Not A-Z because K is for Krazy

Things are a bit crazy today, so I will have to put off my K post until tomorrow.  But no worries; I’ll get it done.  Today I had to clean the house because I won’t have time to do it tomorrow.  And this happened:

treefall

TIIIIMMBERRR!!!

Yeah, I actually yelled that.  Had to.  Not apologizing.

The sweet gum tree was dropping those evil alien gumballs on my neighbor’s driveway (and heaving it up with the roots) so it had to go.   That’s a screenshot I snipped from a video I took.

Now I have a thing with some people at a place.  But I will be back tomorrow with my K post.  Happy Saturday!

Character: J is for Job

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Sad news today.  Sue Townsend, British author of the Adrian Mole book series and a delicious book about the Royal Family called The Queen and I, has died at 68, of complications from a stroke.  We’ll miss you, Sue.  Rest in peace.

sue-townsend-001

Image:  Eaomonn McCabe / theguardian.com

J is for Job.

If your character were a real person, what kind of job would he have?  In the U.S., we tend to define ourselves by what we do for a living.  When we meet someone, one of the first getting-to-know-you questions we ask is, “What do you do?”

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when choosing a profession for your character.

Why does/did he decide to do this work? 

Tunerville’s protagonist Chris owns his own landscaping business.  Although he’s college-educated, he likes being outside, working with his hands, caring for his clients’ outdoor spaces.  He’s no Einstein or Donald Trump.  He’s just an average, everyday guy who works hard.  He has expenses and lives in an inherited house.  He didn’t go to school for it, but he enjoys what he does.

Though Chris is doing all right, he doesn’t make big bucks.  This makes him vulnerable to a TV network’s offer to buy his ghost tuner—a few million dollars is enough to blind him to what they are actually planning to do with it.  Not only that, but he loses clients over the tuner.  While he no longer needs the money, it affects his reputation, and that is troubling to him.  Once he can see his mistake, mitigating the damage becomes more urgent.

Your character’s job could also just be something he does to pay the bills.  Whether he loves it or not can make a difference when conflict arises.  If he does, he’s going to be a happier person than someone who dreads going to work.

Maybe if I ignore the alarm, it’ll go away.

Maybe if I ignore the alarm, it’ll go away.

 Image:  David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If the conflict results in his losing the job or abandoning it, who is more likely to struggle with that—a protagonist who likes going to work, or someone who runs out of the office at five o’clock like the building is on fire?

What time of day does he go to work?

Most of us work during the day, but a whole lot of people go to bed when we’re just getting up.  The night shift shows you a different perspective on the world.  Though it’s not for me, I’ve done it, and it is a little weird.

Rotating shift work is hazardous to a person’s health (all that readjusting your body clock).  In the dark, you can’t see the monster coming.  And all the bad people like to come out at night, when there aren’t as many witnesses to their shenanigans.  You can punch up a cop story just by setting your detective’s shift (or certain activities) after sunset.

This affects the kind of crimes he would investigate.  Most bank robberies, for example, happen during the day when the bank is open.  The detective isn’t likely to work one at 2 a.m., but he might handle vice cases and certainly will deal with murders after dark.

Does his job relate to the events of the narrative, or are they secondary to the plot? 

Writers like John Grisham and Michael Palmer (also RIP, dammit) root the stories and characters of their best-selling thrillers in the worlds of their own professions (Grisham in law and Palmer in medicine).  By doing this, they provide their protagonists with ready-made conflicts they can mine for dramatic effect.  It’s easy to manufacture hair-raising scenarios in either job.

If a character’s job is sufficiently varied, you can set up a whole series around it.  Real detective work, public and private, can be pretty mundane, though it does carry the potential for mayhem.  There is a lot of uncomfortable conversation with witnesses and suspects, far less espionage and gunplay than most people think, hours spent combing through records both digital and on paper, boring surveillance, etc.

But everybody loves a baffling mystery.  Add an unusual protagonist and a juicy villain or two, and you can have a series many people find tremendously exciting.

Likes it enough to follow Sherlock Holmes around for over a hundred years. 

Likes it enough to follow Sherlock Holmes around for over a hundred years.

 Image:  fanpop.com

Will his job enable him to find resources on his own, or will he need to get help from someone?

