Developing Characters

Be Attentive

Be Attentive

 A writing buddy of mine, once mentioned going to Panera Bread with her laptop to write. Panera Bread is right up the street from my house, but this is something that has been so far from my thoughts it would have to be written in large bold letters, and waved in front of my face (that being a tweet). I don’t know why. Anyway, the instant I read the message, the switch flipped – I threw a hand to my forehead, and thought, man, am I a ditz or what? I haven’t made it there yet, but it is definitely about to become a part of my routine, since I love being out and about, writing and people watching. I want them so sick of me that in order to keep me away, they’ll have to stamp my card. I recall reading how Ernest Hemingway frequented the local bars and restaurants in Florida to do nothing more than observe folk. He also had a compulsion to incorporate things he noticed into his own made up characters. I always try to remember this whenever I’m out anywhere, since this has always been one of my favorite pass times.

Probably since I lived in New Jersey for so long two other writers come to mind; Albert Einstein and Orson Welles. Why do I bring up New Jersey when I mention these two greats? Because in case you didn’t know, Einstein used to frequent the Nassau Inn, which sits right on Nassau Street in Princeton, since he taught at the college. Secondly, Orson Welles lit a fire to his career with the infamous War Of The Worlds broadcast of a Martian invasion in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, which is a stones throw from Princeton. As I worked in this college town three years for a Manhattan based firm, I had the chance to get up close with these two locales. Having lunch one day at the Nassau Inn, I sat across from the wooden booth bearing Einstein’s name (it is said he carved it there). Although his works were philosophical, and not at all in the same genre as Welles or Hemingway, I still envisioned him taking in human behavior and writing on his note pad before he inscribed his name in the wood. I don’t know how Welles picked Grover’s Mill as the scene for his ruse, but he did. As a lover of the art of television, radio and the screen, he also had to have an inclination toward building personalities. Let’s think about some methods of constructing a character:

  • Watching while out having dinner or at the local watering hole;
  • Eating lunch in the park – there are others there enjoying their meal as well;
  • An oddball you remember from your past may make a controversial bad guy;
  • Friends who have lost touch;
  • Family members/Friend’s family members;
  • Boyfriends/girlfriends from the past; and
  • Growing LARGE ears and eavesdropping on nearby conversations as mannerisms are carried over into speech.

Those of us who have been around for some time know this, but are you newbies on your toes? One day my husband and I were having breakfast at the Seville Diner on Route 18 in East Brunswick when a large family across the way caught my eye. The father had three tea bags in his cup of water. Now, that’s not something you notice everyday. Of course, you know one of my people had to have that little oddity. As writers, we are attentive creatures; sometimes though, it’s not inbreed, some of us have to learn the trait. But, either way it is a critical part of creating riveting individuals in our work. Tell me how you go about devising/developing a personality?



Photos courtesy of iStockPhoto

Information provided by Nassau Inn & Wikipedia

Don’t forget, if you haven’t contributed to the Hurricane Relief efforts, you can get to Red Cross from here, by clicking on the Globe with the Band-aid.  Everyone thanks you.


Listen While You Work

Musical Energy

Today, I’d like to talk about listening to music as you write.  I’ve been finding more and more articles with regard to this topic.  An author who will remain nameless, said something to the effect that if a person could do that, they only listened, and didn’t write; he thought they lied if they said it helped.  I think, and I’m the first person to say we need to edify each other, but that comment sounds light years from the truth.  What’s that old saying about music, and the savage breast?  I believe it kind of works in that fashion – eases the mind, and allows the thoughts to flow effortlessly.  What about those helicopter flights over the Grand Canyon that pipe in the classical compositions – that’s how I envision inspiration for my own masterpiece.  I always find myself struggling for words or stream of thought when I’m left to silence.  I remember reading that Pope John Paul II said, “Music is my only sin.”  I do not believe this is a sin, I understand the arts being here for our enjoyment – what would this world be without your favorite artist.  But, I would in no way want to dispute the Pope, that’s just my opinion.

Therefore, when the words won’t come – when it’s like extracting deep-rooted wisdom teeth, I find breaking out the Cleveland Orchestra, and their version of Rhapsody in Blue or Joshua Bell on his violin playing Song to The Moon from Rusalka relaxing, and calming to the point of productivity.  However, those choices are just me, and believe it when I say, they are also just the tip of my musical iceberg. My mother introduced me to  the industry at a very young age, then in high school, Music Appreciation helped to smooth over the rough edges.  Being accustomed to cleaning the house to it, and getting that job done so much faster, why wouldn’t adding this to the challenge of sculpting that great American novel assist in purging those artful words lying dormant in the back of your mind.

My husband knows how much I love the stuff, so when he purchased my laptop, an iPod came along.  I can’t imagine working without that little gadget.  Nowadays we don’t have to “whistle while we work,” we simply plug ourselves in.  It’s a funny thing though, each day you must perform the test.  On one occasion, classical gets the words flowing, but the next day it could be easy listening, contemporary jazz or soft rock.  It’s always like a treasure hunt, but with tunes.  I found in 1999, when writing that first novel, a love scene would not be a love scene without the right melody.  Usually, I have to go back in time though, and retrieve the Old School Love Songs; they always seem to work best for me.  After I learned that, it carried over, and became mandatory with every scene.  But, I will admit, anything above soft rock – dance tunes, for instance – will not work; they would only have you dancing, and I don’t think a person can do the latest dance moves while trying to write, for crying out loud.

I’ve learned there really is a science to applying the mood of the song to the disposition of the scene.  For instance, if the day is to construct a heart-wrenching setting – say a situation of unrequited love, one wouldn’t tune in to Sammy Hagar’s, I Can’t Drive 55 or Jay Z’s latest hip hop release.  I know that’s silly, I only mentioned that to make a point, and not to insult anyone’s intelligence. But, regardless, your brain will tell you what’s right for the moment.  Sometimes I can get stuck in my Pop/Vocal category for days, and although I’m singing and tapping my toes, the words are still falling on the page.  Because the thing is, you know the song – you don’t have to think about it.  Then, you’re free to consider what the character in your story is going to say next – all at the same time.  Is that ambidexterity?  Making you the ultimate multi-tasker?  Like a Ninja thinker, huh?  Hey, has that been scientifically proven?  If not, a scientist somewhere should get to work on that.  For one, I’d like to know.  So, what am I listening to now – I am, like I said, stuck in that Pop/Vocal category.  Okay, specifically?  I’ve got a mix of Randy Crawford, Barbara Streisand, Adele, Basia, Norah Jones, Gipsy Kings, India Arie, and Michael Jackson, to name a few.  Can you say eclectic? Now, I can’t give you all the statistics on who listens, and who doesn’t or why one should or should not.  But, if you don’t, at least – maybe, I can spark an interest or at least set your mind to the wonder mode.  Take the time to leave a comment on what tunes get your creativity flowing.  In the meantime, I’d like to end this week’s post with a profound quote from the Nineteenth Century English Novelist, Arnold Bennett with his synopsis of this art:  Its language is a language which the soul alone understands, but which the soul can never translate.  Happy listening.

Info on Arnold Bennett courtesy of Wikipedia

Photos courtesy iStockPhoto