Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On tics, twitches, and quirks.

It's story time here at AINW. This is a tale from my high school days, a decade and some change ago. And there is a point to it, so stick with me.

Long, long ago, my sophomore English class did a mock trial, and I was a juror. While the rest of the class worked on their arguments, cases, etc., all the jury really had to do was develop our characters, since we wouldn't hear anything about the case itself until the actual trial. Being bored teenagers, we all decided to come up with a plot to add a little entertainment to the trial.

Basically, every juror had a tic. One person incessantly played with his tie. Another tapped a pencil. Mine involved wrapping a lock of hair around my finger, unwrapping it, wrapping it again. Tapping feet, fidgeting, crossing/uncrossing legs, etc. Our jury foreman had Parkinson's. (I never said we were politically correct about this)

The trial began.

Opening arguments, questioning, cross-examinations, objections, blah blah blah.

One juror's tic began. Then his would stop and another's would start. Down the line, one at a time. Then two at a time. Finally, the entire jury was a twitching mass of tapping, turning, twisting, and twitching, which was fucking hilarious on video. And eventually, it got to the point that the attorneys, and defendant, and witnesses, and judge noticed something wasn't right in Juryville.

Mission accomplished.

Now, this was intended to be a (somewhat) subtle prank. Letting go of a little boredom, having some fun, etc.

Recently, while reading some various novels, I've been reminded of that twitchy jury. In an effort to make characters a bit less like talking heads, some authors have started giving characters little tics and quirks that show up A LOT. During the course of a conversation, a character will start playing with the same button they played with in the last three chapters, and the other character will start tapping a spoon against a saucer again, and the third will gnaw pensively on a thumbnail that, after the last six chapters, should be worn down to a bloody stump.

I'm admittedly guilty of it at times too. It's something I watch for, and I don't always catch it. At the moment, I'm intentionally doing it with one character because he's supposed to be twitchy, so I'm trying to keep the other characters from picking up the same habits, lest I end up with a mock trial jury on my hands.

Bottom line: Quirks and actions are good. Applying them so liberally that you end up with a quivering mass of high school mock trial jurors? Not so much.


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