Making Characters Memorable

We’ve all met interesting people on our day-to-day lives that come to mind when we’re writing. And while sometimes it is the physical characteristics that capture us, or mannerisms, or the way they speak – they can be the jumping off point for a very interesting character in your book that everyone loves or hates.

Maybe the check out girl at the grocer who constants chews gum and blows bubbles. Irritating. Or perhaps the dentist that hums old show tunes while he works, rather than the Little Shop of Horrors guy. dentist_funny

The check out girl inspired a gum popping receptionist for the doctors office (in my case). There are no humming dentists in my stories yet, but perhaps it will inspire a writer to tell the story of a serial killer that hums or sings while he does his thing.

What I really enjoy is emphasizing unique characteristics and making them memorable to the reader. Regina was a hair flipper. We’ve all known a hair twirler, flipper, or chewer. Right? It’s a very memorable habit. I once had a boss that had sinus problems and he was constantly clearing his throat, every day of the year. It was really annoying. How about the boss whose hair is NEVER out of place. A perfect plastic coated football helmet. OMG. I finally asked mine what kind of hairspray she used so I wouldn’t buy it by mistake, preferring a more care free – messy look. But that’s just me.

ladies_50s_fashionDo you know someone whose clothing, jewelry, shoes and purse match? Not so much anymore, but when I was growing up my mom even had a belt that matched her purse and shoes for many of her outfits. She was “put together”. Now days many of us wear jeans and anything goes with jeans, right? These are the things readers will remember, too, so use them. lady_jeans

You can never tell who will inspire you to write, so be aware and watchful for that memorable character you know or see on the street. They just might inspire you.

feisty families rock!

Do you have a feisty family? I do. Many of my friends do.

Are you wondering what the definition of a feisty family is then here’s what the dictionary has:

feisty: touchy, quarrelsome, spirited, plucky.

family: a social unit, a goup sharing common ancestry, members of a household.

Put those together and you have a spirited and quarrelsome household. At least, that’s what my definition would be (and is).tulips

The more I think about it the more I think every family has it’s share of feisty members. For example, a friend’s husband loves to drop a peanut into whatever pot of something is cooking on the stove when no one is looking. Peanuts don’t always go with whatever is in the pot on a given night and sometimes even causes some very unhappy diners when they bite into it unexpectedly. I’d call that feisty, wouldn’t you?

What feisty folks are in your life?

While doing some research for my next book I talked with some new acquaintances about what the families/community was like in their popular area of town.  “Mostly everyone gets along, keeps their yards nice, share their garden produce and watches out for each others kids. Except for one very old guy, who likes to urinate off his porch at dusk. He acts like he thinks no one can see him, so mostly we pretend we don’t.” Would you call that feisty or just plain weird?

I’ve always said families are messy and people are flawed, but that’s what makes them both so interesting. 

 What stories of feisty families can you share? (No names, please, let’s just keep it anonymous for now.)

“Yeah, so!” Teasing isn’t funny, it hurts.

contemplatingRemember when we were in grade school and someone was always messing with your name or making cracks about your size? I was tall and full bodied at an early age, and the boys teased me. Dad said they liked me, but it didn’t feel that way at all. Names like “Timber” or “Chunky” just don’t sound complimentary to me.  My grandmother told me that there would always be someone smaller, or smarter, or prettier  and be proud of what “you are.”

As I grew older the teasing didn’t seem to stop. The smart people teased those with an average IQ, the rich teased the poor, the loud teased the quiet. Crazy, isn’t it? What made it even worse was when you made a dumb decision. OMG. Your folks would never let you hear the end of it. (I resemble that now.) I realize that they just didn’t want me to forget and make it again, but…isn’t there a better way?

couple_sunsetWhen I got married I had fairy tale dreams of an equal partnership along with starry eyed love, but then reality steps in and you have to pay bills and keep the house, yard and car, and work really hard. It’s hard living with another person and eventually the stars go out and your love changes. If you’re smart your expectations become more realistic, too. People are complicated and unique. Good partnerships are hard work.

If you’re lucky you have children and guess what? You tease them a little bit when they do silly things. When they get older they tease you back unmercifully about losing your hair, your memory, your stamina and it feels a lot like it did when you were little and the smart kid called you stupid.

Why do we tease? We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. The articles say it’s because we’re insecure, or maybe even a bully. I hope neither are the case, but I’m guessing the former is the case many times. And it means that when someone you love tells you that you did something stupid or look old or act like you have a memory disorder, it hurts.

I can never think of a really intelligent retort. I’m hurt or mad or embarrassed so I either say nothing at all, or I get mad and curse, or I say, “Yeah, so!” Brilliant, don’t you think? Nah, I don’t think so either. So, perhaps there is a lesson there that “teasing” isn’t funny, it hurts. Let’s not hurt each other. Instead let’s look for the good things in each other. We all have them, and when we goof – show remorse or support or whatever it is that is appropriate. Show a little kindness! Are you with me? Well then, let’s do it!

