hold his hand, and Amos could quickly squeeze back and let go, hoping no one notices. Also, his partner/client doesn’t know that he’s broke and doesn’t understand the financial commitment fighting this case will be. So we could have Amos trying to appear flush to his partner by giving a money, his last dollar, to someone outside the courthouse and by talking about how they’ll celebrate the win with a fancy dinner–when the government’s check clears.
Manner: Amos is timid, soft-spoken. Generally doesn’t speak unless spoken to, except with his partner. You could say he’s introverted. Lots going on in the brain, but he doesn’t express much. A little awkward around people. We could have the judge prompting Amos to speak even though Amos should know when he’s supposed to speak and when he’s supposed to be quiet.
Traits: Amos is a little shorter than average, but ripped with boxing muscle. He’s smart, smart enough to usually work around the situations that bring out his cowardice. We could have him plotting how to escape the courtroom in a way that lets him avoid talking with the government’s attorneys. A plan that will fail. He’s also generous to his own detriment, which we sort of show when Amos gives away his last dollar.
Mannerisms: Amos tends to round his shoulders, shuffle his feet, fidget with his fingernails. We could use these small actions as beats as needed, say during any dialogue.
Status: Amos has decent status in the courtroom, being an attorney, but he doesn’t claim it. The judges expect him to claim it and are confused when he doesn’t. Most of his opposing counsel just go with it, and even egg on his cowardice, since his cowardice makes them look better to the jury, if not the judge. He has high status when he’s at the gym, because he’s a regular and a good boxer. At the gym, he claims his high status, but he doesn’t lord it over anybody. In his relationship, he has mostly equal status.
Well, that’s it for me. What about you? What sort of fresh details did you come up with to show your character’s characterization? Tell us in the comments.
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UP NEXT, ON FRIDAY
We’ll revisit the 7 methods of character introduction and see if we can flesh out today’s details into introductions for our main character. See you then!