I’ll be wearing a space suit, and a cowboy hat would not be a wise fashion accessory. ~Brian Walker
So many great quotes about jewelry and accessories…so little time. I may have to write about BLING for weeks. Just kidding, don’t panic. But the above quote does raise an interesting point. Are some accessories better than others for fleshing out a character? I mean, does it really matter if my heroine wears diamond studs or hoops?
Are the earrings dangling from her ears or piercing the side of his nose? That’s two totally different looks. But even more important than the look an accessory can communicate is the movement a well-chosen accessory can give your character.
If I’m going to put a necklace around a character’s neck, why not take a moment and consider how this accessory can add movement? If I put something on the chain that the character can hold on to—something that soothes them during stress like a boyfriend’s high school ring, their grandmother’s wedding band, or a locket with a significant picture—I have built in an opportunity for movement. According to Joe Navarro, author of What Every Body is Saying, when a woman feels threatened, uncomfortable, insecure, or fearful she will often pacify herself by stroking her neck at the suprasternal notch or neck dimple, the hollow area between the Adam’s apple and the breastbone, or by twisting a necklace. With the manipulation of this charm, I’ve added a back-and-forth motion readers can picture in their heads. This mental picture gives the reader body language to interpret the emotional state of the character. And if they can interpret the emotional state of the character, they can hear the character’s vocal intonation in their heads.
So now not only does your reader have the dialogue (7% of communication), they have body language (55%), plus the extra vocal intonation (38%) to interpret the character. That’s 100% characterization…all from an accessory as simple as a necklace.
Val Kilmer is an expert at achieving characterization by manipulation of an accessory. Adept at flipping items over his knuckles, Kilmer’s skill at handling different props or accessories helps him develop unique characters. In Top Gun, he spins a shiny gold pen through his fingers in rapid succession, giving us the impression he is the quick, cocky, and very precise Iceman. In Tombstone, he convinces us he is the brilliant, very deliberate, and not easily angered Doc Holliday by the slow manipulation of a poker chip. Quite impressive and something fun to look for in his movies.
Movement + Vocal intonation + Dialogue = Unique characterization.
If your characters seem static, put something within their reach. Give them a cell phone, a crutch, a shoulder bag that’s way too big, a hat they can pull down over their eyes, a cigarette lighter, or a nail file.
Characters on the page are as lost as what to do as novice actors on the stage. An accessory or prop can help create stage business and give them the movement they need to come to life.
Let’s talk stage business next week.