Character building

This blog is for writers, or those who would like to write, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.  I just want to cover one major aspect of writing, and that is character development. 

As far as I’m concerned, well formed characters are the most critical part of any book.  You can have a great outline, a compelling plot with ample suspense and drama, but without characters who  are real to you, the story won’t be as good as it could and should be.  You need to know much more than just the basics like hair and eye color, height and weight, and what they do for a living.

You need to know their family life was like when they were growing up.  Did they break any bones doing stupid childhood stunts, or have their appendix out when they were ten?  Who was their best friend?  What were they afraid of, and did they have any recurring nightmares?  What was their favorite subject in school?  What did they want to be when they grew up?  Is it related to what they actually do now?  How did/do they get along with their siblings?  Do they have any siblings?

This isn’t something you’re going to be able to take shortcuts with.  You want to take all the time you need to make them as real to you as you are.  You want to think about them often.  Imagine them in a variety of situations-and know how they would react.  Would they help a little old lady get groceries loaded in her car?  Would they stop at the scene of an accident and put their life on the line to save a victim from a burning car?  Administer CPR to a drowning victim?  Do they even know CPR?

These are all things you need to know to create compelling characters. But sometimes, no matter how much time and effort you spend, some of them are going to give you headaches.  Migraines, in fact!

I had one heroine that, no matter what I did to make her likeable, I just could not stand her.  And that was a really bad thing, since she was slated to be the star of the last book in a series of five.  I couldn’t come up with even one redeemable quality about this woman and was afraid I’d have to scrap the whole idea.  And that would have been a royal pain in the neck as I had already finished the first book.

So what did I do?  I Googled.  And Googled, and Googled, and Googled.  And finally found a solution.  At first I felt pretty stupid doing it.  So stupid, in fact, that I wouldn’t have had the guts to tell even one person about it, much less make it the subject of a very public blog!

But it worked.

How did I overcome my dislike of this key character?  I ‘interviewed’ her and her sister, another character I didn’t particularly like.  At first it just felt silly, until I got into it, and then I enjoyed it so much I sometimes felt like I might have a multiple personality disorder.  Until I realized it really wasn’t all that different than what I’ve been doing for years.  It was just another tool to use to in the creation more realistic characters.

During the course of that ‘interview,’ I discovered the reason behind the unlikable woman.  It all came down to a childhood where she and her sister felt very insecure. 

Yeah, I was in charge.  I could have gone a hundred different ways with that, but I built on what I’d already invested in her, and worked my way to a logical conclusion.  I opened my mind to make believe, which is all fiction writing really is.  

It was hard in the beginning, but I’ve done several more since, when a character is giving me fits.  And you know what?  It might take a few minutes to get into it, but then it turns into the most amazing experience.  You simply imagine the subject of your interview as a real living, breathing human being.  Keep the fact sheet you created for him or her handy, and then do your best to imagine their responses to your questions, given what you already know about them.

I was quite surprised to find that one of my characters had a very sharp sense of humor that, if I’d just stayed with the character outline, I’d never have discovered.  He turned into one of my favorite heroes in the series. 

So you can take it or leave it, but I think interviewing characters is a fantastic way to add new dimensions to them.

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Today I’m thinking about ‘firsts.’  Some things that fall into that category are good.  Like the first time you ride your bike without training wheels or a helping hand.  The first day of school, following the summer vacation you couldn’t wait for in January, but that got kind of boring after the first month.

That first date, when you can’t tell if you’re more thrilled or nervous because you’re afraid you just might throw up. That first driving lesson because it means you’re growing up.  That first paycheck.  On one hand you can’t wait to cash it and spend every hard earned cent.  On the other, you kind of want to frame it because you’re so proud of it.

And then you have kids.  The first time you hold that baby in your arms.  Nothing will ever be as special no matter how long you live.  Until the grandkids come around anyway.  You’ll never forget seeing that first smile or the first wobbly step.  The expression on their face the first time they see a snowfall or a puppy.  The first time they shout, “I hate you!” but come and give you a hug a few minutes later because they’re sorry.