The protagonist of a techno-thriller is going to have a much easier time tracking down an evil sentient computer bug if he already knows everything about computers.  A character who can barely work his smartphone is going to have to find an expert.  If the gap is too big between what he knows and what he doesn’t, you’ll waste a lot of story time while he tries to figure it out.

Some writers get around this by dropping experts into their character’s laps, but you shouldn’t just make them appear out of nowhere.  The deus ex machina died out with classical Greek drama.  There has to be some reason the protagonist would know to go to that person, and any character who tells him to do it should have a sensible reason for being there.

———-

Try different hats on your characters.  Make them more interesting with non-traditional jobs.  It might require some research on your part, but that’s one of the things that makes writing fun.  Switch up gender stereotypes—a male nanny, a female dock worker, etc.  You can do it as a writing exercise, or use it to drive the plot of your story.

Character: I is for Independence

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I is for independence.

We think of independence as part of adulthood—taking care of ourselves without parental assistance, or providing for our own needs.  Other types of independence exist, however.  Which ones will your character have or attain in your story?

This depends on several factors.  Is this person a child?  Then he may not be very independent in actual practice, but he could be in personality.  If an adult, what kind of independence does he have?

  •  Physical independence (PhI):  Lives on his own, can travel alone, and takes care of his own needs, like food, clothing, and shelter
  • Emotional independence (EI):  Can regulate his own feelings; they aren’t contingent on what other people think and don’t control him
  • Psychological independence (PI):  Makes his own decisions and trusts their efficacy

(Abbreviations are mine; I didn’t want to type independence 4,238,681 times)

Dependent people may find themselves in relationships that aren’t good for them because their EI is weak.  They may not leave the parental home in a timely manner or return constantly because they aren’t competent in PhI yet.  A low PI means they might make hasty decisions or choose something because it’s the opposite of what another character thinks they should do.

At opposite extremes, a very independent character may not seek help from others or reluctantly accepts it because he is afraid of appearing weak or is used to having to do everything alone (like Harry Potter).

This Chosen One crap is bloody stupid.  Somebody help me!

This Chosen One crap is bloody stupid.  Somebody help me!

Image:  fanpop.com

The different types of independence and how they evolve—or clash—in a character lend themselves to story conflict.  And as we all know, you can’t have a story without conflict.

A character who is a minor probably won’t be physically independent, but he could definitely have EI and PI.  While these could be personality traits, the character could also develop them if he has no reliable adults around.

Children’s and young adult fiction, particularly dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction, often renders adults incompetent and/or ignorant or restricts their assistance in some fashion.  It even sometimes removes them entirely.  A good example is a book I read as a kid called The Girl Who Owned a City (1975) by O.T. Nelson.

In this story, ten-year-old Lisa and her little brother Todd find themselves on their own after a plague kills everyone over twelve (PhI).  Lisa has to step up to take care of not only her brother but also other children who begin to see her as a leader (PI).  In the process, she has to learn to trust those who are close to her and can help (EI), like Harry Potter does.  Lisa is forced by circumstance into all three forms of independence.

If you create an adult character, you could make things interesting by leaving one of them out.  For example, your grown-up takes care of himself—he holds down a job, pays his bills, does all basic self-care, etc.(PhI)  But he could have crippling anxiety that causes him to vacillate wildly on making any decisions (no PI).

He could be really clingy in romantic relationships (no EI).  How independent you make him will affect his family relationships too, assuming you decide to let him have children, parents, or siblings.

Oh, for God’s sake, Mycroft, stop being so annoyingly fraternal.

Oh, for God’s sake, Mycroft, stop being so annoyingly fraternal.

Image:  punkbunny87.blogspot.com

Destroying independence is another way you could create conflict in your story.  You could take a previously self-sufficient character and render him incapable in some way.

  • Maybe he becomes ill or injured and can no longer take care of himself
  • An emotional trauma causes him to cling to someone or something that offers comfort but isn’t necessarily good for him
  • He makes a huge mistake and begins to second-guess his decisions to the point where he is completely frozen

Whatever you decide to do with your character’s independence, remember that the vast majority of people need each other.  We’re not built to go through life’s trials without any support.  If you can twist this truth enough in either direction, your story could rocket to places you never dreamed possible.

Character: H is for Happiness

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H is for Happiness.

Most people think of happiness as an end result.  However, it can actually be something that happens along the journey.  Think of all the advice people give regarding happiness.

 You must be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else.

 Enjoy the small things.

 Take time every day to be grateful.

