The more I learn, the less I know. But this past experience of working with an editor really taught me a few things.
One thing I've been musing on lately is the difference between character tells and character traits.
I like to use character tells. In the past, I thought it defined the character.
It does not.
It is one part of the equation, but without building those tells into traits we are writing uni-dimensional characters.
As you may know, a character tell is something they do.....clicking their tongue, straightening their tie, refusing to drive a car and walking everywhere
We should never give a character a tell without building it into a trait.
For example Clicking their tongue implies judgment....is this character judgmental?
straightening their tie incessantly implies vanity or insecurity.....does this character have other vain or insecure traits?
refusing to drive a car implies cowardice or past issues....do we support this in the character as a whole?
If we have a character who flips her hair but isn't at all vain then we may be missing an opportunity to create more depth.
We need to pay attention to which tells we choose to use....use them sparingly....and back them up with fleshed out traits.
For example...in my new WIP, I have an antagonist who is dangerous and very controlling. I have decided to give him a character tell of running his fingers through a cluster of keys that is always on his belt loop.
Why? the keys will play into the story but, more importantly, they are the source of his power and control. By having him constantly touch the keys, it shows he may not really be in complete control...that he might be seeking validation in that moment. Or he might just be reminding himself of his powerful position.
Either way, the tell was given for a specific purpose.
and, just for fun..here is a snippit of this happening in my current work (it's a modern day western MG):
He tugged on the wide brim of his Stetson hat and then ran his fingers through a cluster of keys hanging from his side belt loop. They clink-clinked against each other like ice cubes in a glass.
Questions: what do you think of this concept? do you use tells? do you support them with entire character traits? once I was able to catch the vision of this, it really helped me...I got so excited I just had to share!