Creating Unique Characters – Mother Yackle from “A Lion Among Men”


Describing a character in as little as five or six sentences can be a daunting task for a new writer. Too often I find myself getting lazy in this respect. It is so easy to say, “He had soft green eyes, hair the color of sand, and a thick, chiseled chest.”

While this is a suitable description, I find that it does a very poor job of making my character – and my writing – unique. I want to do more than describe a type of human, I want to evoke the image of this specific person.

We all have eyes and ears and even, believe it or not, muscles. What we don’t all have is a broken nose from a bar fight, or a tattoo of the name ‘Bob’ across our chests. More importantly, we don’t have the stories behind those characteristics.

As I studied some of my favorite authors’ characters, I found one that really got me thinking. It is a type of character that I have tried writing myself. Even some of the characteristics are the same. What struck me, though, was how Gregory Maguire’s description of an old woman could be so much stronger than my own. His use of similes and hyperboles always leave me in awe of his creative mind.

Below, the Lion Brrr has just sat down for an interview with the infamous Mother Yackle. This comes from chapter five of his book, “A Lion Among Men.”

He didn’t like the look of Mother Yackle. Who could? She was a walking cadaver. Her eyes rolled, ungovernable but to the spectacle of her inner sight. Her lips were thin as string. Her nails had kept growing while she was interred, and they made a clacking sound like a set of bamboo blinds being lowered against the noonday sun. When she went to scratch a place on her scalp, she misjudged the angle of approach and nearly punctured her own eardrum.

What a visual! How easy would it have been for him to say, “she was an old blind woman, with thin lips and long, clacking fingernails.” Again, a suitable description, but one I find to be very boring. As writers, it is our job to use words in a way that stimulate the mind and tickle the senses. Of course, we all have our own style of writing. But if we want our words to stick, we should at least be sure we are telling our story in the truest form possible. In the odd world of Oz, I find Maguire’s voice to be right on target.

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