The Devil’s In the Details

This isn’t the first article I’ve written about characters. Characters are important! All of the action and plot twists and witty dialogue in the world won’t do you any good if your readers do not feel a connection to your characters and care about what happens to them. People read to see what will happen to your characters. End of story!

I know many of us have some pretty strong emotional investments in our characters. Some of us even feel as though they have their minds of their own, and have taken on their own lives and make their own decisions and we are simply taking dictation.

We are all adept at making our characters live and breathe for us. But, what makes them live and breathe for the reader? Well, when I think of characters that really came alive off the page for me, I think of Robert Langdon;  I think of his fear of elevators and his Mickey Mouse watch. When I think of Harry Potter, I think of his glasses, trainers, and his scar. In other words, the devil is in the details.

When I’m writing and trying to bring a character into focus, I start thinking about details. What cereal does this person eat for breakfast? What stores do they shop at? I’ve frequently been amazed by how working out these tiny details can make the big ones come into clear and brilliant focus.

Of course, overwhelming your reader is something to be careful of. You’ll bore your readers if you fill your page with descriptions of meal preferences and nail polish shades. But,  that doesn’t mean it won’t help you to know them yourself or pay for you to spend some time thinking about them.

And, picking a few key ones to share, like a Mickey Mouse Watch, can really make your character stand out.

What are some of your favorite character quirks and details? What details about your characters endear them to you?

I’d love to hear.

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Non Fictional Feelings about Fictional Characters

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Chocolate is half price, and many of us are thinking about love in one form or another. And, it made me think about something I’ve seen circling the internet. fictional

 

Have you ever had an emotional attachment to a fictional character? While we all know that “the real thing” requires a real person, emotional attachments to fictional characters are pretty non-fictional. Whether it’s one of ours or one from our favorite story, I think most of us have fallen in love with a fictional character.

 

My own crush is a common enough one. I saw Les Miserables on stage when I was thirteen years old, and read Victor Hugo’s sweeping novel shortly afterwards.  Since then I’ve had a very deep emotional attachment to the character of Enjolras. It’s funny, my view of him has changed over the years, from a teenage girl seeing him as heroic and noble, to an adult woman seeing him as idealistic and naïve, but with a touching innocence and purity to his absence of cynicism and faith that his revolution would bring about change.  But, while my view has changed, my feelings haven’t.

 

How many fictional character crushes have you had? Do you think that it is normal and healthy, or is it strange? Do you think that fictional character crushes are devices used to market mediocre fiction to young readers, or does it take talent and skill write a character that a reader can fall in love with?

 

What characters do you love?

 

I’d love to hear about it.

Fiction: Creepypasta

I don’t know how a lot of you feel about ‘creepypasta’ stories. That’s a creepy story that gets cut, pasted, and shared with others. I wrote this last year and never did anything with it, but I came across it by accident and decided to share.

It’s a casual and light-hearted attempt to give people the creeps, sort of like the modern internet equivalent of ghost stories around the camp fire. So, enjoy!

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If fish have nightmares, I know what they dream about. They dream about Cymothoa exigua, also known as the “tongue eating louse.” It’s a parasite, a kind of tiny crustacean. The creature enters a fish through its gills, and attaches itself to the base of the tongue. Tiny claw-like legs dig into the tongue, choking off the blood supply. The muscles of the tongue atrophy and die, and the tongue rots away and is eaten by the parasite.

What’s unusual about Cymothoa exigua is what happens next. It stays latched onto the sinew and tendons of the tongue, still getting nutrients from the blood of the fish, and actually functions as the fish’s tongue. The fish continues to eat normally, and the lifespan of the fish does not appear to be affected by the presence of the parasite. Whether the fish’s quality of life is affected is unknown. It seems to me that even a fish must be cognizant of such an invasion. I can’t imagine any creature not knowing that its tongue has been replaced by a parasite.

While there is only one parasite that can eat and replace the function of a part of the body, there are multiple parasites that can, subtly or completely, influence the actions of the host.  The Guinea Worm starts off as a microscopic egg, floating in the water. It enters into the pores of the skin and creates a large, burning blister. The desired effect is to get the host organism to dip the infected appendage into water to cool it. Once this is achieved, the worm pushes itself to the surface and releases a putrid white fluid. The fluid is full of millions of eggs, thus contaminating the water.

