Monthly Archives: March 2014

Building Character

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Protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters… Where do they come from? Our heads of course. We can shape them, manipulate them any old way we choose. And by adding bits here and there we eventually leave our readers with an impression of the person we’ve created. If it’s our protagonist, we usually want our readers to feel empathetic towards him or her so maybe we make them vulnerable. If it’s the antagonist, we often imbue this character with traits that conflict with the protagonist thus creating tension.

We can get lots of mileage from physical attributes as well. Take Captain Hook for instance. He was mean and menacing and what could be scarier for a child than a villain with a silver, pointed hook for a hand. Or how about Fantine in Les Miserables? We see her beauty fade as she first sells her hair, her teeth and then her body.

Right now I’m creating characters for my next novel. Piecing together parts from people I know or characters from movies, books and television. Kind of like a quilt of granny squares. The eyes for one of my main characters, a 13-year-old Jewish girl, I got from from the cover of a book. It’s pinned to my bulletin board. Her friend looks a lot like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver – tough and lanky. ¬†And the Jewish grandmother is soft and round with an ample bosom just like a dear friend I once knew.

And if we’re really good at it, creating a character, sometimes that fictional being takes on a life of his or her own. One such character for me is Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie sang to me. I loved her spunk, pluck and tenacity. I found myself wishing that I had known her for we’d surely have been best friends.

So what characters have left a lasting impression on you?

Write on everyone!

Say Hello to My Little Friend

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By now I’m sure you’re getting sick of me saying writing is such a solitary endeavor – how we sometimes need to reach out and find camaraderie. Well I did just that the other day. Or rather I didn’t go looking for it, it just kind of jumped off the shelf!

I was in this little knick-knack place not far from here. It was a Sunday afternoon and I just had to get out of the house. You know the feeling… Anyway, I was meandering through this store with it’s surplus supply of winter slippers and live bamboo shoots thinking that there wasn’t really anything I needed and that I was just killing time so I didn’t have to go home and fix dinner, when my eye was drawn to this odd figurine. The strangeness of it caught me off guard. I mean just look at it. It took a moment for my head to get around that fact that there sat an orangutang with eye glasses reading a book. And looking rather engrossed at that. The more I looked at it, the more I felt like I was intruding – that I was invading his private space.

That’s when I knew I had to buy him. And that he would sit on my desk, day in and day out, forever reading his book. He won’t disturb me. He requires nothing, except for perhaps a little imagination on my part. So when I think I can’t write anymore, I’ll look up and see him with his somewhat irritated look, as if he’s saying, “Get back to work and stop bothering me!”

We all need that little nudge sometimes. For some it’s a mug with a special saying. For others it’s an inspirational poster or a special piece of music. I found what I needed Sunday on a shelf.

He’s perfect.

By the way. He has no name. Any suggestions?

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