When she was about three years old.  Awhile ago.

Some firsts aren’t quite as nice.  Losing that first tooth-or having it yanked out by a dentist.  Breaking a leg or spraining an ankle.  Having your cat leave a hairball mess for you on the floor (never, ever gets better).  Having a flat tire on a dirt road in the country in the middle of the night…with no cell phone or strong guy around to change it for you (voice of experience here!).

Some are really bad.  Losing family members ranks right up there near the top, but we’re not quite there yet.  Grandparents, parents, a spouse, other relatives.  Divorces and losing your job fit into this category, too.  Nowhere near as traumatic, but very painful anyway.

And then there’s the worst kind of all.  Losing a child.

My oldest daughter died this past December, following complications from surgery.  And I’m discovering all kinds of firsts.  First Christmas without her.  First new year that I’ve only had two kids instead of three since before my youngest was born.  My first Mother’s Day with only two.

And today.  Today is her birthday, and it’s been a little tougher to handle than I thought it would be.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it completely sucks.  I’ve spent every minute since waking up this morning going from tearful, to depressed, to angry, to doing everything in my power to think of anything but that.  Mostly I’ve succeeded at it, but not as much as I’d have liked to.

It’s a first I’ll be glad to put behind me.  But somehow I think that seconds, thirds, etc… aren’t going to be a whole lot easier.  It’s just one of those parts of life that you wish you hadn’t got to experience firsthand.

Happy Birthday, Kerry.

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I have turned into a big baby!

Well at least over some things.  I don’t like burning myself when I’m cooking, and will use plenty of ice and cold cloths when I do.  But I also hate going to the dentist.  Always have, always will.  And I’ve been there twice…in about a week.

Last Wednesday (I think) I had to get a chipped tooth repaired.  Pretty sure my blood pressure was up a little that day, even though it really wasn’t a big deal.  Except for the shot.  Shots in your mouth are always a big deal.

So is getting a tooth pulled, my reason for this morning’s visit.  And why I was completely stressed out and practicing relaxation breathing techniques from start to finish.

To explain my fear of dental work a little, medications that are supposed to numb you don’t work very well on me.  And I mean none of them.  For example, during my last C-section, I kept telling the doctor that something was hurting, and the only answer I would get to that is, it’s pressure.  No offense but I kind of know the difference between pressure and pain.

He finally believed me when a nurse gasped and exclaimed, “Oh my God!  She’s pulling her feet out of the strap!”

Not really supposed to be able to do that with an epidural I guess, but at least after that (pretty much immediately), the anesthesiologist adjusted something and all I felt after that was pressure.

Same type of thing happens with dental work.  Of course I don’t wind up with a baby from that, thank goodness!  But the Novocaine always wears off too fast and I’ve had some less than pleasant experiences because of it.

But now I have a new dentist, and I’m very impressed with her.  Things went very smoothly last week with the chipped tooth.  And she was very careful to make sure I was numb before pulling the one today.  I mean really careful.

Granted I was concentrating on my breathing so I didn’t freak out and land on the ceiling, so my memory might not be 100% reliable, but I counted at least seven shots, given over a period of a good ten or fifteen minutes.  And not surprisingly, the last one hurt the most…after all the rest had had a chance to work.  As I gasped, and imbedded my fingers in the arms of the chair she asked,

“Hit a live one there?”


Then she said something to the effect that I must just be hard to get numb.  I am so glad she realized that, and made the effort to make sure I was.  Because I suspect that it would have been yet another miserable, painful dental experience if she hadn’t.

So all I can say here is…I truly appreciate my dentist!

Now if the rest of the Novocaine would just wear off (after going on 5 hours now), and I could quit biting down on pieces of gauze, my day would be just perfect.  Kind of getting hungry after being up nine hours.