Other parasites are more drastic. Gordian worms control the mind of their hosts directly. They live in water, and infest most damp areas.  It’s unknown how they enter their host beings, but they enter their hosts as larvae. They grow to many times their original size, shedding their skin many times while inside the body of their host. When they are ready to return to the water, the parasites then infect the mind of the host organism, compelling it to drown itself. Science is unable to explain how the parasite is able to accomplish this. Once the host is drowned, the worm then exits through the mouth or the anus. Their ability to escape the body of their drowned host has proved quite inventive in some cases.

The thing that these parasites that manipulate their hosts have in common is a desire to return to their element of origin. They are born in water, their hosts take them out of this element, and they must return to water in order to reproduce. As we all know, there really is no stronger drive than the drive to propagate our own species.  So, evolution has given them ways to find their way back to their element.

To go back to the issue of the cymothoa exigua, one was recently found off the coast of the United Kingdom, in the mouth of a snapper. This was unusual, because the creatures are usually found off the coast of California. In Puerto Rico, a lawsuit was filed by a person who claimed to have been poisoned by eating a fish with the parasite inside of its mouth. This lawsuit was dismissed, as it was determined that people who eat fish likely consume cymothoa exigua all the time and never realize it, and that the parasite was not harmful to humans.

In 2008 a young man by the name of Anthony Tatum was found dead, floating face down in the Colorado River in Needles, California.  The police ruled his death an apparent suicide. There was no note, but there was no struggle. Witness said they saw him jump off the Colorado River Bridge of his own free will. It was as open and shut as suicide can be. Except, Tatum’s mother swore that her son did not commit suicide. She swore that he was a happy, well adjusted young man. He had a job he liked and a girlfriend he loved, and that he’d never exhibited any signs of depression of mental illness. He had no history of drug or alcohol abuse. His girlfriend too came forward and confirmed all of this too, that Anthony had been a content, normal person. Most people speculated that he must have had a secret life that no one knew about.  Maybe he’d had outstanding debts to someone who would do a much worse job on him than he did on himself. No one really knows for sure. Everyone expected some dark secret from his past to emerge, but none ever did.

The autopsy confirmed the girlfriend’s and mother’s statements that Tatum had been drug-free. There were no illicit substances found in his system. The only damages done to his body were the massive fractures in his skull and facial bone structure when his head hit the rock as he jumped off the bridge, and the broken right arm and leg. Most people assumed that these occurred as the current took him downstream.

Most people also assumed that his missing tongue was due to the head trauma. It had probably been caught between his teeth and bitten out when his head and face hit the rocks. That was the only logical explanation. Everyone just assumed, when it never turned up, that something in the water must have eaten it.

Writing Resolutions

Hello, everyone! The combination of stress and joy that is the Holidays has passed. 2012 is gone and 2013 has begun.  New Year’s is always a time for goal setting and newfound optimism. This year isn’t any different.

New Year’s is also a time for resolutions. In addition to the usual personal improvement resolutions, involving work and social goals, I’ve also made a number of writing resolutions. I thought I’d share them.

  1. Write something every day: It doesn’t matter if it’s a character sketch or a random snatch of dialog, as long as it is something. There is no minimum word limit here, just to write something.
  2. Spend more time in character development: Let the characters speak their own minds to me. Let the plot develop organically from their personalities rather than trying to make them jump through hoops and fit into boxes I make for them.
  3. Set a writing schedule: Schedule time in the day that will be my writing time, and stick to that schedule.
  4. Read more: Nothing helps my writing like reading good writing. Also, I have a lot of craft books that I have not read yet. I resolve to read those before I acquire more.

I realize fully that these are fairly standard suggested resolutions that one will see in any given writing book or blog. None of this is original. But, I hope that publishing this here will help me keep my resolutions. I always believe that telling people about your resolutions makes you more accountable to them. Don’t you agree?

I would like to know what some of your writing resolutions are.

Have a great 2013!

The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge: Conclusion

Well, it’s time for me to bring my self-imposed challenge to a close.  This post has been a little slow-coming, but I’ve been going back and looking at my prompts in the two previous posts. I’ve enjoyed myself, really. It was a fun thing to do.

Unfortunately, as I look back, I don’t believe the results were anything particularly amazing. I did enjoy doing it. It was a fun challenge to write the same prompts twice over at different times of the day and in different moods. The prompts and schedule are here, if anyone would still like to try.

