But things built to volcanic proportions, and when a plate slipped from my uncle's hands and shattered, my aunt decided, if that was the way things were going to go, she could give as well as she got. She grabbed a bowl and chucked it to the floor. Rising to the challenge, my uncle smashed another plate. And so it went, until they hadn't a single dish to eat from.
They lived in a cheap apartment. The walls were thin.
Which was how it happened, the next morning, that a clutch of neighbors appeared at the door with a box of dishes, and a sign that read, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!"
Isn't that wonderful?
My brother tells of a grandfather and grandmother who used to fight often and loudly... and with guns.
He says his father drove a packed family car onto the property once to see Grandpa running zig-zag across the meadow, faster than an old man ought to have to, while Grandma stood on the porch, taking aim, and shooting. She spotted the car coming up the drive, broke into a smile, and put the rifle down. "Pa!" she called. "Come on back! The kids are here!"
My brother-in-law would make a great writer, and I have no idea if this story is true. But I hope it is.
Which brings me to the first rule of character development: Your reader is going to spend hours, perhaps days with your protagonist. It's the equivalent of a weekend, cross-country drive. Give your reader someone who makes the trip worthwhile.
In the same book Patti quoted on Monday, The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass describes what I mean:
"In your circle of friends, who is the most outrageous? Do you have an acquaintance who will blurt out anything, wears horrible bow ties or skin-tight jump suits zipped down to the naval, flies to Borneo on a whim, flirts with your mother, shoots cactus tequila, believes in astral projection, named a cat Richard Nixon, does calculus for pleasure, drives a hot pink hearse, got arrested once in Omaha? No? Wouldn't it be fun? It would be great to meet some outrageous characters in manuscripts too, but I rarely do."
This doesn't mean that all your characters have to be slap-stick cartoons. Sharon is writing a book about a woman whose child was stolen - an utterly unique woman with a distinct voice. Latayne is writing a novel about Priscilla of the Book of Acts - but hers is like no Biblical story you've read before, and the characters will unnerve you by the depth of their nuance.
No, characters should be real people. But be careful. I never saw my great-aunt and uncle fight. Around me, he was stately, a gentleman, and she an elegant lady. It was others who told me the truth. Most folks don't present themselves as real people. They clean things up for the public, arrange themselves to blend in. And the average person believes the charade.
Writers mustn't be fooled. They must see beneath the surface of their family, friends, acquaintances... and by extension, their characters.
I'm listening to an audio-book, Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana, by Anne Rice. I chose this book because I am also reading Latayne's manuscript, and because the two books are so similar in such intriquing ways. Let me close with a passage that stunned me. The point-of-view character is Jesus. How's that for a challenge in character voice?
Today in the comments, let's tell stories. Who are some of the "characters" you have known in real life? Can you tell us about them without embarrassing or incriminating them? If not, then tell us about a favorite, well drawn character from your reading.
"What, you mean they don't say strange things about Yeshua?" said Jason, staring at Joseph, and then at me. "You know what thery call you, my mute and immutable friend," he said to me. "They call you Yeshua, the Sinless."
I laughed, but I turned away so that it didn't seem that I laughed in his face. But I was actually laughing in his face. He went on talking, but I didn't hear him. I fell to watching his hands. He had beautiful smooth hands. And often when he went into a tirade or a long poem, I merely watched his hands. They made me think of birds.
We love to read what you have to say.