News first. Volume 2 of the Night Wars, The Night Shift, has been contracted! I have no timeline yet, but I figured it was important. That, and I'm super excited.
Onto the post then.
Of Tattoos, Birthmarks and Cliches
When I was in college I decided to do independent study and write a novel in a semester. At the time it was my most ambitious project, and to this day it is still considered by all my friends to be the most technically challenging, experimental crazy book I've ever written. But that's not why I mention my independent study. See, the professor in charge had two independent study students. Myself and another young woman whose name is lost to memory. (I am terrible with names). I shall call her M.
We would read each others work, make comments, banter but it soon became clear there were a couple problems.
Problem one, she was devoutly Christian, and it showed in her critique of my book which was decidedly on the pagan side. Problem two, she was incredibly naive about the writing process and Problem three, she was unable to accept criticism regarding certain aspects of her book. Generally this was caused by "it's my baby" syndrome. I had by that point been broken of this syndrome by some rather amazing folks in a writing forum.
Every time I start to talk about birthmarks, I think of her and what I said to her the day I read her first chapter.You see her heroine had a birthmark. On her hand. That got warm when danger was near.
Do you see the problem? Anyone at all? Birthmarks in fantasy novels have long been placed on hands. David Eddings did it in the Belgariad, it was done in Eragorn, and many others. Being that the book was contemporary fantasy with a literary twist, I suggested she change it up.
Why is there is never a guy with a birthmark on his ass that gets really cold when danger/magic/fate is near? That would be different. And shouldn't we always be aiming for something different?
The Reason Behind Birthmarks
We give characters birthmarks for one of two reasons. Either the birthmark somehow benefits the character or hinders the character. (It looking cool is under beneficial) I tend to steer clear of birthmarks, though that rule does not always apply. A new character of mine, Tal, has a birthmark which is similar to one a family member has. It's magic--sort of--in so far as it identifies him.
I am a fan of branding. (That sounds really dirty now that I read it again) Two separate characters in The King's Dog world have brands. One of which is beneficial, and the other a hindrance. Though in the beneficial one's case, it's starts out bad and ends good because the meaning the character associates with the brand changes.
Tattoos are frequently used to help define a character's personality, culture and religion. They can also be magical, and of benefit and harm. Fynn has a tattoo which protects him from possession, but he also has a tattoo of the Starfleet logo on his back. This is the sort of tattoo I would consider characterization. It serves no purpose, has no meaning, but tells you something about Fynn. In his world, tattoos become a necessity for protection rather than just ink on skin.
Tattoos can have a myriad of meanings, associations and reasons behind them, but you can go overboard. Not every character is going to have ink. I have a higher percentage of tattooed characters than I used to, but the bulk of them occupy the Night Wars world, so that makes sense.
Figuring out if your character is the kind of person who would tattoo themselves is the first step. Tal, my new boy, took that literally and tattooed himself. A first for a character of mine. He's an oddball.
Whenever deciding to have a mark of one sort or another it's important to consider consequences. If you've set your story in rural Kansas and your MC has full sleeve tattoos well, I can imagine he's going to be looked at differently than if you stuck him in Brooklyn.
And try to put birthmarks in creative places.