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Sometimes I just can’t help myself

It’s true.  It usually happens when I’ve had an especially long day, and am so tired I should just go to bed…but I don’t.  When that happens, my weird side comes bursting through in all it’s glory.

Yesterday was such a long and busy day I actually thought it was Saturday at one point (so glad it’s not because I like weekends!).  So I was exhausted from all the running around and activities and must have been in the just the right frame of mind when my daughter came out of the bathroom giggling about ‘fighting spiders on the wall.’

Don’t ask me why, because I really can’t say, but just the way she worded it reminded me of a song I’ve heard maybe half a dozen times throughout my life.  And since I’m stuck for a better subject today, I’m going to share with you my goofier side.  Keep in mind that I’m not a poet, but I just couldn’t resist trying to come up with a little song about the fighting spiders.

It’s two stanzas short of the original song, but it would be sung to “The Green Berets” tune….

Fighting spiders, on the wall
Hit them hard and watch them fall.
Nasty bugs, they’re such a pest,
Now they’re dead, it’s for the best.

Little monsters, they scare you.
Don’t feel bad, they scare me, too.
But when one, invades your house,
Be really glad, it’s not a mouse.

So hit those spiders, on the wall.
Squish them good, so they can’t crawl.
For if you don’t, give them a smack,
They might become, your midnight snack.

Little monsters, they scare you.
Don’t feel bad, they scare me, too.
But when one, invades your house,
Be really glad, it’s not a mouse.



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It’s been an interesting week…

I have really been slacking off on the blogs lately.  Part of it is due to the heat wave we’ve got going on in Michigan right now.  Part of it is trying to catch up on the sleep I missed when I thought I broke my ribs.  And part of it is because learning the art of book marketing is…well, to put it mildly…challenging.

In fact, it makes some of the courses I took in college seem like a breeze.  And let me tell you, business accounting was anything but!  Neither was the typing course, which was by far the worst.

That was a class where you taught yourself via labs, then took the final copies to the instructors who used rulers to measure page placement-to the tiniest millimeter.  One woman that I particularly disliked measured one of my papers several times, saying irritably, “It measures right, but it doesn’t look right.”  She, out of the three instructors, enjoyed giving failing grades, and I was never as glad to be finished with any class as I was with that one.

But book marketing?

That’s a tough one.  By nature, I’m not a very pushy person.  I like Facebook so I can interact with family and friends.  But I’m not sure I can use it to hawk my books.  Before I know what’s happening, people are going to be ‘unfriending’ me, blocking me, or cringing whenever they see one of my posts.

Then there’s Twitter.  I just don’t get it.  In time, I suppose I’ll figure it out, but right now it’s just kind of a jumble of posts by other people that don’t make any sense in a conversational way.  And if you do happen to be conversing with someone, you have to weed through dozens of disjointed comments from other Twitterers (or Tweeters or Twits, or whatever we’re called) in order to keep up.  Yet it’s supposed to be a valuable marketing tool.

Add to all of that message boards, forums and a list a mile long of other things to do and….I need a vacation!

So I’ve decided I’m going to take it one step at a time.  I’m going to choose two things to add to my marketing to-do list, and once they’re a comfortable part of my life, I’ll move on.

Right now I’ve found a reader’s/writer’s forum that I’m just loving.  The other members are great, and I’m learning a lot from them.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed that sort of camaraderie and support.  I find that it’s also very motivational.  When I read about other writers writing, then I want to write more, too.  Maybe it will help me get past some tough spots in a couple of books I’m working on.

The second thing is trying to learn the whole Twitter thing…  Not enjoying that quite so much.  I mean how many Mark Twain quotes can I post before everyone figures out that I don’t have a clue?

This time next year I’ll probably look back and laugh at my ignorance.  But between now and then, it’s going to be a long twelve months!

