Author’s Log: Getting To Know You

Warning First of all, let me wave the Happy Mother’s Day flag to all the Mama Bears out there–it’s a tough job being a Mom. I know, cuz I was one tough kid to contend with. Thank you for all that you do, all that you sacrifice. You da Awesome in da Sauce.

So this week I’ve been deep into character development. I have four steps to my character development process once I identify the protagonist (not necessarily a Good Guy), antagonist (not necessarily a Bad Guy), a Helper and/or Romantic Interest: Sketch/profile, back story, dream, and wardrobe.

This is one of my favorite parts of writing–getting to know my characters. Sometimes I go out in public and stare at people in creepy-writer fashion until I think I’m somehow getting telepathically into their heads. I call this power the Writer Mind Meld.

This week has been all about the sketch work. It has all the stuff you might imagine–hair and eye color, where and when they were born, distinguishing characteristics, where they live, the car they drive, etc. Also, being a former theatre geek and unapologetic Netflix junkie, I like to watch actors at work–how they move, their vocal inflections, etc. We all have physical and vocal mannerisms that make us unique. Actors develop these mannerisms from character to character by making informed decisions based on their own creative set of criteria. What is that character’s story, and how does it in reflect the way they move, sit, walk, and talk?

I watch a lot of actors. A LOT. Good, bad, middling…I try to learn something from them all. And this, inevitably, leads to “casting” my characters. Something about tapping into what actor would play one of my characters immediately solidifies that character in my mind forever. I’m equally frustrated when I can’t cast the role. It makes them a cypher, no matter how much I know about them.

Sometimes all it takes is a familiar character type. Examples from TV, movies, and books help me understand my characters, especially their internal conflict. Internal conflict informs EVERYTHING we do as human beings. A reclusive character, for instance, who is trying to make up for past mistakes won’t trust themselves, and may let shame affect their body language: closed-off posture, use of few words, perhaps some self-anger expressed outward. How will the Inciting Incident begin to change that?

Villains are especially fascinating to me. What makes a Big Bad tick? The best villains really think they’re the good guys. One compromise leads to another, and another, and another…until BOOM. Where does the reasoning, the justification come in? Do they really believe it, or are they lying to themselves? They are people, after all–not labelled a villain until a series of events lead them down that road and choices based on internal conflict are made. Whatever the reasons, they have to be believable, and even a little sympathetic. Darth Vader started out as an innocent little kid. We ALL start out as innocent little kids.

Figuring out character is a study in humanity.

And now, for something completely different:

Tidbit the First: Yesterday I picked up my first pair of glasses in something like eighteen years. I’d given them up in favor of contacts when I became a dance teacher, as the studio I worked for had very stringent ideas about what their teachers should look like, in addition to practical considerations. It is very strange, and is taking some getting used to. I am amazed at how thinly they can grind the lenses these days–by all rights I should be wearing coke bottles or telephoto lenses. Also, the Ninja Kat known as Thing Two doesn’t quite know what to make of them. And as she spends a significant portion of time in my lap, well…here’s hoping the glasses last the week.

Tidbit the Second: After the glasses came a viewing of Iron Man 3. All in all very pleased with the conclusion of this particular arm of the movie franchise, and felt only relief when they gave Gwenyth Paltrow something to do other than be shrill and demanding. Also, the movie provided some twists I wasn’t expecting, which I suspect had something to do with Joss Whedon’s input, but I could be wrong. It just felt like his hand, between the humor and the flipping of convention. “Anyone who’s read the comic books will expect THIS, so let’s give them THIS OTHER THING instead.” It’s kind of like being visited by the Cat in the Hat, with all the shenanigans implied.

Tidbit the Third: Have just finished viewing Netflix’s second original series, Hemlock Grove. Found it wonderful, and surprising, and OMG they didn’t just do that! Also, best werewolf change EVER, and Bill Skarsgard is proving to have inherited some of his dad’s nuance. The show is chilling, and heartbreaking, all at once. Famke Janssen is, well, Famke Janssen, which is to say superlative. Extremely well done–between this and House of Cards, I’m eager to see what Netflix will do next.

What about you guys? What have you read or seen lately that has surprised you in a good way?

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