Characterization is one of the most important aspects of writing good fiction. Characterization is what gives authors the power to sway their readers. It's how you get your reader to fall in love with—or despise—the characters in your book.
Speaking of characterization, The Write Practice offers a tutorial with our seven best lessons on creating great characterization. It's free and easy to sign up for. Check it out here.
In this post, I want to give you a new technique to use to develop characters that I believe could transform your writing.
Why Your Character Needs an Eyepatch
What do we think when we see someone wearing an eyepatch? We immediately wonder.
“What happened? Is it real? Were they born that way? Was there an accident?”
In other words, “What's the STORY?!”
What if we could get our readers to be that interested in our characters?
What if our readers were the ones asking questions and flipping to the next page faster to see if they could find their answer?
Let's look at a strategy that will pique your readers' curiosity. I call it the Eyepatch Technique.
Three Reasons You Should Use the Eyepatch Technique to Develop Your Characters
Here are three reasons to use the Eyepatch Technique in your stories:
1. The Eyepatch Technique Creates Mystery
Mystery is vital to any story. We might start a book that has an interesting premise or storyline, but when the story falls flat lacking mystery, we're likely to put it down.
An eyepatch is not just something that makes you look twice; it is something that makes you question the backstory.
We work hard to make those backstories interesting, but the stories won't matter if our readers aren't curious in the first place.
When I was a kid, I had an uncle with a glass eye. Every time I asked him how it happened he would tell me a different story. I still don't know the real story, but it keeps me asking.
2. The Eyepatch Technique Creates Connection
“Eyepatches” foreground a personality trait or physical trait to which the reader can relate. When you incorporate these into your writing your reader will connect with the character.
A great example of the Eyepatch Technique is Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In the Rye. Holden's eyepatch is his absolute discontent for everything, and it's most visible in the amount of times he uses the word “phony.”
3. The Eyepatch Technique Creates Consistency
Another reason to give your character a figurative eyepatch is because it creates a relationship between the past and the present.
The red “A” in The Scarlet Letter, for example, is a small but constant reminder of Hester's past.
Use your character's current situation to emphasize their past. When your character's story is consistent, they become more reliable.
5 Examples of the Eyepatch Characterization Technique
Here are some examples of what an eyepatch could look like in your story.
Irrational Fears: A character might be afraid of dogs, gray cars, red lipstick, or the color green. Behind each of those fears is a story about why he or she is afraid of that thing.
As a writer, you can show the fear, but leave us guessing why the character is so afraid.
Mysterious Tattoos: Most tattoos, even bad tattoos, have a story behind them. Perhaps your character has a name, a set of coordinates, a specific date tattooed on his or her body.
Each of those tattoos can be a sign of mystery, something lurking in his or her past that the reader is begging to have uncovered.
A great example of this is the film Memento, in which the character's tattoos (SPOILER ALERT!) literally lead him to committing murder.
Flashbacks: Perhaps your character has a habit of spacing out in the middle of important conversations, a blank look sliding over his or her face, while images of the past come flooding back.
Flashbacks can act as an effective eyepatch, leaving readers curious to know more.
Just be careful not to give too much away too soon in your flashbacks. Flashbacks can lead to info dumping, which is a great way to destroy all your drama.
A Twitch: Could some early trauma have caused your character to experience a twitch at certain trigger moments?
A good twitch reveals a characters weakness, a weakness he or she is desperately trying to keep hidden. And behind every twitch is a fascinating story.
Scars: Scars can be physical, like Harry Potter's, or figurative, like a gruff attitude or an inability to get close to other people.
“The only requirement” to be a writer, says Stephen King, “is the ability to remember every scar.”
Don't be tempted to hide the fact that your character has experienced pain, suffering, even violence. We ALL have experienced pain, and pretending it doesn't exist merely alienates us from your character.
The key is to keep that pain hidden by an eyepatch until just the right moment.
Good Characterization Is About Mystery and Connection
The Eyepatch Technique is a way to add mystery to our characters.
Just as an eyepatch covers something on a person, the Eyepatch Technique is a way of covering a wound or misshapen piece of a character's personality, giving the character an air of mystery and suspense.
Let's be honest—we all have wounds, we all misshapen pieces of our personalities, and behind each of those wounds and character flaws lies a story.
Perhaps it's time for you to tell that story.
What figurative eyepatches do you use? Let us know in the comments below!
Practice using the Eyepatch Technique to develop a character with a trait like we discussed above.
Take notes on your character's eyepatch for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments below. And if you post, please be sure to leave some ideas for your fellow writers!
Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.
On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.
She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.