 Remember those who helped you and give back twice what you got.

Lots of good advice, but how often do people heed it?  Complications wrought by the pursuit of happiness make good fodder for stories and for character development.

Is your character relatively happy with her life?  If not, why not?  What motivates her to be happy?  Think about what a person needs to reach this state of being.  It will vary between each one.  If a character is not happy, and you offer her the means to be that way, to what ends will she go to achieve it?  Is that the goal for this character, or will she find it on the way to something else?

A character may seek happiness by pursuing a specific thing.  But maybe you could have her go after something she thinks will make her happy (like monetary success), only to find out that it is a complete lie, and she finds it by being honest with herself.

 Or not.  

Or not.

 Image:  Rosen Georgiev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some people enjoy being miserable all the time.   How many of us have been suckered into helping a whiny friend or relative repeatedly, because nothing seems to get any better? They may use it to control others—making them miserable too, eliciting sympathy or even tangible goods and services from them.

Maybe they like the drama misery brings.  Their lives are pretty good, but adversity brings attention.  If they don’t have any, they manufacture some.

They may hide in misery.  Fear of change, or of taking a risk at being happy and crashing to the ground in flames, they prefer to stay where they are.  The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, right?

The first major conflict in the story will affect your character’s happiness level.  He may be pretty content at the start, but when he runs headlong into a huge change, he’ll have to choose a path.  Will it be the safe one, or the dangerous one?  Which will bring him closer to his goal, or help him achieve it?  Will he be able to return to his previous content state, or will things change so much that he’ll have to accept a new normal?

 @DrJohnWatson tweeted:  Really just want a nice, quiet cuppa with my sweetheart and my best mate and—oh bloody hell.  Bring on the danger.  #addictedtoacertainlifestyle 

@DrJohnWatson tweeted:  Really just want a nice, quiet cuppa with my sweetheart and my best mate and—oh bloody hell.  Bring on the danger.  #addictedtoacertainlifestyle

 Image:  primetime.unrealitytv.co.uk

(WARNING: Don’t click the image link if you haven’t seen Sherlock: Series 3 yet.)

If he’s miserable, try shoving something terrific at him and watch him squirm.  Decide where you want your character to begin.  Then you can mess with his life in all sorts of ways.  Muwahaha, writing is fun!

Character: G is for Gender–of the writer!

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How do you write a character of the opposite gender as yourself?  The first caveat is to beware of stereotypes.  Otherwise, you’ll doom your protagonist to a fate worse than death:  the dismissive eye-roll!

I’m a female writer who creates a lot of male characters for some reason (don’t ask why; I really don’t know).  I’ve had male readers look at my work.  So far, none of them have said I didn’t get it right (although I’m sure not every single detail was completely accurate).  My brother read Rose’s Hostage and said Joshua was exactly as a man in love thinks and behaves.  (Yay!)  Even so, that’s still only one man’s opinion.

Overall, men and women are more alike than different.  Aside from our naughty bits and reproductive organs, we have the same basic anatomical structures.  Heart, lungs, gallbladder, intestines, liver, eyeballs, etc.—all the same.  We all poop, pee, sneeze when we have a cold, and bleed when we’re cut.  And it’s all red.

 Except maybe for this guy.

Except maybe for this guy.

 Image:  Wikipedia.com

We both get hungry and feel better when we eat.  We get tired and feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep (unless there is some kind of underlying health issue).  We have the same emotions, the same hopes, fears, and dreams.

Still, dissimilarities exist.  What might a female writer need to consider when creating a male character and vice versa?

The genders are different in certain ways.  Physiology is probably the most obvious.  Men are generally larger than women.  Agent Scully might end up crawling through the ductwork because Agent Mulder won’t fit.

They have more upper body strength, proportionately.  Mulder can probably carry Scully out of the burning building, but she might have to drag him out.  Anatomical differences will dictate how characters do certain things.

Re the naughty bits:  how do you describe physical sensations?  What does it feel like to get socked in the nuts?  How does a male orgasm differ from a female one?  What’s it like to have menstrual cramps, or give birth?  How many men want to know that last one?  Not many, I’d guess.

Nope nope nope nope. 

Nope nope nope nope.

Image:  artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You could read a lot of literature about men that describes similar feels.  You could Google it (believe me, it’s out there).  Or, you could ask someone of that gender and hope they can describe it to you in a way that makes sense.

