Character Tags: In our own work

If you’ve got lots of characters in your story or just have characters who leave the page for a while–or, you know, just have characters–it’s nice to remind readers who these people are.  Enter character tags. 

A couple of weeks ago, we identified six or so ways to tag characters, and last week we learned that the more unique and story-relevant the tags are, the easier it is on the reader.  Let’s see if we can come up with some good character tags for the stories we’ve been working on.

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 transgender 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.

As for characters, we’ve got the main guy, his partner, his opposing counsel on the case, the judge (pre-tagged thanks to his robe and his seat on the high bench), the devil at the firm . . .  I think that’s enough.

1. Appearance:

  • Protag: He wears tattered suits and sometimes sweats in the courtroom.
  • His Partner: He was fired for cross-dressing, so we could give him long hair that’s balding on top, yet styled in those low, bun-like dos they had in the 50s, and a preference for neck scarfs, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes.
  • Opposing Counsel: He’s government, by the book, anti-gay, so maybe he always wears the same, boring navy blue suit, but, to add a contradictory aspect, let’s make his dress shirts pastel or flamboyant in someway.
  • Devil Firm Partner: This guy is money, so lets give him obviously expensive suits, haircuts every Tuesday, and maybe his eyes have a devilish sparkle.  Maybe everything about him has a devilish sparkle.

2. Ability

  • Protag: I think we decided Protag will have to give up everything he has by the time this story is over, so let’s show that he has the potential to do that.  I think we already came up with something that works in the bonding post: he gave away his last dollar to a beggar on the courtroom steps.
  • His Partner: He’s tough, tougher than Protag realizes. So maybe we can have some people bully him, and he not only ignores it, but maybe one of the bully’s drops (or throws) something, and he picks it up and gives it back.  He ignores adversity and trumps it with kindness.
  • Opposing Counsel: This guy’s by-the-book, but maybe not as hard inside as he’d like to seem.  So maybe he’s known for the long pause.  He wants to do his job, follow the rules, but sometimes the rules are wrong, so he pauses–before he speaks, before he acts, before he commits to anything.
  • Devil Firm Partner: This guy’s going to ruin Protag’s life, so maybe, just before Protag meets him, someone else is exiting from a meeting with him, and the exiting person is DISTRAUT.  The firm partner might also conduct shady business and order people around like they’re chess pieces instead of humans.


3. Speech

  • Protag: He’s a coward, so his speech is filled with hedges and qualifying language, words like probably and possibly.
  • His Partner: He prefers feminine dress, but refers to himself with masculine pronouns.  Maybe he calls everyone Honey or Doll.
  • Opposing Counsel: He wants to appear anti-gay, so he says lots of anti-gay things. But maybe he always winces after a real doozy.
  • Devil Firm Partner: This guy’s speech is syrupy. It just oozes charm and money, and you get the sense that there’s a “but” coming.  And there is. Maybe he’s known for saying that things are taken care of, don’t worry about it, it’s all under control. He’s got it made in the shade.

4. Manner and Mannerisms, Habits of Behavior

  • Protag: He’s a coward, so he tends to have a cowering manner, shuffles his feet when he’s nervous.
  • His Partner: He’s frequently ignoring bullies, so maybe he’s frequently seen standing with his hands clasped in front of him, with his chest rising and falling as he takes deep, calming breaths.  Maybe he checks out a lot, and is often staring into the middle distance.
  • Opposing Counsel: Those long pauses.  Maybe he rubs his flamboyant tie between his fingers or chews his lip during those long pauses.
  • Devil Firm Partner: This guy is all about the power pose.  Head high, shoulders back, hands on hips.  And he’s got people trained to be attentive, so maybe it only take a flick of a finger to get people to do his bidding.

5. Attitude, Habits of Behavior

  • Protag: Just get through the day.  He tends to give in to what others want just to get through the day.
  • His Partner: People just want attention and to feel safe. Ignore them and don’t fight back and they’ll eventually move on to something else.
  • Opposing Counsel: If people just did what they were supposed to do, the world would be a better place. (There’s just one problem: who gets to define “supposed to”?)  Hence his attack-and-pause approach.
  • Devil Firm Partner: If people just did what the rich told them to do, the world would be a better place.  He’s rich, so do what he tells you to do. Or else.


6. Choices and Preferences

  • Protag: He takes the bus and sits up front, by the driver. Nobody bugs you there.  He’s known to skip meals when left on his own; eats heartily when his partner makes him something.
  • His Partner: He prefers to walk, if possible. Everybody in town is aware of him.  He likes to cook and everyone eats if he has anything to say about it.
  • Opposing Counsel: He’s got an old station wagon for the kids.  He brings his lunch from home.
  • Devil Firm Partner: He has a Rolls Royce and a driver.  He always eats in restaurants and never alone.


7. I’m Adding a Seventh Category: Relationship to the Protagonist.  I see this a lot, where the author uses character’s name in one sentence and then, in the next sentence, refers to the same character using a relationship descriptor (or other descriptor, such as physical or opinionated).

  • Protag: In 50’s slang, he’s a candy ass, a wimp, easily scared.
  • His Partner: Protag’s partner, the love of his life, his rock. Lots of options here.  Other people might think he and his lifestyle are cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
  • Opposing Counsel: Protag could refer to him as an idiot, or maybe a cube or a square. Or a Mickey Mouse.
  • Devil Firm Partner: Protag’s boss, Mr. Money Bags. A mentor at first, later a devil.



Well, that’s it for me. What about you?  What sort of tags would you give these characters?  And what kind of tags did you give the characters in the story you’re working on?  Tell us in the comments.

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I haven’t decided.  I’m getting bored with character. So I might finish up the character posts I’ve got drafted, just so they’re done, or I might move on to scenes. If you have a preference, let me know.



So... whadaya think?

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