But at least sometime between now and then, there will be a welcome end to this heat wave.  When you have a 98 degree heat index at noon, you just know it’s going to be a rough day.  I think so much better when I’m dealing with winchills…

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So what’s up with all the rudeness?

I just got back from the grocery store and am still amazed at how the trip went, start to finish.  Almost immediately I got behind a big truck hauling what I assume to be wheat.  Or some sort of grain.  And the reason I know this is because he couldn’t travel much over 20 mph because he hadn’t tied a cover over the top-and the grain was blowing all over my car.  All the way to town, through town, and on the way out the other side of town.  I couldn’t get an opening to pass him to save my life.

Oops.  Forgot to mention at somewhere near the midway point an elderly woman cut me off at a 4-way stop.  Clearly she hasn’t grasped the concept of taking turns.  But at least she was kind of cute.  Put me in mind of kids in a drag race, gripping the top of the steering wheel so hard her knuckles were white, and darting me several quick glances before she quickly eased through the intersection.

And then there was the store itself.  I suppose there’s not much new there, but after Old MacDonald more than tripled my travel time, I was feeling a hair on the ornery side anyway, and not in the mood to put up with a whole lot more.

Which is probably why the store was filled with more special people than usual.

People who think nothing of parking their cart slightly off center of the middle of an aisle, then moving a couple of feet away while looking at every item in a 3-yard radius.  Naturally between their position and where they left their cart, there is no room to get around them while they take their sweet time trying to decide if they actually want something from that area or not.

And then there are the long lost buddies who block the entrance of the aisle you need to get down, seemingly unaware of your presence.

Or the very important people who just don’t have anymore time to waste shopping than necessary and cut you off so unexpectedly that it’s a miracle you don’t plow them over.  Frankly I’m at the point where I’m going to stop trying to avoid hitting them.  Bring it on, speedster, I’m ready for you!

The worst, though, was the olive woman.  I’ll concede that part of the blame for this incident was due to the store manager’s poor planning.  At the end of this particular aisle is a big square support post, which makes it a tight squeeze on either side anyway.  But then they sat a portable cart of something on the right so it was impossible to slip by on that side.  Well, unless you happened to be Gumby or Pokey.

Across from that, on the only passable side, was a display of olives.  And most of them appeared to be on sale.  And this woman had to check each and every can and jar of them out before loading her cart with more olives than any normal family could eat in the next fifty-two years.

Yeah, I know, I should have said, “Excuse me, could I just get by you really quick?”  But by that point I was so aggravated I was afraid to open my mouth for fear of what might come out.  I might intend to say something polite, with a grimace I tried to pass off as a smile, but it was entirely possible that something not quite so polite might slip out instead.  So I just bit my tongue and waited.  And waited.

Finally there was the tailgater on the way home.  I can’t help it, I believe speed limit signs are posted for a reason, and I obey them.  Apparently she does not.  By the time I caught the red light at the intersection leading out of town, I could see her in my rear view mirror glaring at my car and muttering up a storm.  So I turned on the first side street, still in town, to let her get around me because I didn’t want to take a chance on her kissing my bumper when I made the turn into my driveway.  After the speed limit went up to fifty-five.

I’d say all of this was because it’s the ‘younger generation,’ but truthfully, there were only two guys under the age of 25 that did anything that could be called rude.  One was a teenage boy, and I completely understand they’re just always in a hurry.  The other was guy who simply wasn’t paying attention (and is lucky I didn’t plow into his backside when he danced out in front of me so unexpectedly).

The shocking thing is that the majority of royalty wannabe’s had to have been thirty, forty and older.  People who should be old enough to know better but act, instead, like obnoxious, insufferable boors.

I thought the ‘Me Generation’ was history.  Guess not, huh?

But no matter.  They’re not going to change my attitude.  Yes, I get seriously annoyed with them, but I grew up in a family where the right way to live was to be kind, considerate and polite.

And I’m going to be kind, considerate and polite…no matter how much it hurts sometimes!

