Tag Archives: Characters

Thoughts on “The Book Thief”

“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Book Thief

Apologies for the delay in communication. I have spent quite a bit of time as of late with the new grandson. Small. Cute. Easy baby. All in all, I will give him a 10.

It was during my travels to and from my hometown to my new home I encountered “The Book Thief.” I wanted to watch the movie, but I tend to read the books prior to watching a film as films can only grasp a tenuous amount of plot-line  However, I have to say this time I took it a step further and listened to the book narrated by Allan Corduner during the long, straight drives through the plains under blue or starry skies.

I have listened to some other books on tape including “Watership Down” and “Storm Front” (Dresden files by Jim Butcher-awesome), but while both were excellent stories, this one entangled me. Zusak wrote a great novel and Mr. Corduner’s read is delightful, moving and spot-on with the German, which is a necessity in a book of this magnitude.

Set in WWII Germany, we learn about Nazi fanaticism, a Jewish fist-fighter, thievery, friendship and death. They are all intertwined in the story of a girl seeking out an existence. We learn, we laugh and we cry. We learn that death indeed has a heart.

Liesel Meminger is a character I shall not soon forget. Deep. Well-rounded. Flawed and yet still flawless. She inspires me in ways I have not yet fully realized as she is each of us in our own unique ways. How did Zusak do that?

Beyond the well-scripted plot, the word economy and the descriptions of things seen yet unseen, I found Zusak to not be a writer or an author, but a natural story-teller.  And to add to this, Allan Corduner is a BRILLIANT talent who brought to life this poignant story.

Now, there are some who have trouble getting into the book as Zusak’s writing style is unique. It flips and flops until it settles into a rhythm such as a cha-cha or something of that nature. By the end of the first hour of listening, you are well into the story and transformation has indeed begun.

I generally steer clear of writing about books I have read, but “The Book Thief” changed that for me. I hope you will take the time to delve deep into the pages or the audio-book and breathe in a fresh and inspiring look at the beautiful piece of work Zusak shared with us all.

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The Old Man and Me

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Photo Credit: Chaval Brasil via Compfight cc

I saw this picture earlier today and remembered my dad, the old man.  Pop’s spirit never waivered. Age never diminished his sense of humor nor did it take away his mind as it does many old men and women. As his youth faded, his back stooped and his steps became slower, shorter. Weight fell off of him in a way my fluffy frame could only envy. His eyes faded from blue to gray and time bleached his hair so that as he took his last breaths, it was as white as freshly fallen snow.

My father was born in 1918. I used to tell him he was born when dinosaurs roamed Earth and mentioned more than once I believed he must have had a pet stegosaurus named Clive.  Occasionally I’d regale him with tales of “Clive’s Amazing Adventures” which included WWI and WWII, a trip with Amelia Earhart, Clive’s Moonwalk, standing outside the Dakota with John Lennon and listening to Lou Gehrig say “goodbye” to name a few.

Pops was a story-teller and while some of these tales were outlandish, I think he enjoyed them and came right back with his tales steeped in historical truth.  He lived the events and his emotion brought those memories to life.

There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to speak about this today.

First, I got to thinking about all of the “old” characters in the movies, on television and in books. Frankly, there aren’t that many. I find they are few and far between. There is something that can be said about having an elderly character in a story – no matter what medium that character is in.  I would like to see more “old” characters in books, movies and on television and ones that are not the butt of the joke (which I’m truly afraid would happen on TV.)

Second is the “why” I would like to see them.  There are two reasons. One is because older characters bring a “wisdom” that generally does come with age. They have truly been there / done that and especially in books, sage advice is always a good thing. The other reason is for electronic media I think there is a lack of “aging actors.” Rene Russo said something along the lines when shooting Thor that when she came back to acting she was used to being the leading lady kissing all the gorgeous guys (Mel Gibson) and now she was playing Thor’s mother. What was wrong with that? Ageism exists in Hollywood and I would personally like to see the industry embrace older actors instead of shipping them out to pasture or limiting roles and scripts to what I consider are mundane or demeaning positions. There are exceptions, but seriously I must ask – how many actors over 65 (or 45 or 55) do you see on TV or in the movies?

My challenge to you today is when writing your piece, consider adding someone who is more advanced in years. You just might find they add something to your story that’s missing… color, wisdom and maybe my dad’s dinosaur, Clive, too.

What I Learned About Writing from America’s Next Top Model

“I’ve always seen modeling as a stepping stone.”

~Tyra Banks~

Photo Credit: Coralie Bilasimo (slowly catching up) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Coralie Bilasimo (slowly catching up) via Compfight cc

Lately I’ve been binging on Hulu episodes of America’s Next Top Model. For some this may sound a bit bizarre. However, there is method behind the madness. I’ve been studying women and their personalities, interactions, expressions and movement for my characters. Not so bizarre now, eh?

So here’s some of what I’ve learned.

