Five Rules for Lead Characters To Live By

I want to thank Martha Ann Kennedy and her blog post “My Rules for Good Writing” for this idea. You just never know where an idea will come from. Thanks, Martha.

1.Get to know your writer.

She won’t bite. She needs you just as much as you need her. Sure, she may put you through a beaucoup of manure. It’s okay. That is her job. Things will work out well in the end. Ask her questions about your role in the story. If you make her like you, you might get a return engagement. Series have been built around characters who have made nice to their author. Just look at Harry Potter. Seven books just because he said please and thank you and ma’am. Believe you me that boy knew exactly what he was doing. And guess what? His author may be bringing him back.

It wasn’t that James Bond and Tarzan were so popular. It was that they gave their creators a warm, fuzzy feeling. So ask your writer if they like wine? If they do, there’s no rule that your can’t give them a nice bourdeaux. Maybe she’s into clothes. Give her a new pair of shoes that fit comfortably and look great and she will be your friend for life. Just ask Scarlett O’Hara. Tomorrow may have been another day, but shoes got her the job. Jake Barnes knew his Hemingway. He gave Papa his first typewriter. It was Jay Gatsby that showed Fitzgerald how to get Zelda to marry him. And Huck Finn taught Mark Twain everything Sam Clemens knew about humor.

2.Let your writer get to know you.

You think Holden Caulfield was invented in a day. Absolutely not. Ol’ Hol was sharing his stories with J. D. for years. Originally Sal was only going to put Hol in a short story. Hol kept telling his creator more and more. Pretty darn soon Sal had a whole novel.

So tell your writer everything. How you wet the bed till you were seven. How Mary Lou Wizzama broke your heart when you were eight. How you almost died of the flu when you were nine.  Don’t forget the secrets either. How you almost got caught shoplifting when you were twelve. You just had to have that first number of The Flash comic book. How you were dumped by your first girlfriend because she didn’t like the shoes you were wearing to the prom.

Stuff like that. Believe me. Your creator will love that kind of stuff. And if you don’t have any interesting stuff, make something up. When he finds out that you did make it up, he will be impressed. It means you’re ready to work hard in your role as a character. He might even promote you from sidekick to protagonist. That was how Huck Finn got his lead.

3. Dress appropriately.

I can’t tell you how many characters have shown up on set in the wrong duds. Othello showed up in a kilt. Talk about mad. The Bard was livid. Tom Sawyer showed up in a suit. Mark Twain just about laughed him off the set. And that Nick Carroway of Gatsby fame. He thought Fitzgerald wanted him to be a cross dresser. F. Scott was drunk for a whole week over that one.

Do some research. Find out what time period your character is supposed to be in. Have a little looksee at your character’s resume. It will keep you out of all kinds of trouble. Dickens fired a character once because she thought she was doing Jane Austen. Jane Austen was very forgiving. Mr. Darcy thought he was playing Tom Jones’ daddy. Can you imagine?

4. Choose your friends wisely.

Loners don’t make it in the story business. Don’t forget how useful Doctor Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock had a good eye for character and Watson was his man. Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” got his job because he coseyed up to Nick Carroway. And talk about great sidekicks. How about that Tonto? Originally The Lone Ranger saw him working in a raid on the wagon train in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He knew he was the right sidekick the moment he laid eyes on Tonto. Besides nobody else in Hollywood could say kemosabe with a straight face.

Remember this character can save your butt in a tight spot. Don’t forget that Gretel would never have been able to get that witch into the oven without Hansel. Dick Whittington would have been nowhere without his cat. Do you think Dorothy would have ever made it back home without Toto? Absolutely not. And Peter Pan could never have found his way to Never Never Land without Tink. She was his GPS Navigator. I’m telling you sidekicks matter.

5.Don’t forget to join the Character’s Union.

It will save you a lot of heart ache and pain. There are characters who absolutely refused to join. Look at them now. Take Hamlet. He could be a rich character. Every performance would be bring in a royalty. Hundreds of times a year, that is how many performances go on. For each of those performances he would bring in the big bucks. Could be living in a mansion. Instead he’s forced to live in a trailer park. He can barely pay the rent on that run-down trailer of his. Last I heard he was a neighbor of Honey Boo Boo’s. Can you imagine how humiliating that is for one of the best known characters in all of Western Civilization? Compare that to Ham’s ghostly dad. He’s only in three scenes. But he now owns an island. For each performance in the last four hundred years or so, he has gotten minimum. Makes you think, don’t it.