What did I learn from this exercise? In truth, not what I’d hoped. I had hoped for some kind of a pattern. Like, I’m more whimsical or fanciful when I’m stressed or that I’m more literal in the morning. I’d have thought that my mood or the time of day might have influence over what I write, and that I would be able to notice that influence in a small experiment like this.

I didn’t. I wish I could say that I did.

In a way, this surprises me. I seem to be just as whimsical when I’m at work as when I’m relaxed. I seem just as silly in the morning as I am at night. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn anything. I think a lot of what I found about was how I respond to a prompt. I write about my daydreams, things that I think are exciting and funny. They’re things that I want to read, or want to see. In that regard, I think I’m something of a selfish writer. Perhaps if I’d done more prompts, and repeated them more times, I would have found something. Yet, I didn’t.

Did anyone else try this?  Did anyone gain any more insight than I did?

The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge: Results part 2

Here’s my second set of The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challengeresults. I’ll post my musings on the two sets of answers this weekend. Enjoy!

Just Keep Writing!

 

Monday: I wrote this in the evening, during some downtime in a relatively easy shift.

Prompt:  You arrive at work to find that something is missing and has been replaced with something else.

Being a test pilot is about the best job I could hope for, really. Not that it’s an easy job to get. It isn’t. And it’s not that it isn’t dangerous either. It is. It’s just that, really, I can’t think of a more exciting sentence to say to yourself:  “I’m a test pilot.”

So, imagine my surprise when I went to work, opened my locker to take out my flight suit, and found a fairy costume made out of pink netting, sequins, glitter, and pink spandex tights.

I do not think I will be flying today.

 

Tuesday: I did this one in the morning again, after breakfast, drinking coffee. I was in a pretty good mood.

Prompt:  During your morning coffee, you open the newspaper and read something shocking about someone you know.

The old man who lived next door was almost 90. He lived quietly and never asked for anything. When someone asked if he was all right living on his own, he replied that he could take care of himself. When someone asked if he had a family that might stop in and check on him, he simply changed the subject. I used to stop in and check on him. As the years went on, I used to go grocery shopping for him. He was almost 90 when he went into the hospital. We were sad when he did not come home, but not surprised.

No one knows who provided the information for the obituary. But, as I read the paper I smiled as I learned that before he’d retired almost thirty years ago, he’d been at the top of his profession.

That profession was as one of the world’s foremost spies.

 

Wednesday:  I was up pretty late when I wrote this, but my spirits were pretty high.

Prompt: You go swimming and while you’re at the pool, you meet someone from very far away, who is in need of your help.

When I was a child, I used to love to swim to the bottom of the pool. It made me feel like I was exploring something, the depth was exciting. It felt dangerous, even though I knew that I was safe. Even as adult sometimes I go to touch the bottom while I’m swimming.

One day, in late summer, I was swimming in the deep section, and swam down to touch the bottom. It was more a repetition of a habit than something I consciously decided to do.

As I was reaching out to touch the rough concrete, a scream bubbled up from me. A head reached out to touch mine. Kicking wildly, I broke the surface panting and gasping for air.

Next to me bobbed a small head, a beautiful face, and long matted green hair.

“I need help. Please.”

I didn’t know where the mermaid had come from, but I was happy to drive her to the beach.

 

Thursday:  Morning again. I was kind of tired though, and was stiff from sleeping in a bad position.

Prompt: Prompt: Write about the best possible way to meet the love of your life.

“Oh please, the Harry Potter books are full of plot holes!”

“I agree, but the writing and characters still carry it. I appreciate Tolkien, but frankly I always found it inaccessible. I might even agree that Tolkien is better, but ultimately Rowling just reads better.”

“How can you say that?”

“How can you say that you actually enjoy slogging through Tolkien’s chapter-long passages about history and battles and dates? It’s so long winded!”

“If we agreed, I would be so bored right now.”

 

Friday: I was in a really good mood Friday. I had a good lunch and watched a good movie. I wrote this mid-afternoon.

Prompt: It’s the end of a long work day. All you want to do is relax, but something keeps preventing it.

Friday, the week was over and time to unwind. I was in a good mood, had no obligations, and was ready get everything together. All I wanted to do was make some popcorn and enjoy a movie and enjoy the afternoon. After a long week, I felt like just being lazy.

