What is a tag?
It’s a label you slap on your character to make him/her identifiable to your reader.
Appearance: A tall, broad shouldered man leaves a much different impression than a frail, hunched-over man. Well-dressed vs. sloppy. Manicured fingernails vs. callused palms. Appearance says a lot about your character.
Speech: Does he have an accent? Does she talk fast, without taking any breaths? Does he stutter? Does she use verbose vocabulary or does she stick with monosyllables? How a person talks says a lot about his or her background, level of education, career, and social status. Pay careful attention to the speech tags you give your characters.
Mannerisms: nail-biter, hair twirler, fidgeter, lip licker, eye-batter…the list could go on and on. Be careful to avoid cliche mannerisms. Get creative here. My favorite is by Jill Kemerer, who has this awesome post about a character who picks the same scab on her arm over and over again.
Attitude: AKA Traits. punctual, bitter, energetic, flirtatious, competitive….
The purpose of tags:
1. To distinguish one character from another
2. To characterize
If a woman is flirtatious, show it via tags. Does she bat her eyes at men? Bite her lower lip in order to draw attention to its fullness? Does she touch men on the shoulder or forearm when it’s not necessary? If a man is high-strung, does he pace? Does he mess up his hair when he’s stressed? Is he a chain-smoker who holds his cigarettes with trembling fingers?
That’s basically it about tags. Thus ends my series from Dwight Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. Sad, right? I hope they were helpful! I highly recommend the book. It’s wordy, for sure. But chalk-full of insightful information.
Question to Ponder: What tags do you give your characters?removetweetmeme