1) Even the most beautiful woman has flaws. In fact, her flaws are what give her depth and help the reader (viewer) connect to her. Without imperfections, the female character is flat and lifeless and has no opportunity to learn, change and grow.  Who wants that?  ANTMs need to learn how to do the job. They aren’t good at what they do. This means my characters don’t need to be “Miss Perfect.”  In making mistakes, an inner character is built.

2) There can be only one.  The show generally starts out with thirteen girls and through the process of competition and elimination there is a final winner. At some point it becomes pretty clear who the front-runners are and who the finalists/winner will be. If you have a female lead character, you must do the same thing. Other characters shouldn’t over-shadow your protagonist / antagonist. If they do, you need to beef up her/their presence.

3) ANTM points out with the model’s pictures there is a fine line between couture / sexy and “hootchie/ghetto.”  Sex may sell, but unless you are writing erotica, your female main character shouldn’t always be in situations that have to deal with sex. Other characters shouldn’t always be talking about her body, the way her clothes fit her body or the way she uses her body.

4) A woman has more emotional range than a gnat. They aren’t “always” crying, bitchy or what have you. I love Tyra Bank’s expression “smize” – smiling with the eyes. I love this photo because it shows this “emotion” beautifully. Your character can do this many different ways. What does your characters’ eyes say about them?  Can you portray body language on the page to “show don’t tell?” It’s a valuable tool.

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Photo Credit: kinojam via Compfight cc

5)  Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Women handle relationships MUCH differently than men. We catch nuances in conversation and read into situations that most men wouldn’t catch if it were handed to them on a silver platter. If you aren’t a “people watcher,” go to a restaurant and eavesdrop on a group of women having lunch / dinner. Watch the body language and facial expression while listening to how they speak with and to each other. Then, do the same thing with a group of men. Night and day.  Mars and Venus.

I’m sure there is more valuable information that may be gleaned from America’s Next Top Model. After all I’ve only watched the first 10 seasons. I believe there are at least 10 more to go.

A Simple Verse

 
“Oh captain, my captain…”  ~Robin Williams~
 
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It’s been a few days since the startling news Robin Williams, actor and comedic genius, took his own life. I debated writing about this as so many other people have shared their thoughts and feelings on this subject and my thoughts align with many. However, I wanted to focus on something about Robin that left an everlasting impression – “Dead Poets Society.”
 
 
Robin Williams made many movies throughout his career. From “Good Morning Vietnam” to “Good Will Hunting” to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and others, but DPS was bar none the one to make me think, to stretch my limits and to make me seize the day.
 
 
There are many lines in the movie that speak to me, but this scene is brilliant beyond description. It is absolutely, positively brilliant.
 
 
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
 
 
I know what Robin’s verse was for me and now I find myself wondering how I shall answer that question. I pray it’s with a shout and echoes across generations, but if it falls with a subtle whisper, I just pray it’s heard.

What Inspires You?

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”
~Edgar Allen Poe~

ImageWhat inspires you?

Such an innocent looking question, isn’t it?

Does inspiration come from something our soul touches? Does it come from a place of understanding and acceptance or maybe the search thereof? Is inspiration born of emotion or found in the depths of apathy? Is it divine intervention? The reason we are inspired to do the things we do, to write the things we write or to be who we are is unique to each of us. What illuminates my universe and prods me forward may give you hesitation.

I was reading a news article this morning about a woman in Chicago who was charged $787.33 for two-mile cab ride. I love stories like this for a couple of reasons.

  1. Stories like this I tuck away in case I need a character whether it be a cab driver, a college student or even a worker at a credit card company. The truth in a story like this gives better depth to a character, even if a minor one.
  2. The comments in the story from others who were overcharged were sometimes ridiculously funny. Some offered helpful hints as to how to avoid overpaying for cabbie services. Others made me cringe. All spoke of the universality of human nature.

I’ve taken my fair share of taxi’s, though not in Chicago. Almost all of them have been in New York City. Only once have I gotten into it with the driver, who claimed the credit card machine didn’t work. As I didn’t want to be late for my flight home, I just shelled out cash and got on with it. Yes. I’m an idiot. But we learn from our mistakes, eh? Will I use that experience at some point in my writing? Probably so.

You see, the piece I’m working on has much of it taking place in the Big Apple and it would be easy enough to wind in a scene with a NY cabbie and a main character. If done right, it would provide quite a comedic moment as I wasn’t familiar at the time with how hacks operate and this individual would be just as clueless.

So back to the original question. What inspires you?

My inspiration is drawn from everything around me, but mostly things I have experienced. From the experience I ask the question “what if…?” and see where it takes me. (I’m hoping it takes me back to New York. I love that town.)

(Photo courtsey WFLD)

Give Them the Axe?

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
~E.E. Cummings~

I was chatting with my friend, TD, about one of the characters in the novel I am working on.  We were discussing the killing off of said character and at this time, I have no plans to annihilate this being. I’m quite fond of him and he’s essential to the well-being of another major individual in the book. This leads me to a couple of other conversations I would like to share with you.