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The joys of parenting

I know I’ve mentioned before that I have an autistic son. As I’m sure all parents of special needs children have experienced, I’ve gone through just about every negative emotion you could ever imagine. Fear, depression, hopelessness, frustration, and more. It’s not easy caring for a child who has ‘issues.’ Sometimes it’s downright hard.

But mostly he’s just my son, and I’m just his mom, and this is the way our life is. It’s pretty normal for us.

And it’s often a lot of fun. I wrote about his love of infomercials and my stupidity for letting the $840.00 knife deal slip through my fingers. One of these days I’ll share with you a story about fruits and vegetables, and his opinion of them.

Today’s blog, though, concerns yet another ear infection, something that’s plagued him since he was little. Fortunately they don’t occur as often, but they still come around with annoying regularity.

This past weekend he told me his right ear was bothering him, so I made an appointment. And yesterday he got to see the P.A., which didn’t go over as well as it should have. After all, she’s not a real doctor.

So anyway… The biggest concern on the P.A.’s part seemed to be a wax buildup in his left ear, easily taken care of with a tube attached to a spray bottle full of water and peroxide. I swear by his reaction, you’d have thought the nurse was performing surgery without anesthesia.

Once it was out, the P.A. came back in to have a look, told me there was water behind both ear drums, and she prescribed an oral antibiotic, along with ear drops for the left ear (four drops, twice a day…and this is significant).

Because of the timing, I didn’t have him start either prescription until late evening, at which point Christopher notices that the ear drops say three times a day. This is not what the doctor said. Someone got something wrong somewhere along the line, and it’s going to be impossible to do drops three times a day (his concern, not mine, because I know we can easily manage three times a day).

Then comes this afternoon. After my pool workout. After a quick trip to the grocery store and bank. After dealing with all the drivers who should just stay home so I don’t have to worry about what stupid thing they might do while I’m out on the road. All I wanted to do was relax and wind down a little.

But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be…

Why? Because my son is now convinced that his right ear is also infected, and I need to make another doctor’s appointment. Immediately! Of course I want to know why he thinks he needs to go back when he already has antibiotics.

Did I mention that I really hate it when my kids look at me like I’m stupid?

Well that’s the look I got right then. Because the doctor only said his left ear was infected. Sure wish someone had clued me into the new antibiotics rule. I wasn’t aware that there were specific ones for the left ear, and different ones for the right. Nope. Silly me.

And now I’m going to be annoyed with him in the morning…because just as I start to fall asleep tonight, I’m going to remember this. And start giggling again.

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Well, I’m bored

For awhile today I thought I might be coming down with some sort of flu bug but, thank goodness, I was wrong. Maybe it was just a culmination of too many days in a row with too little sleep, thanks to the pain from the pulled muscles in my rib cage. Fortunately three and a half hours of napping seems to have done the trick. Unfortunately, it’s left me not quite tired enough to go to sleep yet.

But I imagine when I do, it will be another adventure.

Why? Because I tend to have extremely weird dreams. I can’t remember much about the second one this afternoon, but I was hiding in a huge hole that was being excavated by a friend. A friend that was helping to shield me from ‘the bad guys.’ Not unusual kind of dream for me because something as insignificant as a slightly scary movie trailer can give me nightmares. In this instance, though, I can’t recall anything remotely close to frightening happening that might have set this dream in motion.

My first one of the day wasn’t scary at all though. I was sitting at a counter with one of my uncles, slicing potatoes, and feeling annoyed with whoever peeled them because they hadn’t gotten all the peel off. And then suddenly I just I got up, potato in hand, and laid down on the floor, using the veggie for a pillow.

Pretty sad when you’re so tired you dream about napping while you’re napping. And a little annoying, too, because you’d think you would benefit from two naps in one, but you don’t.

