(this is a re-write of a post I did back in November of 2007, which was deleted)
Researchers love to look at deviant behavior. These are the things we do that fall outside the “normal” range of how most people usually act. Sociology and Psychology scientists eat up odd human behavior like the desert does rain: they can’t ever get enough of it.
Sometimes your fiction needs a character with a secret. Deviant behavior is a great place to start building that secret life for your character. A deviant behavior with a lot of potential is Body Modification. An abundance of research exists about body modification, so there are many different character traits to consider. Many forms of body modification can stay hidden to your character’s family and friends. The modification can add a plotline that can go many different ways. E.g., if you are stumped because your choir girl Bess is too straight-laced (and boring) to steal the church collection plate (which you need her to do), then give her a secret life (a.k.a. subplot) filled with tattoo parlors and hidden piercings. An Iron Maiden tattoo just above her genitals would add a bit of flavor to Miss Frumpy Solo Soprano now wouldn’t it?
Originally used solely for tribal rituals around the world, tattoos and piercings have leaked into the mainstream culture. But it’s still a minority of people in that avidly participate in the sub-culture surrounding body modification. This makes tattoos and pierces perfect fodder for secretly scandalous Bess.
People who engage in body manipulation are saying something about who they are and how they want to be seen, even if the tattoo or pierce is in a place where the sun don’t shine. Bess knows the story behind the Maiden tat and it’s up to you, the author, to decide whether or not she reveals it to Reverend Bobby (who was *ahem* expecting a virgin) and your readers.
Is one of your characters a closeted body manipulator? Perhaps a tattoo scene is warranted in one of your plotlines. It can be humorous or serious, just make sure it gives your reader some insight into your character’s views of herself. Even a slight mention of a tattoo or extra pierce when you are describing your character’s physical appearance may lend just enough mystery and depth to your character to keep your readers engaged. Everyone loves to hear a good tattoo story, so they’ll keep reading if they think one is coming.
But be warned: If you mention the tattoo, you MUST tell the story behind it. There’s an old adage credited to the Russian writer Anton Chekhov: “If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.” A character’s tattoo is the present-day version of Checkov’s gun. In other words, don’t focus your reader’s attention on something unless they need to know it in order to figure out the story (or psychoanalyze the character). Disobey this law and your deserted inbox will be drowning in aggravated reader emails for 40 days and 40 nights.
Speaking of which… Bess’s Maiden tattoo: what do YOU think the story is? 😉