If you follow these five simple rules,

you can have a successful career as a character. It worked for Moby Dick, for David Copperfield, for Emma, and it can work for you.

Short Story Wednesday: Aurora Farquhar’s Prayer

Short Story Prompt:”An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

Lord.

I shot a Yankee today.  I know it ain’t right to kill a man. That’s what the Commandments say. I had no say in the matter. He come snooping around. Wanting to know where Peyton was. I didn’t dare tell him Peyton was off fighting Yankees down at the bridge.

Little Eli, he told the Blue Coat to git. The man was having none of that. He just laughed and laughed like he knew something we didn’t. He knocked my boy out of his way and come at me, looking like he had something dreadful on his mind.

I pulled that pistol Peyton done give me out of my apron. It was hard cocking that gun but I done it. I shot that Yankee in the face and killed him.

My oldest, Noah, was out plowing the field. He heard the shot and come running into the house and seed the dead man, lying on the floor. He rolled the Yankee’s body onto the rug I braided last winter, rolled that red rug up, and tied that rug around the body real tight. Then that boy, only thirteen, threw the bundle onto his shoulders. With that body of his, all tall and muscular like his granddaddy, he toted the bundle out to the back of the house. I stood there on the back porch and watched my boy bury that Yankee and cover the grave so there’s no trace.

He said to me that we got to speak some words over the man. Ain’t right to leave a man in his grave without some words, no matter how mean he was, or how much he’s out to do the bad things this Yankee had on his mind, So that was what we did. We stood over that grave and my boy said them words just like the preacher would’ve. Noah made me so proud, him taking charge and all.

About the time Noah got hisself cleaned up, this Yankee lieutenant come riding into our yard. He was real spit and polish sittin’ on the back of a mighty fine horse. He calls down to me, “Ma’am, we hung your husband. He’s on that wagon there. Where you want him?”

I never cried. I would not cry. I would not wring my hands. I would not grieve. I would not let that Blue Coat of a lieutenant see me weak like he was expecting. I give Mr. Spit-and-Polish directions to the little church down the way. Then me and the boys followed that wagon to the church. Preacher tried to comfort me, and I was comforted best I could be. It was best to get the burying over with, and that’s what we done. We sent Peyton on to You, Lord. I just want You to know that Peyton was a good man. The best man I ever knowed. And I’m wanting You to take good care of him, y’hear. I’ll be much obliged if You do.

There’s just me and my two boys left now. That Blue Coat lieutenant told us to gather our things and git. We couldn’t stay at the house. The Yankees aimed to burn the house and the barn down, and the crops too. He give us no choice but to hitch up our wagon with the mule. So we’re going now.

Oh, Lord, strengthen me for the road ahead in these dark times. Lead this husbandless woman with her two fatherless boys safely through the wilderness and to the promised land of my sister’s house.

I got to go for now. Night will be upon us soon. May light return on the morrow, and may Your grace light all our tomorrows.

Amen.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “Odour of Chrysanthemums” by D. H. Lawrence

Hands

So much of a writer’s job is paying attention. Robyn Graham’s Photography Blog recently reminded me of this. She posted a photograph called “Grandma’s Hands” of her 90-year-old grandmother’s hands. Those hands were absolutely beautiful hands. Hands that had worn life with grace.

The photograph called to my mind the dignity that we often miss in our fellow human beings. And the details of another’s life. Details that are important. Florida writer Robert Newton Peck, in his book “Fiction Is Folks: How to Create Unforgettable Characters”, says that you can tell a lot about a character from his hands.

It’s in the details that our characters come alive. You can tell whether a character is a worker bee or someone who does no physical work at all. A guitarist will have callouses on his fingers. What does the reader learn about a pianist with short stubby fingers or long graceful ones? Are the hands of a character manicured or are the fingernails chewed off crookedly? Chewed from worry? Is there dirt underneath the fingernails?

When I was reading Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike, he mentioned that John Updike never wore a wedding ring during his first marriage to Mary. During his second marriage to Martha, he wore a wedding ring. This told me so much, not about the writer, but about the man.

One of the things I love about the photographs of Ansel Adams and the paintings of Andrew Wyeth is how much dignity they bring to their subjects.

My Uncle Howard was a butcher. He was larger than life. He could fill a room just by walking into it. One time I asked him, “What happened to your pinkie?”

