So I went for a walk, and spring is definitely springing. We had rain the other day, and as you can see, there were soggy triangles of puddles reflecting a cloud-mottled sky. The grass is here, and the leaves unfurling.
I wasn’t the only one; the park was packed with cyclists and joggers and strollers; the tennis courts squeaking under use; the softball diamonds sending up soft wafts of sand as players did drills.
But my idyllic interaction with the great outdoors darkened along with the sky when a man ran past me wearing shorts. I caught sight of the tattoo on his calf.
It was a lightning bolt.
Now, I don’t know this man, and I have no idea of his process in deciding on that particular tattoo, but as you may or may not know, a lightning bolt is often a symbol of the so-called white power movement.
On the other hand, maybe he felt it was a symbol of how fast he runs. Though he was really only running medium-fast, but that’s not the point.
It made me wonder about a person who — if indeed it was a loud’n’proud symbol of his contempt for anyone not like him — felt the need to put it out on display. My mind turned, as it often does, to writing.
Let’s be clear here. As I had no conversation with this man, and I had nothing more than a glimpse of his leg as he passed me on a running path, he’s really little more than a person I’ve constructed in my head. But if he were a character in one of my novels, I would find that tattoo far too much “tell” and not enough “show.” With one symbol, you put his essence right out there.
Sometimes you might want that. If you have a character with a bit part, and you want to establish him in few words, that’s a really quick and easy way to do it.
On the other hand, if he got that tattoo without understanding the larger possible implications, that’s a potential source of humor and conflict, which works for both minor and major characters.
But if it’s a character with substance and a penchant for racial superiority, take the longer route there, and let your readers notice the reflections.
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