Posts Tagged ‘character development’

The Gifts Your Character Receives

December 10, 2018

My mother sent me some Christmas ornaments that she inherited from a friend. Although I did not know this friend, Mom knew I would appreciate her workmanship, and wanted to make sure her legacy survived a little while longer. I appreciate the gift, not only because the ornaments are beautiful, but also because my mother trusts me to cherish them,and pass them on to someone else who will love them.

This got me thinking about character development. What is your protagonist trusted with, aside from carrying the plot? Is she the cousin who gets all of the batty uncle’s books because only she will take the time to catalog them? Is she the gardener who ends up with dying houseplants because her friends know she’ll nurse them back to health? Is she the keeper of the calendar for herself, her family, her church study group, and the neighborhood babysitting co-op? Whatever gifts she receives tells something about her (even more if she keeps them).

Luck and wisdom!

What Your Tools Say About You

December 3, 2018

I have collected cookie cutters most of my adult life, although I rarely use them outside of the Christmas baking season. They’ve come in handy for quilting designs, so I don’t feel too guilty about the number of cutters I’ve acquired. Still, your tools tell people something about you. My husband and I have been writing family biographies, and we’ve been amazed and amused at the tools our relatives collected, kept, and used.

As a novelist, I have given my characters something interesting to use in order to give the reader a better understanding of who these people are. Once I’ve decided what I want the reader to know, I insert the proper tool. My quilting heroines, for instance, use fabric, thread, and scissors in various scenes. As a biographer, I have to work backwards. I need to tease out what the tool meant to my relative based on what I remember and the stories told to me so I can better understand who this person was.

So here’s the deal, should anyone want to write my biography through the lens of my cookie cutters. I like bright, shiny things. I like tiny, cute things. I like cookies. And that’s really all these tools say about me.

Luck and wisdom!

The Nature of Language

October 1, 2018

I talk with my hands. Okay, as I’ve never mastered American Sign Language and don’t use my personal, private hand signals with any consistency it is more accurate to say I flail with my hands. No amount of magical thinking will ever give meaning to my movements.

These are not words

That begs the question of the nature of language, and how I can use it to add more depth to my characters. If I create a multi-lingual character, will he combine languages when he is stressed? If I create an extraterrestrial who speaks with colored light, will she spell words in the air when she learns English? My aliens in The Chenille Ultimatum use poetry for their prophetic messages – what would a species that speaks with dance use for prophecy, or stand-up comedy? Although my finger waves and wrist curls only make sense to me, in my writing they can speak with grace and eloquence.

Luck and wisdom!

Good News – There’s A Glitch

September 3, 2018

Everything was going fine, then there was a glitch.

My comfy chair

The release mechanism on my trusty recliner broke. Knowing that the seat was perfectly usable without the reclining function – and the rest of the sofa was nowhere needing to be replaced – I prepared myself for having to sit like a lady. Then my husband suggested trying to repair the mechanism. He succeeded, and now I can lounge to my heart’s content. I also got a chance to rescue all the beads that had fallen under the chair over the years.

They tried to escape, but I caught up with them

The experience reminded me of the emotions I need to convey in my writing. When a new villain appears out of the blue, how will my protagonist react? What will her first emotion, be? Her second? When will resignation set in, or the conviction that now is the time to fight back? While I’m not saying everything that happens can be translated to our stories one way or another, it never hurts to try.

Thrift and Character Development

July 23, 2018

Noah Longshore, my dad’s father, supported a wife and four sons as a coal miner during the Depression. What he didn’t know about thrift from being the youngest of twelve children, he learned in the ’30s, and the lesson stuck. He journaled throughout his life, but would be mindful of the paper.

Lani Longshore Noah's diary

Noah’s diary

This page contains entries from four different years. Noah would use the same journal until most of the pages were full. Reading his diary was a completely new experience for me, since I am used to seeing only one year at a time. I wondered how much of what he wrote on any given day was shaped by what he had written the year before, or the year before that.

Then I wondered if this might not be a fabulous technique for character development. What does it tell you about your character if he saves paper as if it were a treasure (which, of course, it is)? What does it tell you about your character that he can review his life in chunks if he so chooses? What questions would it answer about your character if you put together three (or more) events spaced over several years on one page? Let me know if you find the idea intriguing.

Reality Is In The Foot Of A Cat

April 23, 2018

One day in an antique shop, I noticed a simple but elegant bookcase filled with beautiful linens. On top of the stack on the highest shelf I saw a very realistic toy cat. I had to stretch to reach it. I tugged on its foot to determine if it was stuffed with kapok or buckwheat.

The foot was warm.

The cat’s expression was not.

 

 

Donovan the cat (not the one in the antique shop)

 

I considered myself lucky that a killer stare was the only thing the cat threw my way. It settled back to resume its nap and I retreated to a curio cabinet. Since everything was behind glass, I wouldn’t have to worry about mistaking a live critter for the work of a genius artist.

I was reminded of that experience when I told a writer that her character wouldn’t have reacted the way she wrote the scene. “The good news is I think of him as a real person. So real, that I’m ready to argue with you, his creator, about what he would or would not do,” I said.

We all laughed, but it’s worth remembering that the reader brings as much to our work as we do. The reader wants to see a fully fleshed character, wants to imagine having lunch with our heroine, or going fishing with our hero. If the reader tells you we’ve made the character act in a way she would not, could not, act – listen! Like beauty, reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Just don’t tug on its foot.

 

Character traits through the generations

April 16, 2018

I told you about finding inspiration for my characters in obituaries so my friends and family can’t complain that I’m using them for my stories. Sometimes, however, you run across a character trait that spans generations and just happens to fit what you need in your writing. That happened to me in The Chenille Ultimatum.

My dad and me a long time ago

This is my father. He was a great guy, usually laughing unless some piece of equipment had the temerity to misbehave. He also sang to himself. We’d hear him puttering in his shop, and all of sudden he would sing a snippet of some song he heard years ago, or yesterday, or just made up.

My grandmother

This is my father’s mother. She sang to herself, too. I discovered that one day when she was making lunch and didn’t know I was still in the kitchen. She started humming to herself, then sang part of a verse, then went back to humming. “Aha,” I thought, “that’s where my Dad gets it.”

That’s also where I get it, because I sing to myself too. No one noticed except my children (it annoyed them, so I made sure to sing whenever they annoyed me). Then one day I was working on a scene in The Chenille Ultimatum and I remembered this multi-generational trait. “Self,” I said, “have a character sing a piece of a song she heard from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from the aliens when they first landed on Earth.”

And so I did. The song becomes a plot point, since the aliens recognize the song and decide they can trust humans after all. The character trait comes from real people, but no one knew until I spilled the beans. Perhaps your family holds multi-generational character traits that will provide plot points too.