He threw his head back and laughed that big laugh of his. “I lost it years ago when I was slicing sausage. You can’t imagine the blood that poured out of that hand, enough to start a swimming pool. Anyway I got that hand all patched up. Decided I would honor that pinkie with a name. So I called it bologna.” At that, he winked at me.

“Where’s that pinkie now?” I asked.

“It’s in heaven, waiting for me. Guess I had better be good or I am going to have to spend eternity with one less pinkie, huh?”

Just want to thank Robyn Graham for her beautiful photograph and reminding me of the details that I need to pay attention to.

Short Story Wednesday: Do Socks Get a Divorce?

Short Story Prompt: “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant.

Inquiring minds want to know. Or at least this inquiring mind. I have a perfectly nice pair of socks. They look good. They sure feel good on my feet. There isn’t a soldier who wouldn’t like this pair of socks.

The pair would make a great companion for the long march ahead. After all, there are those in the know who say a battle is lost or won by the socks on a soldier’s footsies. Napoleon learned this the hard way. That was what defeated him in Russia. Not that he got cold feet, but that his soldiers had cold feet. They didn’t have holy socks. They had holey socks.

You can see why this pair of socks I have brings me such comfort. Not only do they make me feel like I am walking on air, they make my feet smell good too. That’s no easy feet. I mean feat.

Last weekend I did laundry. Separated the lights from the darks. The whites from the lights. Put them into separate piles. ‘Fore you know it, my washing machine is going chug-chug-chug. Then my dryer is whirring away with my load of laundry. I open the dryer door, pull out the load, throw them into the basket, take them into the bedroom for sorting and folding.

At the end, there is only one sock left from the pair of those best socks. You know, the comfortable pair. The pair that look good. The pair that made my feet smell nice. Real nice.

I am frantic. Where’s the other sock? I hurry out to the laundry room, open the dryer door and hope against hope. No, it’s not there. I look in the washing machine. The sock isn’t there either. I trace my trail back to the bedroom where I once sorted. No sock.

So I give the sock remaining the inquisition. How did you do it? Did you poison your partner? Did you strangle her, then bury her among the lint? Then it hit me. Maybe it was a Sock Rapture. Maybe the Sock Jesus returned and claimed all the good socks. Yes, that had to be it. The reason for the disappearance. It could happen. Not.

If the Sock Jesus came and took all the good socks, why was this one sock the only one who disappeared. Were there no other good socks in the load? Was my sock drawer a regular Sodom and Gomorrah? I don’t think so.

No, it was looking more and more likely that something had come between the pair of socks. Maybe they had a fight and the female of the pair went home to mother. Maybe there was a different explanation.

They were such a handsome couple. Let’s call them Fred and Wilma. They seemed so happy. Deep down Wilma resented her lot in life. She deserved a sock much better than Fred. She was locked into a marriage she had come to despise, forced to stay home and clean house, babysit Pebbles and cook Fred’s Neanderthal dinners. When she wanted to go vegetarian, all Fred could spout out was “Meat. I want meat.” Then there was Dino problem. He wa the family’s pet dinosaur. Have you ever tried cleaning up dinosaur poop. As John Lennon once sang, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy.”

You get the point. Wilma Sock was deeply unhappy. She was a fine wine and caviar kind of girl and Fred was all pretzels and beer.

Then a day later, quite by accident, I discovered another sock missing. You know, those socks the tennis pros wear. This was a sock like that. Let’s call him Fabio.

After much investigation, I got to the root of the problem. Wilma found herself in the washing machine with Fabio. He was whiter than white and he was very unhappy with his partner. Her name was Betty. She had stains all over her. He wondered what had happened. When they were first dating, she kept herself spotlessly pure white. Then they married and she let herself go. She just didn’t seem to care anymore. When Fabio Sock saw an unhappy Wilma, he was smitten. She was something, taking pride in her appearance.

Fabio sang “Sock it to me” to Wilma, “Sock it to me.” Before Fred knew what had happened, Wilma ran off with Fabio to Sock Vegas. The couple got quickie divorces and remarried in twenty-four hours. It was like the dish running away with the spoon. As everybody knew, Fabio was a real stud and Wilma was a real dish, a very Socksy Lady.

Unfortunately there was no happily ever after for Fabio and Wilma. Wilma has triplets on the way and Fabio is laid up with tennis elbow. His pro career is over and he can’t even find a job in a pro shop at a country club.

