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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Character's Bag Of Tricks

We know that our main characters must have special skills that help them in their quest, and they also acquire new skills along the way. Skills make our characters pop off the page. If we’re writing about a sleuth, skills can help him solve a crime that might otherwise go unsolved. But don’t hide information unnecessarily. Don’t whisk a sudden skill out of a hidden bag of tricks just in the time to save the day.

Take the movie Terminator 3 for example. I believed the connection between Kate, her father, and John Connor. I bought it right up until the last few minutes of the movie, and then the story screeched to a halt over one thing.

If you’re familiar with the movie, you’ll know that the machines become self-aware and at last revolt against the humans. Nukes are set off. Our hero and heroine, John and Kate, must flee the military base for their lives. Along the way we’ve seen Kate’s resourcefulness and skills. When we met her, she was planning her wedding, picking out china, and reassuring herself she was marrying the right guy. Now the end of the world is upon her, and what’s she going to do to get her and John to the nuke-proof compound hidden sixty miles away in a mountain?

They run out a side door, and voila—they find a small civilian plane, all gassed up and ready to go. I can stomach a certain amount of convenience in a movie. It’s not always about reality, but it is about suspending disbelief. The plane didn’t bother me. Yet.

Then Kate runs to the plane, and flings these words to John:

"There’s my father’s plane. I trained on it…"

Really. Why didn’t we know this ahead of time? No, I don’t mean slamming the point home that Kate’s a pilot, etc. But maybe a picture in her apartment, of her by a plane would have told us: Kate flies. Kate has an important skill. At this moment in the story, I found it a really bad time for such a revelation that sounded more like an, "Oh, by the way…"

So after a few moments of peril, Kate and John fly to the compound where the shutdown controls await them (supposedly). But the last few minutes of explosions and peril were covered up by the flying remark.

Yes, give your characters them skills, make them interesting. Just remember to suspend disbelief, and leave bread crumbs for your readers to find. Let your plot twists and revealed secrets be the surprises.


Blogger Gina said...

Great point! I can't wait to discover what my character's special skill is.

10:08 AM  

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