You are your own Worst enemy?

When you were growing up did your folks or your grandparents say, “you are your own worst enemy?” Mine did.  I didn’t really understand what that meant until I became an adult. Still, it wasn’t something I wanted to recognize, even though it’s true.

bummed_faceSometimes it’s easier to keep doing what you normally do, than to stop and change direction. Here’s a great example. When you want to lose weight what do you think about most? Food! Instead of getting busy with a good book or taking the dog for a walk, we raid the refrigerator. Sad, but true.

When I wanted to learn a new language I’d practice every chance I got, UNTIL I became frustrated with my lack of progress. Instead of studying harder, you guessed it – I quit trying. What is up with that?

The things we REALLY want or need we can usually find time or a way to make them happen. Do we remain dedicated every moment of every day? Nope. This world is full of distractions, but if it’s something we really want…what do we have to do. Never quit.

You don’t fail unless you quit trying. Or maybe we should all remember what Yoda said, “there is no try–DO!” I’m with Luke, things seem too large to handle so we give up for a little while. But if we’re good little Padawan learners we’ll get back on the road we’re meant to be on.

Are you your worst enemy? It’s okay, you aren’t alone, there are a lot of us out here. The key here is perseverance, the will to try and to dream. Let’s change the cliche and accept the challenge to keep going. Grandmere Morgan says, “It doesn’t pay to look back, we’re not going that way.”

Forward ho!

 

“Be who you are – originals are much more valuable.”

“Be who you are – originals are much more valuable.” 

No arguments here! It’s the similarities about us or our interests that might bring us together, but it’s our individual differences that make people fun and interesting.

When I started writing Feisty Family Values I had trouble hearing each woman’s individual voice. The pictures of them in my mind were vastly different, their character sketches showed a variety of unique experiences, but somehow I couldn’t hear the differences in their dialog.

It took me several pages before they really came to life and I began to “hear” their voices. And about a quarter of the way into the book they started to take on a life of their own. The creative muse kicked in and wowza, I found myself writing about three original and distinct characters.

One of my favorite shows is NCIS. I always get a kick out of Tim McGee’s writing adventures. Like all of us he finds his characters in the people he meets and interacts with. But those are just impressions usually, a character has to be more three dimensional. We’ve got to see, hear, feel and even smell them sometimes.

How do you get to know them? One tool is to interview your characters. Develope their background, their careers, their relationships, their likes and dislikes. It’s all brainstorming and gut response, don’t plan too much or they will become stiff and unnatural. Readers want characters they can relate to, ones that seem real on the page. It’s an interesting journey to discover who your characters are and tell their stories as vividly as possible. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride, my friends.

What makes a great story?

tulips

Lucy (my Brittany) and I were walking at noon today and this question popped into my mind: “What makes a great story?” I think it’s interesting characters who are three-dimensional and vivid, a compelling plot that I can relate to, the relationships between the characters and questions answered, with some surprises thrown in.

Do you ever have trouble suspending disbelief? I do sometimes, but in a great book the world is built successfully enough that I feel like a fly in the room watching and experiencing what the characters are dealing with. A well written sci-fi is an excellent example. Does the alien with the green hair and 9″ nose seem real on the page? Does the planet with a heavier atmosphere that inhibits our flexibility ring true to the story? If the answer is “yes” then I’d say that story is being told very well.

Is there such a thing as the “perfect man” or “perfect woman”? Not really, because “perfect” is pretty boring. It’s our flaws that make us unique and interesting beings. Our quirks, our crooked smile, the uncontrollable snort when we laugh. I love those characters that do dumb things once in awhile, because that is what real people do – dumb things. For instance, substituting salt for sugar in a dessert recipe. Been there, done that. But I also admire characters that can do something I don’t know how to do – doctor, lawyer, indian chief.

Readers want to care about the characters and cheer them through the conflict in their lives, but if they are just a name with no face and no feelings, then my first response is – not interested. There are too many great books out there to waste time on one that isn’t.

That’s not to say that I only read “women’s fiction” or books about family and relationships. The fact of the matter is this, I read just about every genre. “So many books, so little time.” If it is  a great story – I want to experience it!

What is your idea of a great story?

Rambling of a Feisty Woman

muppets

Hey everybody. I just realized it’s been a week since I posted. I’m sorry, it’s been really busy around here.