In the meantime, Betty realized she needed some whitener. In the next wash, she had an extra dose of bleach. It worked. She was back to a perfect white. Fred and Betty met at a Speed Dating for Singles of the Socks Set get-together. They hooked up. Next thing you know Betty is a perfect housekeeper, loves to cook only meat, and is helping Pebbles, as a Girl Scout Daisy, earn her Golden Honey Bee Award. Fred got a new promotion. Mr. Slate retired and Fred is now General Manager of the Slate Rock and Gravel Company.

Oh, and one final thing. Fred and Betty have new neighbors in the drawer. Right next to them is what seems like a nice couple. Names are Barney and Wilma.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce.

God is not dead. He’s moved to Phoenix, Arizona instead.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, then he moved to Phoenix, Arizona. He didn’t have any choice. It was doctor’s orders.

“Look,” Dr. Job said. “You have to get out of Florida. The humidity and the mold and the pollen are killing you.”

“I can’t leave. I can’t sell the house.” God tucked his shirt back into his pants. “This is the worst market I’ve seen since the Romans tried to sell a lot of bad real estate to Attila and the Huns. We all know how that turned out.”

Recently God bought way more house than he could afford. Had financed it with an adjustable rate mortgage, hoping to flip the house and make a killing. At the time, it seemed like a good play. Then the market crashed.

“Then,” Dr. J said. “you’re going to have to find a renter. Maybe your Son can rent it.”

“All he wants to do is go fishing. Him and his buddies. His disciples he calls them. Disciples, hah! Lazy bums more like it. Besides I don’t think I can trust him. Pretty soon he’ll move the homeless in and start a shelter. Don’t know what’s happened to him. I raised him to be a good capitalist and he’s turned into a socialist. Next thing I hear the pope will be taking his side.”

“Kids, I know they’re all alike,” Dr. J said. “Mine wants to be an actor. Run off to Hollywood and be a star. That kid couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.”

“No appreciation,” God said, “for all the hard work it took to get us where we are today. All my hard work, I only did it for him.”

The doctor handed God a prescription. “All I’m saying,” Dr. J. urged, “if you get another attack like the one you just had, that’s it. No more God. God is dead. It’s the writing on the wall.”

God looked at the prescription. “This isn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg, is it?”

“Nope, it’s a generic. Besides Medicare pays for it.”

“Well, where should I move to?” God sighed.

“Phoenix would be good. I hear housing prices have dropped so much you can get a new house for a dime.”

“That so?”

“Yes, and you’ll be close to the Grand Canyon. I hear the view is downright awesome.”

“You mean in Arizona?”

“That’s the one.”

“I did put a lot of work into that canyon. It would have been a big sinkhole if I hadn’t done my thing. Nice job, if I say so myself. And then there’s those folks in Sedona. They do seem to have a knack for healing. I get a healing and I’m back in Florida.”

“Why do you like Florida so much?” Dr. J wanted to know.

“Oh, the weather’s nice here. Everywhere else it seems to have gotten out of hand. I mean, forest fires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes. At least, I can see a hurricane coming several days ahead.”

“Sounds like it’s time for a Rapture and a Second Coming. All this weather and the wars and rumors of wars. The Middle East is coming unraveled. Makes me think Armageddon. ‘Course I don’t believe in all that stuff.”

“Oh, you don’t?” God asked.

“I’m Jewish,” Dr. J said. “Reformed, you know.”

God sticks out his hand. “I didn’t know,” he said. “I’m Jewish too.” The good doctor shook God’s hand. “Orthodox. Do you keep kosher?”

“Did Moses write the Torah,” Dr. J said. “Darn right I keep kosher. But you know it’s getting harder and harder to find a good kosher deli in the neighborhood.”

“Tell me about it.” God put on his coat and straightened his tie. “Seems like everything’s going online. Even the kosher delis.”

As God walked out into the waiting room, he heard the nurse call the next patient. “Mr. Satan, the doctor will see you now.”

God drove straight to the pharmacy. As he waited on his medication, he thought over what the doctor said.

Of course, I’ll have to transfer my job. Hopefully there’ll be an opening in Phoenix. One thing is for sure. If this doesn’t work out and I don’t get any better, I swear on a stack of Bibles I will come back and smite that s.o.b. of a doctor. He thinks he’s seen boils. He ain’t seen nothing compared to what it’ll be like when I’m through with him.