Men and women are pretty much the same when you’re talking about personality, intellect, and things like values and qualities.  Your biggest difference is going to be socialization.

It’s definitely something to consider.  You should start with personality and socialization, because those two things will dictate a lot of the following elements:

  • Language choices:  Men use fewer words on average, but does this occur due to a guy’s personality or societal norms?  You could have a male character who talks everyone’s ears off.  That wouldn’t necessarily be considered feminine, nor would a woman who doesn’t talk much be thought of as masculine.
  • Perception:  The cliché is that men don’t notice the same details that women do.  This study seems to think there are differences in literal sight (and they favor the men on small detail!).  But a trained observer—male or female—is going to notice more things overall.
He sees EVERYTHING. 

He sees EVERYTHING.

Image:  marcelmovies.blogspot.com

In Thomas Harris’s brilliant novel The Silence of the Lambs, agent-in-training Clarice Starling excels at victimology because she sees details about the female victims that drew the gender-confused killer.  Her observation that kidnap victim Catherine Martin owns bespoke clothes for large women leads her to Jame Gumb, the murderous tailor who is making himself a woman suit—out of real women.  Clarice doesn’t do all the work (she’s too inexperienced), but her perception hones in on things the male agents do not notice.

Remember, this is a female character written by a man.

  • Expressing emotions:  Women are often perceived as being more emotional than men, even when they’re acting rather reserved and businesslike.  Your female character doing so-called non-traditional work (a firefighter, for example) might yell at a fumbling trainee in exactly the way a male character would.  Because of this stereotype, her coworkers may react differently.

Bob yells at trainee Walter.  Everyone says, “Bob’s a tough trainer.  He lets you know when you screw up.”

Catherine yells at trainee Walter.  Everyone says, “Damn, Catherine is a bitch.  She’s too emotional for this line of work.”

Yes, I know.  You’re thinking Dafuq? But it’s real.  And male writers, you have to consider it, because it could change the way Catherine acts in certain situations.

Below, I have listed some books I particularly enjoyed where the author was a different gender from his/her protagonist.  If you have any recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments for other readers to check out.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 

Discussed above.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden 

This book was so good it made me insanely jealous I didn’t think of it first.  You would not guess a man wrote this if you didn’t know.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

All the main characters are men.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series has male and female characters of all ages, but the main protagonist is a boy.

Character: F is for Family

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F is for Family.

Does the character have one?  How did he/she grow up?  I put this under family and not children or childhood because it extends into adulthood.  A character who grew up with a family who did not give a crap about her may not give a crap about anyone else.  She could defend people who cared for her as a child or exhibit vengeance toward them if they did not.

If she has a child, this will change how she reacts to other people and things in the story and affect what actions she takes.  Her reactions will differ from someone who doesn’t have kids, even someone who may be protective toward younglings.  Most mothers would fight a ravening grizzly to the death to keep their little ones from harm.  Other moms might be too high to care.

You can also have a character hook up with a surrogate family.  A great number of people consider their friends their families, either because they’re too far away from blood relatives, estranged from them (or don’t know who they are), or none of them are living.

 Even if they are, they might just irritate the hell out of you. 

Even if they are, they might just irritate the hell out of you.

 Image:  cinepremiere.com

And of course, when a character forms a long-term romantic partnership, he or she creates a family.  It may not contain children, but the two together are now a unit.  For someone who grew up on his/her own, this could provide all kinds of readjustment for a writer to explore.

This leads me to another point.  The events of your story should dictate whether your character has a family, too.  In Rose’s Hostage, I deliberately chose to alienate many of the characters from this kind of relationship to increase their vulnerability.  Libby, the hostage, has no family at all; all her relatives are dead.  Her best friend Jade is like a sister to her and is in a serious relationship herself.  Libby has tried to form a romantic attachment, only to have it blow up in her face.  When we meet her, she’s bored, directionless, and ripe for the picking.

Along comes Joshua the bank robber, who has no family ties either and whose one attempt to create them ended fatally.  Libby is vulnerable to the capture bonding that occurs when he kidnaps her.  Despite Jade’s attempts to support her, it’s not enough to prevent what happens.  (I’d love for you to find out what happens, if I ever get my manuscript back and get it published.  Rawr!)  Joshua becomes vulnerable to her as well, which proves a huge (and deadly) distraction.

