Monthly Archives: August 2012
Elaine Cantrell: On Characterization
Welcome Elaine Cantrell to the blog! I’ve read her A New Dream, and it was a great read. Take it away, Elaine…
If you’re an author, you hope to create memorable characters who will help your story come alive and captivate your readers. Most authors, get to know their characters inside and out before they even begin a book, but how do they reveal their characters to the reader so that the reader understands the character too?
First, we learn about characters through their speech. What do you learn about Fred Emerson in this excerpt from A New Dream?
“Who brought you home?” demanded her father, Fred Emerson. “Where’s your car?”
“Alternator failure. It’s in the parking lot at work. The new manager, Matt McCallum, brought me home.” Violet hugged her mother Beth and her sister Jessie who both had a big pile of beans in front of them.
“You could have called me,” her father insisted.
Violet hung her purse on the coat rack near the door. “I knew you were busy with the garden stuff, Daddy. He offered, and I didn’t see any reason to turn him down.”
Fred snapped a bean with more vigor than necessary. “McCallum acted like a gentleman, I hope. Some of those pro-ball players don’t behave too well.”
Violet frowned. “He was a perfect gentleman, Daddy.”
“Good.” Fred tossed a handful of beans into a dishpan. “He’d better continue to be. I won’t tolerate anybody messing with my daughters. I don’t know what the world’s coming to these
Right off the bat we know that Fred is an old-fashioned, maybe overly protective father.
We also learn about characters from their appearance. What do you learn about my bad girl Stacey? She’s also from A New Dream.
Her style hadn’t changed much since she ran out on him. She still dressed to attract attention, and judging from the expression on several nearby male faces, she hadn’t lost her touch. She was wearing a short skirt, knee boots, and a sweater that was probably half a size too small. She looked as chic, expensive, and sexy as she ever had, but the sultry, come-hither look he’d always loved didn’t do much for him now.
So, Stacey’s an extrovert, sexy, likes men, and probably uses her looks to get what she wants.
A character’s private thoughts also tell us what he/she is like. What do you find out about my New Dream hero Matt McCallum? Matt was a pro-football player who lost his career when he lost a leg in an accident.
He had worked like a dog on that leg, but he still limped, and it felt like knives stabbed him with every step he took. His career was over, and he had lost almost everything he had loved and valued. Yeah, he felt drained.
Nevertheless, he always kept such dark thought to himself. God forbid he should invite anyone’s pity! He’d rather be dead first.
We see that Matt is depressed over the changes in his life. We also see that he’s a proud man who doesn’t want anyone’s pity.
We also learn about characters from the way others see him and react to him. In this excerpt, my New Dream hero told my heroine that he won’t leave her porch until she talks to him even though the weather is icy.
Dinnertime came and went, and Matt still sat on the porch. “I’m going to take him something to eat,” Beth declared. “He has to be starving.”
Violet guessed her mother was right. Matt had once told her that the effort of walking with a prosthesis burned additional calories, but the picture of Stacey etched in her brain hardened her heart. “He isn’t your problem, Mother. Leave him alone.”
Nerves on edge, Violet started to cry, and when she did Beth tackled Fred. “Fred Emerson, you do something right now! I’m not having it on my conscience if that young man freezes to death on my front porch, especially since I believe he’s telling the truth.”
“Mother! I thought you were on my side!”
Fred pounced on her statement like a cat on a catnip mouse. “I knew it! You’ve always liked him.”
“Well, you do something, and I mean now!”
Don’t you think it says a lot about Matt’s character that Violet’s mother believes he’s innocent of betraying Violet with another woman?
A character’s actions will reveal a lot about them too. What do you think this excerpt says about Matt?
Matt patted old Mrs. Watson on the arm. “I’m sorry for the confusion, ma’am.”
Bristling with indignation, the woman nodded her head. “See to it that it doesn’t happen again.”
As she stalked away, the red-faced cashier blurted out. “I wasn’t wrong.”
“I know it, but she’s old. Make a note of the amount, and I’ll put it in the register.” He winked at the cashier who no longer looked upset.
He smiled when he turned around and saw Sam Dickson watching him. “Coffee in my office?”
“Well, we aren’t going to drink it in the produce section are we?” Sam quipped.
He’s kind to old ladies? This is a nice guy!
And now, if you’re interested after reading so much about A New Dream, here’s the first part of the prologue. The book is available at http://www.astraeapress.com/#ecwid:category=662249&mode=product&product=2676585
Or, if you want a print version go to http://www.amazon.com/New-Dream-Elaine-Cantrell/dp/1461091047/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306945508&sr=1-4
The red convertible cut a path through the moonlight, its headlights dancing along the arched limbs of the trees above the road.
“Oh, Matt, it’s such a beautiful night,” Stacey declared with a sigh. “I’m going to miss you when you leave tomorrow.”
Matt reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. “I’ll miss you too, but if I don’t report on time, I’m in trouble with the coach.”
“That’s what I get for falling in love with a pro football player,” Stacey teased, her blonde hair turned to frosted silver by the light of the full moon above them.
Matt squeezed her hand that wore his engagement ring. “It’s too late to back out now,” he teased. “You’re mine.”
“Mmm, do I like the sound of that!”
The car rounded a curve, and without warning a deer bounded across the road.
“Look out!” Stacey screamed.
Matt braked sharply to avoid the animal. The tires slid on a patch of loose gravel in the road, and he lost control of the convertible. It fishtailed and started to spin in the road.
Matt hauled the steering wheel to correct the slide, but it was useless. The car turned around once more and skidded backwards for a short distance before it charged off the road. It jumped a steep ditch and went airborne. All Matt could see was a blur of trees and darkness as the car careened into the woods. It made a lazy turn in the air and came to rest bottom side up.
