Wednesday, July 12, 2006

III - Talent Show


Writers may make a character unique and memorable by investing them with a special talent.
The character's unusual ability operates as either a major or minor plot device, and may be applied for humour or for drama, or both.
As a major device, an extreme form may be the shape-shifter or a Miss Marple.
In minor use, one may find a Sunday school teacher or a gentle and guileless curate with a dubious talent for picking locks. Or the little old lady who has taken karate.
I find the deliberate contrast delightful. Satisfies my hope that the innocent and the modest are not always weak and helpless prey.
May be a form of deus ex machina when, at a sensational moment, a mild or innocuous character displays a vital ability or recognizes a dangerous situation in time. That charge might be allayed by a reference to the character's history and experience.
In reality, people are not always what they seem. They may have skills of little use in normal society. Those who have survived the crucible of war, for example.
Characters may have hobbies or knowledge not apparent during the normal course of events - but when the plot demands a sharpshooter, the over-weight travelling salesman, hither-to-useless baggage, may be able to pick up a rifle, look the others between the eyes, and say "Bisley."
Sadly, the computer hacker - a thrilling talent scant years ago - is now molte passe.
And please, let's not have any girls who explain some physical ability by means of "I have five brothers."
Can you think of examples of unusual talents used for good effect?

23 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

A bottomless well of clear, spring fed ideas, you are!

James Goodman said...

Great post, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Erik, James.
Just a terchnique I dearly love to see as a reader.

Flood said...

OSC's Seventh Son is based on each character having a special trait.

I just like to have some reference to the talent before it's used as a device. Suddenly realizing that the narrator is a chemist on pg 271 and can save the world from the bad guys, ("Oh yeah! Forgot about my degree") is irritating.

Dennie McDonald said...

see this is what I call character quirks - they always have something but it could be as pididdle as a past as a Shirley Temple impersonator - okay so that one is weird but it works in the story....

Bernita said...

Have seen it work though, Flood, with appropriate backstory after the event.

Another tack is for the reader to have a few clues, but it comes as a surprise to other characters.

I really enjoy them, Dennie.

Scott said...

Not right off hand, but thank you for pointing out how common computer hackers are, and especially the ebullient female who has brothers. I had an oh yeah moment when you said that.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Scott.
Think that scenario occured before the kick-ass heroine became more common and girly-girls were standard.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think it's really cool that you posted about this today, because I just eliminated a character in my novel and gave his job to a woman.

Onr of the special traits he displayed is now hers by osmosis. I can use what you've discussed to explain how she has this ability!

Sounds like Greek, huh...but I know what I'm talking about....notice, I didn't say, "I know what I'm doing!" LOL

Ric said...

Perhaps you could use your prodigious talent for using obscure (at least to some of us) words and phrases as a character trait. Show great intelligence without coming across as superior.

Damned good thing I could google Bisley, or I would have wasted a whole day trying to figure out what the hell it meant.

Robyn said...

A heroine in one story I read had worked for a Henry Higgins-type phonetics expert for years, listening to tapes of people speaking and transcribing them. Her ear had become so developed that she could identify anyone's voice upon hearing them speak just once. That's how she became the 'witness' in a murder case. I thought it was interesting.

Bernita said...

Now that is very nice, Bonnie! Hope it does help.

Oh damn.Never thought the reference might be obscure. Did I come across as a pill?
Thing is, my daughter shot there when she was 17, Ric.

Bernita said...

And I think that sort of thing is great, Robyn!

Ric said...

No apologies necessary from your end. I love when you make me work for it. And as a wordsmith, I delight in your vocabulary - makes me wonder if our education system is missing something.

M.E Ellis said...

Great post. You always make me THINK! Love you for it!

:o)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.

And you all make me think , Michelle, and I can't thank you all enough.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ah, Bernita, I love coming here. :-) There's always something thought-provoking to read!

Think I'll have to get back to you on this one. Great post!

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