Bonds with coworkers can affect the story too.  Example:  When Skye in the TV show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D first joined the group, she tended to be sneaky about stuff and fly by the seat of her pants because she was so used to being completely on her own.

Now that she’s more a part of operations and Agent Coulson (love him!) is offering her stability and guidance, she’s starting to open up and work more collaboratively with them instead of going her own way (i.e. behind their backs).  She’s becoming one of the S.H.I.E.L.D family.

 “Daddy?” 

“Daddy?”

Image:  zap2it.com

In turn, Skye has begun to mean something to them.  If you watched the “T.A.H.I.T.I.” episode where

****SPOILER****

she gets shot and they go to the underground bunker to get the drug used to bring dead Coulson back to life,

****END SPOILER****

(By the way I figured out how to do this, haha!)
you will have seen what lengths her new family will go to in order to help her.  Adversity is a good tool with which to build relationships in a narrative, and so is a common goal that characters share.

Character: E is for Emotional Traits

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E is for emotional traits.

Your character’s emotional makeup affects his interaction with other characters and defines how he handles both his daily life and whatever adventures (or mishaps) you decide to give him.  Is the character outgoing or quiet?  Does everyone know when he’s mad, or does he keep it buttoned up?  Does this change during the course of the story?  If so, how?

According to some psychologists, the Big Five of personality / emotional traits consists of:

  • Openness:  receptive to new experiences and new ideas; intellectually curious, creative
  • Conscientiousness:  dependable and organized
  • Extraversion:  talkative; gains energy being around others
  • Agreeableness:  cooperative, compassionate, and friendly
  • Neuroticism:  worries a lot; nervous, anxious, and sensitive

You can inherit personality traits, but they are influenced also by environmental factors.  Each person is different, and each person has different levels of these traits.  Mix and match and see what you come up with.

I’m guessing REALLY low on extraversion and agreeableness. 

I’m guessing REALLY low on extraversion and agreeableness.

Image:  Colin Hutton/theguardian.com

Probably neurotic as hell.  But can you blame him?

Probably neurotic as hell.  But can you blame him?

Image: bbc.co.uk

When a character goes through a trauma or some event that causes him to adjust his worldview, it can change his personality to a degree.  Increases and decreases in these traits also occur with changes in age, such as neuroticism becoming quite high in adolescence, and because of depression, etc.  However, if your character is mostly agreeable, he probably will continue to be so overall after something bad happens, but maybe not in certain situations.

For example, let’s say I made up a character named Tim.  He’s pretty friendly and nice, until someone kills his sister Marian during a convenience store robbery.  Now Tim is very upset and angry.  It will take him some time to recover from Marian’s death.  Once he is able to get past the bulk of his grief, people will say, “Oh you’re back to your old self again.”

That doesn’t mean Tim will be the same as he was before.  Maybe he is really depressed, and all his rebound sociability is fake.  He could be suicidal (Marian was his best friend; they were twins and he couldn’t confide in anyone else, and he is lost without her) and then he meets a woman who reminds him of his sister, someone he can talk to.

Or, he could go to eleven on the anger scale and start hunting for the bastard scum who killed his family.

My name is Tim.  You killed my sister.  Prepare to die.

My name is Tim.  You killed my sister.  Prepare to die.

 Image:  graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net   

Tim could fake being okay by day, while at night, he scours the streets of the city to dispense vigilante justice while wearing a black—oh wait, that’s Batman.   Anyway, consider your character’s emotional makeup as you develop him or her.  Strong emotions or hang-ups create interesting interactions with other characters.

Character: D is for Dynamic

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No tornadoes yesterday, at least not here.  But it’s now cold again.  I don’t know about you, but I’m thoroughly sick of it.  It’s cold in my house and it’s hard to type.  What I really want right now is a nap (thanks, comfy blanket!), but I’ll do the best I can.

D is for dynamic.

A dynamic character is one who changes over the course of the narrative.  Does he learn anything?  Do the events of the story alter his perceptions in any way?  Does he do things he would not have done at the beginning, for whatever reason?  Is there growth?

Unlike static characters, who stay the same throughout a story, the inner personalities, thought patterns, and outward behavior of dynamic characters will alter as the events unfold.  The change can be abrupt or it can be a slow process, a struggle through the entire story arc.  It doesn’t have to be a positive change either.  The character can fall apart completely and then either stay that way, die, or hit bottom and come back up.

