Deepening Character Tri-fecta: Internals, POV Filters & Props.
Last week I blogged about POV filters. The week before about internals. By combining your character internals with their history via their personal filter, you've already gone deep into your character.
Props take you one step further.
I was first introduced to this concept by Carolyn Greene, author of The Plot Doctor. If you're a plotter I recommend the "kit". If you're a pantster, you will go insane in 3.2 seconds.
The following is my interpretation of props, my applications, etc., not Carolyn's.
Props, in my opinion, can be split into three categories: tangible, mannerisms, and crutches. When combined with internals and POV filters, these elements take your nicely-polished character to a high shine.
From your character's strongest two or three traits, choose several possible props to refine their persona.
Let's take a restless modern cowboy, living life through the POV filter of LOSS, as an example.
Some tangible props for this type of man might be:
- Cigarettes--make the brand distinctive, personal. Make the habit purposeful (smokes when confined or to relax or when preparing to lie.)
- A unique pair of boots (that hold meaning or memories for him)...there's a country song whose lyrics have the line "the scars on my knuckles match the scuffs on my cowboy boots" illustrating how he lives the life, not just dresses for it.
- Saddlebags that he carries in his truck instead of on his horse; ones which hold unusual items (that further define him) like:
- photos of the family he lost
- a book of poetry--a gift from his late wife
a digital camera--to document his travels and relive them when he's stationary; moving helps him forget his pain.
- his palm pilot--to check email, his only contact with family and friends since he lost his family.
- A truck that has two hundred thousand miles on it--from all his travels, his restless attempts to either remember his family or forget their absence.
Restless modern cowboy mannerisms might include:
- Pinching his cigarettes between the tips of his fingers (the *manly* hold of a cigarette).
- Not finishing one before he disposes of it and lights another.
- Shifting on his feet.
- A nervous tick (maybe a result of nerve damage from the accident in which he lost his family), a quark such as wiping his brow or upper lip with the back of his hand, lifting and repositioning his cowboy hat (guys with baseball caps do this all the time, too).
- Squinting into the distance instead of looking someone in the eye while they talk, giving others the feeling hedd rather be somewhere else.
A restless modern cowboy's crutches--elements of his personality he leans on in crisis--might include:
- Feigning preoccupation with his electronic toys as avoidance.
- Using his duties on the ranch to get away when he feels closed in or the memories are too strong (ride the fence line, take a trip to the feed store).
- Maintaining a gruff exterior to keep other's at a distance.
I did this whole restless cowboy thing on the fly, so they may not be an exact fit, but I think it gets my point across.
Now I'm going to provide some examples of how I utilized these props with Cassie (heroine) and how I weaved them into the story.
Remember: she's a professionally independent, personally insecure physician living through the POV filters of SUSPICION and FEAR.
Example 1 (tangible props): On a deep breath, she sank deeper into the comforting leather driver's seat and forced her mind clear. But that only lasted a moment before the uneasy sense of forgetting something, of needing to be somewhere she wasn't crept in. Her hand drifted to her waist, but found the cool casing of the pager she usually wore absent. The anxiety pushing its way up her chest attested to the turn her life had taken over the years. When a pager and a cell phone became security blankets, when being needed and in control at all times reshaped a life, big changes were needed.
Notes: This sense of pagers and cell phones creating a lifeline is very real to medical professionals, and a perfect tangible prop for Cassie.
Example 2 (tangible props): To keep her focus, she mentally reviewed the contents of her bag for possible weapons: scalpel, scissors, needles, flashlight.
Example 3 (tangible props): The cop ambled over to the men and entered into a low-volume discussion. With their attention diverted, Cassie pulled a digital camera from her medical bag. Multiple professors had advocated the importance of documenting interesting cases for teaching files, evidence for court cases or simply covering one's own ass against liable or administrative quandaries. It fit in her palm, and she cupped it tightly, edging toward the rear of the truck.
Notes: Her medical background (experience and supplies) are a constant prop--because it's a huge part of who she is.
Example 4 (mannerisms): Her hand drifted to her waist, but the cool casing of the pager she usually wore was absent.
Notes: This is an example where a tangible prop can pull double-duty. The action of her hand drifting to her waist constantly searching for what grounds her is also a mannerism.
Example 5 (mannerisms): She stretched her neck, forcing the morbid, agonizing thought away. Her cervical spine popped and stress relief flowed over her shoulders.
Notes: This is one of her little quirks; she does it when under extreme stress. I actually do it quite often when I'm writing.
Example 6 (crutch): She swept his immaculate light blue jeans and polo shirt with one look. Her fear dissolved into fury. He hadn't been harmed in the accident, nor had he lifted a finger to help any of these women.
Notes: She often uses anger to control her fear.
Example 7 (crutch): Heat crawled up Cassie's neck and burned her face, but she restrained a blowout. She needed to strike a balance here--authoritative but not confrontational, professional but not condescending. She knew this type of man much too well.
Notes: She constantly falls back on the control she learned in medical school to maintain composure.
Example 8 (crutch): When she was sure no one had followed, she passed through the security gate and started down the long, palm-lined driveway until she could no longer see the main road. Cassie stopped the car and let it idle, taking comfort in the soft glow highlighting the trees' rough trunks and illuminating the undersides of the fanned leaves, the soothing ocean waves on the shore yards away. With all her fear and anger shoved to the background, Cassie focused on her body, on regulating her chaotic heartbeat and shaking limbs. But no matter what she did, memories of her own past seeped in.
Notes: Another of her 'crutch patterns' is to present a strong front to others and break down when she's alone.
Well, I hope this information has given you some ideas of how to deepen your characters. Other tips and techniques, suggestions and advice, always welcome.