Tuesday, August 10, 2010
COLUMN: Building Colorful Characters
Building Colorful Characters—
The Literary Bones of a Story, Part 8
Location, location, location. That’s what every real estate whiz knows makes or breaks a business. And in the business of writing, location is also important. So, where are you finding and plucking your character material and leads from? The locations are everywhere to be found and with just your unique touch and personal flair they can come alive and birth with living color.
Keeping our stories fresh and not writing about the same kind of people over and over again—or people that everyone else is writing about—isn’t as hard as it seems. It simply takes some human-interest research or at least putting a different twist to the personality or habits of ordinary people and tweaking them from inimitable locations or habitats. After all, aren’t we all a little tired of reading about the usual girl-meets-handsome-boy, he-sweeps-her-off-her-feet, they-fall-in-love-and-at-first-life-is-just-peaches-and-cream-until-he-cheats-on-her-and-then-she-gets-revenge? Or take the story line of the mad rapist or bad-boy infuriated with women because of his terrible upbringing and unaffectionate or missing mother. And let’s not forget the tale of the bed-hopping woman looking for daddy-dearest and his never-bestowed, desperately needed love.
Well, tired as we may be of these familiar scenarios, they will keep showing up in stories and movies for years to come, but the few that make it to the top of the mundane pile and beg us not to yawn but instead, once again, yank at our hearts like virgin tales, will be the ones that tailor colorful characters drafted from unique locations, draped with different habits and personalities, and keep hope alive before the inevitable transpires.
So, just where can we find these slates that we can all craft into our own unique models? Well, my theory is all writing isn’t just done on a pad or computer. Writing is also generated with our eyes, through living, research, and the situations and ideas that we let seep through into our imaginative sponge-box called a brain.
Why not take a trip to a nearby library and observe the patrons roaming around in it? Imagine them in other roles. Their lifestyle setup can be just as vast as the books on the shelves that they shadow. What secrets do you think the sweet, conservative librarian is hiding? Sure, she auditions as the plain-dressed, moderate-looking woman with the upsweep-hairdo who, by day, seems so chaste and soft-spoken, swallowed within the seclusion of books and quiet—yet, she just might boisterously head the town’s local Wicca occult group. And is that single mom who faithfully brings her two children to the library every day, including weekends, really there prepping her preschoolers for school, or are they washing up in the washroom and spending the day there hiding out because they’re homeless and running from people her ex-husband owes money to?
What if the aging and flat-chested first lady of the biggest and most highly reputed church in the area was stealing money from the Sunday offerings while spearheading a huge fundraiser for the building fund—all in order to fund her plastic surgery and breast implants that, in her insane, jealous moments, she feels is necessary and ordained by God in order to satisfy her husband’s lustful appetite, who has the passionate and frequent habit of laying-on-of-hands only on the younger and full-figured women in the church? Think of all the catastrophes and wrath that await her, her family, and the church once her secret is found out.
And let’s not overlook the greatest book ever written, the Bible. It is an excellent location to find all sorts of characters. The Bible is filled with colorful people driven by love, rage, and every human emotion imaginable and makes a wonderful location to dig through. Just looking at a few of the story situations and characters, bringing them into modern times and situations, and then embellishing them with your own creative touch breathes new life into old situations.
Take, for instance, the story of Samson and Delilah. Samson loved Delilah, but Delilah loved money more. And when she was offered money to find out why Samson was so strong, she finally pressured her lover into telling her, and she, in turn, told the Philistines, and reaped her reward. Samson’s strength was in his hair, and when Delilah cut it off, he became powerless.
Now, suppose your embellished story was that of a rich man who owns his own business and is known to have made enemies because of the many businesses he has brought down and bought out. He has been raised as a Rastafarian with dreadlocks passed his waist and has been taught that if he ever cuts his hair he would be cut off from all success in life and would become poor and a disgrace to his family.
But then, lo and behold, he meets a beautiful and worldly woman with whom he falls in love, a conniver who pretends to love him and wants to find out how he has become so rich and successful. Like a spider carefully spinning her web, she sets out to trap him. When finally during a weak moment he divulges his secret to her in the wee hours after a night of wild, erotic, off-the-chain lovemaking, while he lay sleeping in her bed, she cuts off all of his hair. When he awakes, he is enraged with her. But with a smug smile, she reveals to him that she is a woman who owns a similar type of business and she seeks to destroy her competition by any means necessary and that she never loved him. Little by little, all of his wealth is inevitably lost. Do you see where the story could fatefully go from here? Like Samson, will he, too, bring down the house, so to speak, one more time?
These are just a few ideas lodging in perfect locations to find and build colorful characters. Think about the beach bums and surfers. How about the many different types of people that crowd the hospitals and emergency rooms, airports and subways. Some remarkable and attention-grabbing characters can be found there. Take time to observe and study their movements, conversations, clothing, etc. Build a character in your mind while you are watching them.
Another thing I like to do is role playing. I am a fan of female and children hit men and serial killers. For me, they are the least likely suspects so you can almost always deliver the element of surprise using them in such capacities. One night on my ride home from work, I ditched my own persona and took on one of a serial killer. I drove the streets through the mind and eyes of someone looking for prey. It was unbelievable recognizing all the opportunities people unconsciously give to predators on the prowl. I saw so many opportunities, especially with women who were so oblivious to their surroundings or others nearby, because they were in a rush to accomplish their task or go somewhere. Little did they know that they would have been easy pickings for a true serial killer on the prowl.
When you as a writer take on the role of a particular character, you can better see and feel who your characters are and their vulnerabilities as well as their power. You also feel the effect you have on the people and situations that surround you. This type of exercise helps you pen your character believably and with distinct creativity and color.
As you can see, character locating doesn’t have to be anywhere faraway or exotic. But a writer must always be on the lookout for the place and that beckoning door that will open to the greeting of their next unique character.
Wordsmiths, remember to e-mail me with your creations and I’ll post them here for all to meet and utilize. For your gifting, I’ll post a picture of your latest book and a link to your Web site.
Pens up! to building colorful characters the write way.
Rachel Berry has been gifted by our creator to be many things; on the list of these blessings are daughter, caregiver, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, best friend, aunt, published author & poet, motivational speaker, radio talk show host, mentor, columnist and community leader.
She has been a government employee for 24 years.
Rachel is the founder and president of Black Pearls United INC. (an African American sister-circle) which was founded in 2000.
Berry is also an alumni member of Toastmasters International where she has earned her CTM and has been awarded as Toastmaster of the Year.
Rachel is proudly promoting her books 'From The Heart And Heat Of Me.' and her novel ‘Family Pictures:’ the family saga of two women with too many secrets and the up and down relationships they have with those people they call family.
To arrange speaking engagements e-mail her at email@example.com. For book signings please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To preview and buy her books please visit her web site at http://www.LuLu.com/RachelBerry & http://www.rachelberry.webs.com/
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