Whatever you do with him, it must make sense within the narrative.  People don’t alter their entire worldview for minor things.  You can’t have your character show signs of extreme trauma when he’s merely stubbed a toe.

“Finding out your wife has an enormous and dangerous secret vs. tripping on the kerb?  Well, bollocks; I don’t know which one’s worse.” 

“Finding out your wife has an enormous and dangerous secret vs. tripping on the kerb?  Well, bollocks; I don’t know which one’s worse.”

Image:  buddy2blogger.blogspot.com

You must also avoid derailing the character; that is, don’t make him do things he would never do based on how you showed him earlier.  If he’s doing something because the story demands it, then it better be an action he could and would reasonably be capable of performing.  Keep your evil characters evil.  Don’t make a menacing villain suddenly turn into a ginormous teddy bear.

SPOILER! 

This happened in The Dark Knight Rises, when Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter revealed her childhood association with Bane, who then made puppy eyes at her like a nanny on crack.  All the air went out of him at that point, and he ceased to be a frightening and credible threat and just became stupid.  TV Tropes calls this badass decay.  Don’t do it; it’s annoying.

OKAY, SPOILER OVER.

Sorry, I’m on the free version of WordPress and it won’t let me blank out spoilers (that I’m aware of).

Don’t make the cute little girl suddenly pick up a machine gun and blow everybody away, unless you’ve established a clue earlier that she either might know how to use it or can learn really quickly.  Most small children can’t handle automatic weapons.

I have my doubts about these two.

I have my doubts about these two.

Image:  Phaitoon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dynamic characters will move your story along.  As they evolve, their actions and reactions will initiate changes from other characters.  When Samwise Gamgee leaves the Shire with Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, he’s just a simple gardener and Frodo’s manservant.  By the time they reach Mount Doom, he has ridden in a boat, fought orcs, and killed the horrific giant spider Shelob.  Frodo’s deterioration and steadily decreasing ability to even care for himself brings out fortitude in Sam that he never knew he had.

Come on, say it with him; you know you want to.

Image:  xoyannie.com

The best protagonists don’t stay the same through a story.  Have fun putting your characters through their paces.  Give them things to do that challenge them.  We should all live this way in real life, too, because it keeps us fresh.

 

Character: C is for Critical Flaw

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We’re under a tornado watch today, so I’m charging my phone and blogging my post right now, just in case.  Welcome to spring east of the Rockies!

 

I’m in yer backyard, rearranging yer patio furniture.

 Image:  NWS/NOAA  / Wikimedia Commons

A critical flaw is something inherent in your character that will affect the story conflict in some way.  It might drive him to act, perhaps wrongly, in situations or keep him from acting when he should.  There are a million examples—Harry Potter always trying to do everything himself without asking for any help, the Marquise de Merteuil’s blindness to the consequences of her mean-girl enjoyment as she toys with her lovers (and everyone else) in Les Liasons Dangereuse.  I’m going to use Sherlock Holmes as an illustration, because I’m reading the stories right now.

 No, truly, I am.  Did I really need an excuse to post this?  Did you mind?  I think not. 

No, truly, I am.  But did I really need an excuse to post this?  Did you mind?  I think not.

 Image:  benedictcumberbatch.co.uk

Holmes’s insatiable curiosity and expansive intellect make him an excellent detective, because he 1) can’t resist the mystery, and 2) he’s driven to learn what he doesn’t already know.  He’s also an eccentric jerk.  I’m talking about Literary Holmes, not BBC Holmes, though my first impression of that version was “What an ass.”

The stories are from Watson’s point of view, so we get a bit of an exalted impression of Holmes.  Watson is enamored of his intellectual friend and partner.  He’ll get up out of bed in the middle of the night to go run off on an adventure with this guy, who basically treats him like an adoring and slightly annoying puppy.

Literary Holmes is a perfect example of a charismatic sociopath who is capable of occasional social niceties, though he can hardly be bothered.  He’s more engaging with people than the BBC Holmes and even laughs.  I don’t recall BBC Holmes ever smiling, except in the “His Last Vow” episode, and I knew in one second that was fake.

At times, I find Literary Holmes’s superior way of explaining things insufferable.  I wish Watson would tell him to stuff it, but he’s far too polite.  He often reminds me of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, only without the insecurity that makes Sheldon so endearing.

