What's Your Character's Hook?
Does Your Hero or Heroine Have A Special Skill or Talent?
by Angela Ackerman
To forge a compelling character, we need to dig around in their past to understand what experiences shaped them, who loved them, hurt them, and what needs and desires motivate them in the story. Based on what we learn, we then can choose positive character attributes that suit their personality, and assign flaws that come from their fears, which will trip them up and make it harder for them to reach their goals.
Another facet of character creation is deciding what special skills or talents the character might have. On the surface, skills and talents make a character interesting, but choosing the right abilities can also strengthen your story and make your characters memorable to readers.
Skills & Talents Can Add Character Depth
Skills and talents can range from a person being mechanically-minded, to wilderness navigation, to having a knack for archery. What you choose for your character doesn’t have to be mainstream–in fact, sometimes unusual talents add originality (like knowing how to hot wire a car…especially if the character happens to be a high school principal!)
Skills can also show a side of the character that reveals something deeper. Consider a trained assassin who is able to attribute any bible quote to its chapter and verse. This not only alludes to a somewhat surprising upbringing considering his chosen profession, it also indicates intelligence and discipline. Discovering the hero’s talent raises questions, ones that will keep readers turning pages so they can discover the answers.
Skills & Talents Can Allow You To Deliver Backstory Without Dumping
As mentioned above, when a character displays an unexpected talent or a skill, others take notice. Better yet, the people around him in the story will ask about it, and this gives you the opportunity to deliver snippets of back story in a non-dumpy way.
Skills & Talents Can Mask a Character Flaw
Each character is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and flaws are what the protagonist must overcome in order to achieve growth and go on to attain the goal. The problem is that people don’t always know what their flaws are. The last place a character might expect to find his is in an area where he feels special or extraordinary, making it a perfect hiding place for his Character Arc epiphany.
For example, your star tennis player might be focused, talented, athletic, and hard working. But he may also be a perfectionist, pushing himself and others to the point where it damages relationships or forces sacrifice in other areas of his life to compensate. Likewise, a talented healer may be selfless, kind, and generous, and she may have a friendly nature, yet her propensity for putting others first means she puts herself last, resulting in feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied. Both of these characters will need to take a step back from their abilities if they want to gain insight into themselves, and achieve a better life balance that will lead to greater happiness.
Skills & Talents That Might Seem Useless Can Actually Be the Character’s Hidden Strength
It’s common for someone to feel they have useless talents. After all, how can whistling or gaming skills aid someone in the real world? How can being a bit of a comedian help the hero or heroine achieve a goal? This mistaken belief that one’s talents have no value can create low self-esteem, especially when others reinforce this message through teasing or criticism. This gives the author a huge opportunity to stand the story on its head by building in a scenario where this very talent leads to achievement. As a result, reversing this belief in the character’s own mind about his value brings about self-growth (the goal of Character Arc!)
So what is your character’s special talent or skill, and how does it fit into the story?
If you need inspiration, check out the full Talent and Skills Thesaurus at One Stop For Writers, or a sample of entries at Writers Helping Writers.
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as four others including the newly minted Urban Setting and Rural Setting Thesaurus duo. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. She loves connecting, so please say hello on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.