The last thing he remembered was the sound of Stacey’s screams.
Thanks for reading!
Hope. Dreams. Life… Love
The Winner of Friday Fan Day is…Yvonne Hertzberger
Barrymore Tebbs: Creating Characters Using Tarot Court Cards
Welcome my pal and psychological gothic fiction writer Barrymore Tebbs to The Writing Life. He’s blogging about something I often find challenging—creating characters, and he has a spin I bet you haven’t seen before. Read on…
This morning I worked on a scene with two teenagers, the MC and his love interest, eating lunch at a Woolworth’s counter in 1962. I wanted their waitress, Doreen, to be more than a name tag and a beehive. I shuffled my Tarot deck and the first court card I came across was the Page of Wands, reversed. Guess what? Doreen is a Prima Donna, thinks her stuff don’t stink, talks dirt behind people’s back, and though she’s the major breadwinner in the family, she can’t hold a steady job.
Tarot is a fascinating tool which can be used for so much more than charging someone twenty bucks and telling them they are going to meet a dark haired stranger with lots of money (that would be the King of Pentacles, by the way). For those of you who don’t know, our playing cards are descendants of Tarot (minus the Major Arcana)… four suits with ten cards each, along with a King, Queen, Knight and Page. The last two seemed to have been combined into the Jack somewhere along the way.
As writers, we come equipped with a strong sense of character and story, which is exactly what the Tarot is all about. The court cards are fairly easy to understand, especially when we consider that these sixteen cards have a direct correlation to Jungian Personality Types as identified by Meyers/Briggs and others. (A more detailed comparison of the Tarot court cards to the Meyers Briggs Personality types can be found here http://tarot.lindagailwalters.com/Tarot-Minor-Arcana-Court-Cards.html )
The suits of Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and Cups correspond to the elements Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. This is a simplistic distillation, but Earth represents money, product, commerce; Air represents the intellect, education, the law; Fire, creative and sexual energy; Water, the emotions, the subconscious, and the arts. Combine these with the mature male and female (King and Queen) and the immature, or underdeveloped or undisciplined qualities of the youths (Knight and Page, also referred to as Prince and Princess) and you have the sixteen personalities.
When I wrote my book, Night of the Pentagram, I was challenged with creating a sanitarium full of unique personalities. Given the nature of the plot as psychological thriller, they each had to be fully realized and their stories revealed through multiple scenes of group therapy and one-on-one encounters with the heroine. The story is set in Hollywood in the late 1960s, so I started with a handful of “types” which older readers recognize from that era.
One of the more colorful ones is Jewel St. John, writer of trashy Hollywood novels a la Jacqueline Susann. I knew going in that Jewel was a real bitch, but that’s not enough to carry through a 70,000 word novel. Drawing on my twenty-plus year knowledge of the Tarot, I used traits of the Queen of Wands, reversed, to create the background and personality of Jewel on her profile sheet.
In the Queen of Wands, we have a mature, fiery female with a strong personality and creative drive. She is warm, vivacious, and witty. When the card is reversed, these and other positive attributes are disgraced. Here are a few excerpts from the profile I created for Jewel:
Outgoing and egotistical, can be abrasive, especially when drunk, which is frequently, expects most people to kiss her ass, temperamental, demands her own way, busybody, mischief maker, shit disturber, interferes in others’ affairs, poor listener, bitter, self-centered, despises male authority.
Jewel is a closet lesbian. She is an alcoholic and is prone to public acts of violence. She has assaulted sales clerks, photographers, and wardrobe assistants at television studios. Her psychiatrist and attorney were able to plea bargain with the judge after her latest fiasco, so she has voluntarily had herself committed to the Abernathy Clinic.
Lonely, though she is often in the spotlight, she has made a career out of writing vindictively about people she has known, thinly disguised in her trashy Hollywood best sellers, the first of which was deemed a Roman a clef because it was similar to her own early, failed career as a fashion model and bit part actress. She is twice divorced; both men died and left her their fortunes. She is extremely wealthy, though some have referred to her as a black widow. She is a regular on the talk show circuit.
Once the novel was underway, these aspects of Jewel’s personality manifested themselves through incident and anecdote. In the story as published, Jewel makes an unwelcome pass at our bewildered heroine, and there are several references to Jewel’s physical power when she is enraged, most notably that she picked up one of her critics and threw him through a plate glass window.
Many writers like to go with the flow and discover their characters along the way. Though I apply a Gothic style to all my stories, what I write are psychological thrillers, meaning that the plot and denouement rely heavily on fully realized personalities rife with secrets and hidden motivations. For me, developing characters in advance of writing is a necessity.
I’m not suggesting the use of Tarot as a replacement for the joy of characters sculpted from the writer’s own mind, but as a tool for added dimensions to bring greater subtlety and form to existing characters. Those who enjoy experimentation in the creative process may find something useful in this “mysterious pack of cards.” For more about the Tarot, this online course is an excellent starting point for beginners.
Thanks, Lisa, for letting me share one of my “tricks of the trade” with your readers today.
Find Barrymore online:
Winner of Friday Fan Day on Saturday
I had a little too much fun yesterday afternoon and forgot to draw a name! The winner of a copy of Secrets of Summerspelle is… J.L. LaRossa.
Please email me within 72 hours to claim your copy. 🙂
Have a great weekend, all!
Friday Fan Day
Jadean Leaft! You won a copy of Secrets of Summerspelle.
I wanted to announce it here to make sure all is well with Facebook and its contest rules. If you’re Jadean, drop me a line at lisalgreer at yahoo dot com to claim your prize within 72 hours. Thanks to everyone for liking my page. We’ll do it again next week for another prize. 🙂