 

*knock knock knock* Watson…*knock knock knock* Watson…*knock knock knock*Watson…

*knock knock knock* Watson…*knock knock knock* Watson…*knock knock knock* Watson…

 Image:  bigbangtheory.wikia.com

Sherlock Holmes has an interesting critical flaw; because he’s so intelligent, he thinks he’s one step ahead of everyone.  As Irene Adler clearly showed him in A Scandal in Bohemia (1891), he isn’t.  It interests me that Doyle chose to make this defeat come at the hands of “the woman,” which was ballsy for a writer in protectionist Victorian times.  Despite his admiration for her smarts, Holmes neither trusts nor exhibits any apparent physical desire for any member of the female sex.

It’s a pity Doyle didn’t work this flaw to a greater extent.  I’m not finished reading the stories yet (you should see the size of the collected works—oof), and I know there is one where Sherlock shows a bit of affection for Watson, who is just about his only friend.  (Not like that—good cripes, get your mind out of the gutter!)

What I would like to see on the show is someone (not Irene—too easy) utterly destroy the great detective with an entire episode series story arc.  Make him flail.  You can’t appeal to sociopaths on an emotional level, so the only way to do it would be to frustrate him nearly to death.  I want to see Sherlock Holmes LOSE HIS COOL COMPLETELY.  Perhaps this could happen after they’ve worked their way through all the story adaptations.

Give your character a major flaw, and then exploit the hell out of it.

 

 

Character: B is for Backstory

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Today, I went to the passport office to turn in my application, so I can invade the U.K. later this year.  It will be so nice to have an actual vacation, far away from the yapping dogs and revving low-riders that have overtaken my neighborhood.  Perhaps I’ll win the Lotto drawing before then and I can afford to move.

 This will do. 

This will do.

Image: xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 On to A-Z!

B is for backstory.

 In what sort of culture did your character grow up?  Whether we like to admit it or not, our backgrounds influence what sort of adults we’ll be.  While backstory doesn’t have to be a part of your narrative, you should definitely think about for your major characters.

The three male protagonists in my novel Rose’s Hostage had absentee fathers and one who was abusive.  This shaped them in various ways:

  •  Pierce the detective adopted his wife’s dad as a surrogate father
  •  Joshua the bank robber values independence and control
  •  John Cook the serial killer rebelled silently, underneath a façade of decorum

Libby the hostage also never knew her father, though she spent summers with her grandparents and did have a male influence.  Still, she seeks a bond with a strong man who perhaps to her is the fulfillment of a wish fantasy, a hero type she has built up in her head who will swoop down and save her from her humdrum life.  Too bad the one she finds (Joshua) is more of an anti-hero.  Libby is every woman who ever fell in love with the wrong man.

Single mothers raising kids alone is common.  Will this bond the character to another one over their shared background?  Will they seek to put it behind them?

Actors who study or practice Method acting talk about motivation.  As a writer, you’ll seek the same inner contemplation for your major characters.  To make them well-rounded, you will have to think of them as real people, with hopes, dreams, traumas, and fears.  They feel all the same things you do, in varying levels of intensity.

 Even this guy. 

Even this guy.

Image:  fanpop.com

 So how to do this?   It’s not always easy to identify with people in situations that are alien to you, and that can make it difficult to write a character’s behavior authentically.  If you can draw parallels to the situation, you might find moments in your own life where you can recall a similar feeling.

You can elicit your own past here, but eventually, as a writer, you’ll have to imagine scenes to which you have no possible real-life connection.  Re acting techniques again (so many of them are useful for writers; or maybe it’s just me, because I did so much theater in high school and college), Stella Adler modified the Method and urged her students to use the scene’s circumstances to stimulate their imaginations.  Adler also advocated doing research to understand different experiences better.  (I do this too!)

Another helpful tool is character worksheets.  I love these; I make one for each of my major characters and even paste pictures of people or drawings in them that resemble how they look in my mind.  Many of them have questions or list items where you can jot down things like your protagonist’s socioeconomic status, whether they have siblings, where they spent most of their childhood, etc.  Imagine you are your character as you fill it out.

You can make your own, or google character worksheets for writers.  There are thousands of them.

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Reveal backstory carefully; avoid the “information dump,” where all your backstory suddenly shows up in the narrative in one large clump.  Work tidbits in here and there.  Let the reader get to know the character as we read (I need to work on this one).  Your tale may not make much use of all the background, but your characters will have more depth if you think about where they came from.