Tuesday, November 09, 2010

COLUMNIST: Building Colorful Characters

Building Colorful Characters—
The Literary Bones of a Story, Part 11

All year, we have been exploring ways and places to find the “bones” to create interesting and memorable characters. We’ve tapped into both familiar and unconventional places and scenarios. This month as we all look forward to giving thanks for all that we have been gifted and blessed with, we all will be doing it in very similar, yet very different ways, depending on upbringing and spiritual convictions, which brings us to knock on the door of religion for our continued character search.
By learning to be nonjudgmental and open to laugh at the realities of life and all it holds, opens up a huge box of character possibilities for all writers. Remembering too this is all opinion based and certainly not meant to promote or demote any particular belief system, I feel exploring this popular type of culture gives a writer many other bones to connect creatively, as religion is mixed with as many types of characters as it is by sects, faiths, cults, and beliefs, or whatever else type of entity it has been saturated by.

Aside from what some would categorize as “modern Christianity,” many other religious characters and personalities do reign in our day. Even the familiar terms, “preacher,” “pastor,” or “reverend” brings to mind a certain type of person and character, be it male or female. For me, whenever I hear mention of such ordained ones, I think of someone with a gentle but outspoken personality. I picture that person well groomed, neatly or expensively dressed, with a distinctive handshake and voice. I would expect that individual to be the type of character that would give his/her undivided attention in a one-on-one conversation and shadowing about with a welcoming spirit.

Now in saying that, surely you know and might have met some pastors, preachers, or reverends that reek of the opposite. Sometimes these leaders or characters might appear overly flashy and very self-centered and boisterous for no reason and at inopportune times; in other words, talking loud and saying nothing. This type of character can easily draw to your mind’s eye a pot-bellied, loud, colorful, extreme-tailored-suit type of character, who is short on proper language, etiquette, and height. Can you hear the vibrating and loud sermon being pitched from someone like that? Can you visualize that person’s extravagant body movements and performance? Can you see the sweat dripping down the side of a well-fed face? Y’all don’t hear me, doe, the picture of a colorful character, indeed. Can I get an amen?

Now, what about the first lady? Do you see her as the vision of a calm woman of God and a role model for all women in the church? Her character could be that of a mild and smiling spirit, supportive of her husband and fellow church members. She could radiate the epitome of leadership and direction. Or, does your imaginative mind make her a large-hat-wearing, overly accessorized, haughty, proper-talking religious diva that believes she’s first lady because she just is? Yes, she’s another colorful character, indeed, but one that exists in both fiction and reality. And what about the church choir? Don’t sing them out of a chance for uniqueness. Ever notice the member that acts like he or she is singing in a competition to get a recording contract instead of for the Lord? How about the character that demands a solo but can’t carry a tune even if he/she held it in their hand—but since that individual is the niece or nephew of the reverend, first lady, or the church’s biggest monetary donator, he/she gets their sound-breaking wish every Sunday? Extreme characters’ right and devilishly colorful, amen?

Let’s not forget the full-figured sister that’s known to conveniently pass out in the arms of a single and unsuspecting church brother during service. Can you picture that struggle? Is it too hard to imagine the crowd of shocked members looking on and the smirks that soon follow as many realize this “prayer” for attention has been shouted before?

Take, for example, another religion and the character types portrayed by the Mormons. Their type of modest living and dress certainly resembles their beliefs and desire to live a plain and religious-filled life. Can you imagine the feelings, embarrassment, and uncomfortable situations that would present themselves to a family with this life style that gave birth to a child with Tourette’s Syndrome? The child, along with other normal children in this character’s life, offers excellent opportunities for a writer to create and dialogue in a colorful way.

When observing those of the Moslem faith, some can certainly say that their peaceful disposition, long garb, headdress, food preferences and preparations characterize them differently from most of society, and make them curious beings with an air of mystic, especially the women who choose to cover their faces. Does their characters’ way of living and how they carry themselves not make you wonder about the real “he” and “she” that shields their physiques and faces uniquely with fabric?

Let imagination write you a picture of a person of Moslem faith who mentally flips out when mistakenly given pork by someone. Visualize the story line of a person staunch in this religion that’s witnessed a serious crime in the big city they live in, taken in by the witness protection organization, and then moved to a small town out West for safety and suddenly finding himself or herself as the only one owning or knowing of this belief in the area. Can you imagine the many difficult scenarios that could develop as a considered outsider? Can you create a character that shares different eating habits, religion, and ways of dressing in a small-inhibited town? What would the sheltered townspeople be like? Would it possibly turn out that this character would be scrutinized and watched by the looming eyes of the town’s people, creating another stressful situation for everyone? This could certainly lead to the development of some colorful events and characters.

And what of those people that believe in witchcraft or have a superstitious nature? Needless to say, a writer has plenty of obvious material to use there. The gloom and doom that immediately comes to mind can be expanded to many heights of mental and physical creativity. After all, there are some that prance about us, looking as if they are in Halloween drag all year-round. Some teens find this way of life appealing and interesting. The practice of Wicca is more prominent in certain areas than in others, but certainly lends one’s mind to ask what goes on behind the closed doors of a person who is interested in and involved in spell casting and blood sacrifices. This is certainly someone who is a colorful character, to say the least. Creating their personality and way of life has no “dead ends” to speak of.

To sum it all up, a writer can look almost anywhere and gleam material to sew together characters that exude gospels of creativity and uniqueness that flows religiously throughout their work. What some consider “normal” in religious belief and practices, others will preach it as different, insane, or even spiritually forbidden. But a writer can always take creative license and reasonably comment whenever delivering any type of special characters to an audience. “Thank God for diversity, in it, we are all characters uniquely colored by individuality.”

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 admin@blackpearlsunited.org. For book signings please e-mail her at rachelwrites2@yahoo.com. 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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