Hopefully, when I go to bed in a little while, I won’t dream at all. Well, maybe I could dream about Jeffrey Dean Morgan. I wouldn’t mind that. Or Bruce Willis. That would be okay, too. Something that will leave me smiling when I open my eyes, instead of jolting awake from terror, or scratching my head and wondering what that was all about.

I tend to think I wind up in The Twilight Zone because my imagination is always working, even when I finally nod off for the night. And some nights I really wish it would take a little vacation, because I think I’d be more rested if I wasn’t ‘watching’ whatever was going on in my head while I’m asleep.

But, as my sister is so fond of saying, it is what it is. And I find that I am now ready for about ten hours sleep. Of course I know it will be closer to six, but hey, I can always dream…

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It’s been a long week. Yeah, I know it’s only Tuesday, but I mean the past seven days or so. After going way overboard on adding new pool exercises last week, I’m left with the after effects, which had me wondering for a few days if I hadn’t done something I couldn’t  remember-resulting in a fractured rib or two.

I told one friend the pain was ‘breathtaking,’ and it was. And still is too much of the time, but I’ve found if I keep my back perfectly straight, it’s not as bad. The only problem with that is, apparently my posture isn’t as good when I’m sitting at my desk as it is when I’m standing. I have to consciously think about it…constantly. At least it keeps me from being comfortable. I mean from slouching.

The worst, though, is trying to get some sleep. All I can say about that is ouch! Or OUCH!!!

But it is finally easing up a bit, for which I am very grateful. It’s tough to think clearly when you’re waking up fifty times a night, like every time you move. Guess I must be a pretty restless sleeper. Or at least I am at the moment!

One good thing has come of this. I’ve learned a great lesson. No matter how fun it is, and no matter how easy it seems, you can really hurt yourself in the water. So after three days off, I’ll be heading back tomorrow, certainly unable to do all the things I was doing before I got hit with a major case of stupid. But I’m still looking forward to finding out what I can do until whatever happened goes away.

Because you know what? I like working out in the pool. And I’ve missed it, even though it’s only been three days since I was last there. It just feels wrong now, and I never thought I’d see the day when I’d feel this way about…exercise.

I always enjoyed dance and gymnastics when I was in school. And for many years, I enjoyed bike riding (the kind with pedals, not a motor). But that’s been a long time and I honestly never thought I’d change my mind.

It just goes to show you that it’s never too late to change your lifestyle. In my case, I had a little more motivation than most, which you can read about in my book, The Stranger In My Head, which should be available Friday.

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Homemade bread

Eighty-one days until October. Something about a storm this morning reminded me of my favorite time of year…autumn. And yes, I love fall thunderstorms. It may be due to the fact that the storms aren’t like the violent ones that tend to dominate spring and summer. Or because the air is ‘just right.’ Not too cold, but with a hint of crispness that just invigorates me. Perfect days to put on your favorite sweater, light some candles, and curl up with a good book and a cup of tea or hot cocoa.

Fall is also the beginning of baking season for me. There isn’t much better in life than to enjoy the aroma of bread filling the house. And my bread machine gets a good workout from October through April. I only use it to make the dough. From there it can become rolls, plain or cinnamon, mozzarella bread sticks or homemade pizza, elephant ears, or even this pepperoni bread thing I bought at a gas station/sort of restaurant in Ohio years ago, and never have been able to duplicate exactly. Oh but it was good!

I use it so much that I’ve given up on buying the three-packs of yeast. Now it’s just the jars you’ll find in my refrigerator. I use it often enough that I bought some little measuring spoons just so I could keep a teaspoon in it, until it’s empty, then open a new jar and transfer it in immediately. I go through two or three every season.

And now that I’ve written this, I suppose I’m going to have to bake something that starts out in my bread machine, whether it’s too hot to do it or not. Whatever it was about the feeling in the air this morning, I’m having visions of a warm slice of buttered, homemade bread. And my daughter, who just wandered by and read a little of this blog, thinks she needs some elephant ears.

Gonna be a busy evening…

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