I sat down on the couch and realized that I wanted something eat while I watched the movie, so I went into the kitchen to make some food. Microwaves are a great invention. Once I had some warm food, I sat back down. “It would be so nice to put on some pajamas, since I don’t have anywhere to go today.” But, I could not find them. They were dirty. So, time to do laundry. Well, they’ll be better nice and warm from the dryer.

As I sat down to watch TV, I realized there was dust on the screen.

Relaxing can be hard work sometimes.

The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge: Results part 1

I decided to post the first week’s results from The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge! Enjoy. I’ll post the second week’s results, plus the analysis next week. In the meantime, enjoy!

Monday:  I wrote this in the morning, before work. I was tired, but calm, and drinking coffee.

Prompt:  You arrive at work to find that something is missing and has been replaced with something else.

“Monday again.” the sigh could not help but escape me. I dropped myself into the desk chair and looked around the office. The light on the phone was blinking: a message.

I picked up the phone and pushed the blinking button.

“Are you there? Can you hear me?” It was a child’s voice speaking to me.

It was a moment before I could respond. I looked down again, and I was talking into the face of Spiderman, his eyes speakers and his mouth a microphone, and a little walkie talkie antenna sticking out over his ear.

Suddenly, it was summer, and I was eleven years old.

Tuesday:  I wrote this late at night, before I went to bed. I was tired, but in a good mood. It had been a fun day.

Prompt:  During your morning coffee, you open the newspaper and read something shocking about someone you know.

The story was amusing, truly. I laughed as I read it. Someone had gone into one of those stores you have to be eighteen to get into, stolen a rather elaborate marital aid, and ran from the shop. What made it even more entertaining, was the fact that someone else was waiting outside in the car. The car sped off down the street before the person who worked there could even get the number on the license plate.

The fact that it was planned, a sort of “heist” was what got me laughing the hardest.

I was still laughing as I related the story to my elderly grandmother, who had the taste for naughty humor that only comes with the sense of self old age grants. But, she didn’t laugh as I told the story.

She only blushed.

Wednesday: I wrote this on notebook paper during my shift at work. It was a slightly stressful shift, and I was tense and a little annoyed.

Prompt: You go swimming and while you’re at the pool, you meet someone from very far away, who is in need of your help.

It was the summer of 2012. What a vibrant and exciting summer, and one I will never forget. It was the first warm day, and the pools had just opened. I was happy to go. Singing to myself as I got into my swimsuit, I stood under the required shower and entered the pool area.

I could see that there was someone in the lane reserved for those who only want to swim laps. I’d always rather just swim around, so I ignored that part of the pool anyway. Yet, I noticed that the person swimming there was amazing.

He doubled everyone else’s speed, and his form was like something I’d seen on TV.

He came up to take a breath and shook the water out of his brown hair.

“You’re Michael Phelps!” I said.

He grinned a crooked toothed smile at me.

“I’m lost.  I’m supposed to be in London. Can you help me?”

Thursday: I wrote this after lunch. I was feeling a little sick, and had a headache that day.

Prompt: Write about the best possible way to meet the love of your life.

Today, I went to a writer’s group. I was bored as we shared our work. It was the usual range, nothing really bad, but nothing struck me as exceptional either. I include my own work in this assessment. A listless feeling was beginning to creep over me.

I was looking out the window, when I heard a poem that made me turn around and pay attention. The reader was a young man, about my own age. I could feel the smile spreading across my face without my willing it.

When the leader of the group asked up to divide ourselves into critique groups, I did not hesitate.

Friday: This is another late night one.  I was quite tired. Interesting to note: BCITW (Best Cat in the World) was on my bed. I believe he inspired it.

Prompt: It’s the end of a long work day. All you want to do is relax, but something keeps preventing it.

It had been an exceptionally difficult shift, at the end of an amazingly difficult week. I wanted nothing but to make some tea, sit in my chair, and watch my favorite TV show.

If you’d offered me the moon, but I had to work one more shift to get it, I would have had to respectfully decline.

I went to make the tea, but there I found my cat, Logan, on the counter. I put him gently on the ground and made the tea, sighing in frustration. I sat down and put on the TV, but I heard him meowing in the kitchen. I realized that I’d forgotten to feed him. After I filled his dish, I realized that the little jerk had coughed up a hair ball on the floor. So, I had to spend ten minutes cleaning up the carpet.

When people ask me “Why do you keep a cat?” I always answer “Because, he helps me relax.”