A Bubble Off Plumb
by Tex Thompson
All right, intrepid writerati – riddle me this: How come stage actors and TV/movie people always have to put makeup on, even when they’re not supposed to look like anybody but themselves? If you said “well, because those stage lights make them look extra washed-out and plain, so they need to put makeup on just to look normal” – you are correct! (Exhibit A: Carson Daly in this article.)
Words on a page are just like lights on a stage. The reader can’t literally see your characters or setting – they have to conjure everything from one paltry trail of Times New Roman breadcrumbs. Like a TV screen, the page is an artificial barrier between your audience and the action – and so the figures you ‘film’ will need extra definition to stand out.
Whatever traits you want the reader to remember need to be magnified and exaggerated, even if only a little bit.
Strive to write characters and settings that are “a bubble off plumb” – not level, not quite as expected, not perfectly realistic. Whatever traits you want the reader to remember need to be magnified and exaggerated, even if only a little bit. A perfectly realistic ‘strange old lady’ might collect stray cats and Precious Moments angel figurines, and that’s fine. But if she’s got a little elderly Scottie dog named Angus the Twelfth, and Angus the First through Eleventh are all taxidermied, stuffed, and shelved in hand-sewn angel costumes (while poor sickly Angus the Twelfth glances nervously up at the halo she’s fitting him for) … then you have Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, and your reader’s full attention.
So go to it, brave writer! Tip the level brazenly – powder and make-up your characters so they shine through the words into your reader’s imagination.
About the Author:
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is a ‘rural fantasy’ author, egregiously enthusiastic speaker, and professional ruckus-raiser. She is the author of the Children of the Drought, an epic fantasy Western trilogy from Solaris, as well as an instructor for the Writers Path at SMU and ‘chief instigator’ of WORD – Writers Organizations ‘Round Dallas. She’s an endlessly energetic, catastrophically cheerful one-woman stampede. Find her at thetexfiles.com and wordwriters.org!