My oldest daughter is trying her wings at writing. She had a character who, for all practical purposes, was a red shirt and she didn’t know what to do with her.  When it comes to characters, one of the most vital things you have to ask yourself is, “What purpose do they serve?” I asked her that to help her figure out how to “get rid of her.”

If they are just there to take up space and don’t help to push the story along, they are a red shirt. If they have have a bearing on another character, provide insight into a situation, but don’t have a major contribution to the plot/story, then they are a minor charactor. These individuals need to have some depth to them, but you don’t have to know everything about them. Your major characters are central to the story and need to be fully flushed out. You need to know them and know them well. You need to know what makes them tick, what makes their hearts go bump in the middle of the night and why they do the things they do. My daughter was trying to make her red shirt into a minor character, who didn’t really serve a purpose other than die. Seriously. By rewriting the scene and leaving this individual as a red shirt, the emotional response by the main character rang authentic. Boom! That’s how it’s done.

Another friend of mine is a fabulous writer. She has the art of paring down characters to an art form. She’s on her second novel and I sometimes howl in delight with the way she is able to craft things. After she got rid of a lot of the unessential cast. As a result, her writing is much tighter and many scenes are either 1) much funnier or 2) more poignant. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

There are many, many works where characters are killed off – whether on the page, the stage or screen. I think Shakespeare actually ENJOYED killing off his characters – it seemed as though someone always died in his plays.  Television has had it’s own share of characters who have bitten the big one, moves that have stunned audiences around the globe. (Thinking back now to who shot JR…)  These deaths can sometimes feel forced and contrived so care must be taken when eradicating a beloved character – especially a major character.

<SPOILER> One of my favorite characters who was obilterated was Professor Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Love him or hate him, his demise was masterfully crafted.  Unlike a redshirt, he was a major player and without him, Harry Potter wouldn’t have achieved what he did or become who he did.  (And also using Rowling’s Potter Series… she did her own fair share of killing off of characters, but over seven books, I think she was allowed.)

Before cancelling your character’s life-check, ask yourself what purpose he/she serves – Major, minor or red shirt? Once you have that figured out, the rest should be a little easier to write.

The First Fifty

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” 
~Mark Twain, letter to George Bainton, 1888

I am a writer.

I wrote my first story when I was seven years old.  It was a page long and not well written, but I knew then the power of the pencil and Big Chief tablet.  My father, the story-teller, seemed to like it and he tucked it away saved it for a rainy day.

When I was twelve, I began forming the idea for a story that was much longer and more detailed, but I didn’t have the life experience to emotionally connect to the characters. So the characters went on a vacation to Europe for a few years.

I tried to write the story again in high school, but I got “busy” with friends, social activities and writing of another form – journalism. I learned the craft of the who, what, where, when, why and how.  Pieces of craft started coming together and I discovered what I thought I knew, I didn’t really know. So I practiced writing for the school newspaper, song lyrics, poetry and other things that would expand not only my mind, but my style.

After high school came college and then “life.”  It’s trite, but life gets in the way of our plans. So, the Pulitzer in journalism, which I was sure I was going to win, went by the wayside and in its place came a husband, two beautiful children, a few dogs and an assortment of adventures that adulthood brings.

My characters though were growing tired of Europe. However, I wasn’t ready to bring them home, so I created a new bunch of characters and tried writing a story in a genre that was more mainstream and “accepted.”  I use the word accepted because at this point, I had my own demons to battle and I wanted to write a story my family would “approve” of.  It was a hard story to write. There was no emotional connection to the characters and frankly, the story fizzled in a big way. It’s still two-thirds done sitting in the attic collecting dust.

Because of more life changes and other events, I quit writing. I stopped journaling, stopped doodling poetry, and I stopped everything including reading. I went through a personal winter and the soils of my soul needed some time to just lay fallow for a while.  Several seasons later, seeds were planted when I started reading again.

A writer must read.  We get inspiration from what others have written.  You see, a writer is zipping along a good book and then BAM! A word, a turn of phrase, or something else catches our eye and the muse within plants a seed. Further reading waters and nurtures the seedling and before you know it, you have a field of ideas and you just have to harvest them.

After a long and barren winter, I would have to thank too many writers to list that inspired me to pick up the pen and write again. But gone was the notion I had to write to please anyone, but myself, my worst critic. 

My characters rejoiced. They finally came home from their long hiatus and I discovered something about them. They were well-rounded and flushed out from their adventures and living life abroad. They had matured and become more than I had ever dreamed of. Their story isn’t torture to write, it’s in a genre I love and most importantly, I finally found my “voice.”

The first fifty pages are done and some re-writes have already been completed. After all, being a writer doesn’t mean that you slop down some words on paper and submit them. You take what you have written, rewrite them until they are crisp and then rewrite them until they are razor sharp. As a friend told me once, “the writing is easy, the re-writing is a bitch.”

I wanted to share this achivement today because I didn’t know if this day would come. But in being true to myself, it has. I look forward to what the next pages have to offer, what my characters are going to do next and when I get to write the final words that will close out this novel.

Fifty down – a few hundred to go.

Today I realized…

I AM a writer.