Saturday I spent the day like this:

  • 6:30 AM went for a lovely walk with my friend Janice
  • 10:00 AM visited Marie at Greenway Park Apartments to discuss “Feisty Family Values”
  • 11:00 AM Went shopping at Granny Square’s/Chateau Holidays
  • 11:30 AM Lunch with my friend Kim
  • 12:00 Noon Went shopping in Delano discovering some nice things at “Lady Grace”
  • I read “Finding Salvation at the Dairy Queen” for awhile
  • 5:30 PM had dinner at mom’s with the family (and cake & presents, too)
  • Sunday I did all the chores I didn’t get done on Saturday but made time to go see “Men In Black 3” with my grandson (loved it!)

My point here is this, often we feisty women find ourselves going from one thing to another thing until we stop, drop and sleep. We wear many hats, have many responsibilities and love to have fun, so we do everything in our power to fit it all in. There in lies the challenge.

There are times when something doesn’t get done. Rachelle Gardner wrote about that today in her blog and a bunch of feisty ladies commented. I love that type of interchange. It ROCKS! Anyway, we regularly have to choose what gets done and what will have to wait for tomorrow or the weekend. Isn’t that what life is all about? Choices?

And what about the men who pick us feisty women? They are usually our opposites, quiet, logical or regimented, OR adorable slobs with paperwork phobias (in other words, not very organized). I shared an article the other day that tickled me, it was about “What type of muppet are you?” Chaos Muppet? Or Order Muppet. Personally, I’m chaos muppet disguised as order muppet. Aren’t a lot of us like that? We do a good job in one area and learn to hide it from others so they won’t know the truth. Silly, but true.

The fact is, nobody is perfect – and I’d much rather be flawed and feisty with enthusiasm. Care to join me? (comments welcome!)

One Day at a Time.

Panda bear

Do you remember the sitcom by that name? It was one of my favorites with a very young Valerie Bertinelli, Bonnie Franklin, and Mackenzie Phillips. I never missed it. It was all about a single mom with two teenage daughters coping on their own. I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between the characters and the infusion of humor in daily situations. It was a great story.

What I’m struggling to remember is that I need to live that way, too. Take things “one day at a time,” and enjoy a bit of laughter along the way. We all know that sometimes that is hard to do. When you’re so busy at work you forget to eat or take a health break, and your back starts to ache from sitting so long. When your trying to fix something on the house that ought to take a couple of hours and instead it takes a couple of days because something breaks or doesn’t fit right. When someone you love is ill and there isn’t much you can do to ease their suffering.

A nice conversation with our maker, a walk in the falling leaves, some extra sleep, and a good cry can help. Chocolate or cheesecake are good soothers. A hug, a foot rub, and a hot bath work wonders. But the bottom line is, we have to take things “one day at a time”, focus on one thing at a time, and realize we won’t get every little thing done perfectly every time. We’re human. We’re flawed. And that makes for good story telling.

Enjoy the journey, my friends.

 

Character flaws can be fun!

kewi faces

We all have read characters with flaws that we’ve loved and hated. Flaws can make a character VERY interesting. The trick is to make them believable. Face it, people aren’t perfect, and our flaws can be our most interesting parts. The crooked smile makes the face more attractive. And it’s not just the physical flaws that we notice. We also notice the ticks and manners of speech that some people do repeatedly.

I know a lot of people that have a thing about hair. They always have their hands in their hair, playing with it, twirling it, putting it behind their ear even though it never stays. That’s not necessarily a “flaw.” I’d call it more of a “quirk”. My grandmother always had a hanky or tissue up the sleeve of her sweater or in the pocket of her apron. Maybe not as quirky as hair twirling, but it became something she was known for. I have a friend whose favorite curse word is “shit.” She seldom uses another. You always know that is the word she is going to use to express displeasure. Did you ever know a little kid in grade school that picked his nose? Now there’s one that’ll stick with you. (pun intended) How about a nail biter? A closet drinker? Someone who hums?

What is my point? These are the types of things the characters in your story can do to make them seem more “real.” Some ritual or mannerism that they always do, like a signature. In Feisty Family Values, Regina flips her hair when she’s mad. Annabelle wrings her hanky. Tillie cooks to handle all kinds of situations. Make them fun, not too repetitive, and something we can all relate to.

Characters

We’ve all met interesting people on our travels that come to mind when we’re writing and creating new characters for our stories. And while sometimes it is the physical characteristics that catch our eye, or mannerisms, or the way they speak – they can be the jumping off point for a very interesting character in your book that everyone loves or hates.

Maybe the check out girl at the grocer who constants chews gum and blows bubbles comes to mind. Or perhaps the dentist that hums old show tunes while he works sticks in your memory. The check out girl inspired a gum popping receptionist for the doctors office (in my case). There are no humming dentists in the story yet, but perhaps you’ll write about a serial killer that hums or sings while he does his thing.

You can never tell who will inspire you to write, so be aware and watchful for that someone memorable.

BD