I’ve talked before about giving your fiction characters tags such as jangling keys in their pocket or going silent when someone starts arguing with them. These tags show character traits and help the reader connect better with them. The first trait mentioned might occur when the character is impatient and the second opens a lot of things the author can show about the character. It might be as simple as the character hates arguing but he or she might be afraid to speak up when challenged. Both those bring up the question “Why?” in the reader’s mind. And give the author leeway to build his or her character.
Another trait that can be used is health issues – good or bad. Maybe you want your character to be an extreme fitness buff. Maybe he is passionate about playing golf. But the flip side of the coin can present even more interesting character tags – the character’s illness or an injury – the latter maybe occurring during the story. For example, the late Robert Parker in one of his Spencer novels had Spencer get shot in the chest and part of the novel dealt with his recovery and how it affected him both professionally and personally.
In my Beyond novel, Beyond Blood, I give Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding an affliction no one really wants – migraines. I know of where I write here because when I was in my early 30s (back in the grey ages, of course), I had migraines with almost the whole enchilada in symptoms. Didn’t have the aura but I did get sick to my stomach and of course the pain. And lots of treatments were tried and not all worked or were only temporary. Then there was the personal and professional repercussions. I had to postpone story interviews with subjects because I had a migraine, and one of the treatment options – blowing in a brown bag, supposedly to stop the pain (it didn’t work), was done around the kitchen table during a big party I held. My girlfriend who suggested that was coaching me and there were some onlookers around the table.
Which gave me lots of options for Fielding, I combined my personal experience with imagination for his migraine attack. Not a party, not a kitchen, but in the main character Dana Bowman’s bedroom. That’s all I’ll say about that scene except the cause of the migraine was the same as many of mine were – stress.
So you can use your personal health experience for one of your characters in your novel or short story. Just make sure it is worked into the plot and isn’t a tangent. And yes, Fielding’s migraine incident was part of the plot. Also, it could be a friend’s illness, but just make sure if the illness is yours or your friend’s that the character doesn’t turn into a copy of you or your friend. Use the illness as a character tag.
And next Thursday, March 24, I’ll be joining four other Crime Writers of Canada authors for a lively panel discussion and q and a about what and how we write. Here are the details:
Murder and Mayhem between the (book covers) at Gerrard/Ashdale library branch
March 24, 2016
Join five Crime Writers of Canada authors Sharon A. Crawford, Steve Shrott, Lisa de Nikolits (three mystery novelists) and Mark Eddy and Nate Hendley (both true crime authors) for a lively discussion about crime writing and their books. Sharon moderates this panel and the authors just might read a bit from their books. More information.
Location: Gerrard/Ashdale Toronto Public Library branch
1432 Gerrard St. E., Toronto
Time and Date: 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 24, 2016
Maybe I’ll see some of you there.
If you click on the book cover at the top, it will take you to one place where my Beyond books area available.