Character Development

You can’t tell the assholes from the bitches from the idiots from the arrogancia without a scorecard

The image below is of a sign at my gym a few days back. My gym routinely posts “Questions of the Day.” I wish they’d keep a list of the responses because some of them are priceless.

And it occurred to me that such a device would be a good tool for character description purposes, much like how the calendar was used to set a scene in Setting Scenes with Props.

click for larger image

 
Let’s say you want to demonstrate a character who wants to portray themselves as an intellectual, someone knowledgeable:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells?”
Lori shook her head. “I don’t know. I just pick the question from a file. I wouldn’t know the difference between…what did you call it? Shells?”
“It makes a difference.”

We can also show that Emerson doesn’t know what they’re talking about:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.

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O’ Happy Day!

Old men and their Suburu Foresters. You gotta love ’em

O’ Happy Day!

Cenelli pulled his aging Forester into the driveway and waited. He kept his hands on the wheel, his fingers tapping, keeping time to the rapid beating of his heart.

O’ Wondrous Happy Day!

He’d worked in secret for so long and today was the day!

Many times good neighbor Andy came over and asked how Cenelli was doing since Effie passed.

“Doing fine. Working on something special in the basement.”

Each time Andy asked about the special project Cenelli winked. “It’s a secret.”

Andy smiled and nodded. He’d invite Cenelli over for a game of cards or some ice tea. Andy’s wife Betty made her ice tea just sweet enough to give you a good, shivering chill on these hot summer days.

“Betty’s asking for you, Ed. You should come over for dinner sometime.”

“Can’t. Working on something special. It’s a secret.”

It took a bit of doing.

 
Andy and Betty were frequent guests when Effie was alive. Cenelli gave Andy a tour of his basement workshop once.

Andy looked around like a kid in a candy store, his eyes almost as wide as his smile as he pointed to each of Cenelli’s tools. “What’s the name of that? What’s that one do?”

Cenelli made a weathervane out of scrap metal while Andy watched.

“I never knew what a tool and die maker did. This is amazing. Betty,” he called up the stairs, “you’ve got to see what Ed can do.”

All those years talking to Effie, asking her advice, taking her suggestions, talking to her picture after she passed — Effie explained that Andy wouldn’t understand what Ed had done, that he should take his project on the road, do something special to get someone interested.

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Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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Cicatrix

Where does it start? What is it about?

Cicatrix is a story originally written pre-1987. I dug it out because I’m thinking of including it in Tales V2. I’ve always liked the idea and concept, I’ve learned so much about writing that I realized I started the story 1) in the incorrect place and 2) with an incorrect conflict.

What follows are the first ~1,000 words from the previous version and the new version. Let me know which is better. If you can give me an idea why you prefer one over the other, excellent.

Original

The cool, early April evening air, heavy with the damp and salt of the craggy New Hampshire coast, wafted through the open windows of Paul’s rented house. His attention shifted from four hotdogs in a pot of boiling water on the stove to a pad of equations on the table. He sat between the two, against the wall and away from the door. He was within reach of both hotdogs and notepad, but he favored the notepad. One foot rested on the back of a large, black Newfoundland, Maschaak. Occasionally Paul would wiggle his foot and the dog would lick its chops and let out a satisfied growl.

A sudden hiss pulled him up from the equations to see a bobble of water dance on the heating element. Another bobble, somewhat greasier than the first, leapt over the edge of the pot and joined in the dance. “Tyndale effect.” He smiled and went back to the notepad. Both he and the dog looked up when a car door slammed outside. Paul’s gaze took in the rest of the first floor. The kitchen was separated from the living room/bed room by a transition from peeling, brittle, yellowed linoleum to frayed, puce purple rug. The house was clean but drab and spent the summer months as a beach cottage. During the school year it was rented to whatever student or students could afford the off-season price. The wallpaper looked and felt like a K-Mart Blue Light Special, heat came from a kerosene burner. Some earlier occupant had taped over the ON/off switch with DEAFENING/cold and Paul couldn’t argue. The place settings were a mix of yard sale Corelle, 1960’s gas station giveaways, and jelly jars, and no two pieces of flatware matched. There were no chairs, only couches with springs which long ago had sprang their last sprung. Each couch pulled out into a bed and Paul knew from experience they were equally uncomfortable. The woman who rented the house to him said, “This is just meant as a place to sleep after you’ve been on the beach all day.” Paul agreed after the first two weeks.

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Binky

Doctors at a besieged innercity clinic wrestle with the decision to condemn children to a future without hope.

Marino sipped cold coffee from a white styrofoam cup. He stood in his corner of the office he shared with the clinic staff. A bricked up fireplace ran along the wall nearest his desk, his clarinet on the mantle. Each day started with a little klezmer or polka, something to amuse the staff before the day began.

He nodded and smiled as they came in – “Morning, Dr. Marino”, “Morning, Janet.”, “Yo, Peter.”, “Yo yourself, Brian.” – performing a headcount.

He was one shy. Who…

Pahtmus’ and Officer Houle’s voices rose above the chants and hollers of protesters outside the clinic, beyond the perimeter fencing.

“You know you can’t park here?”

“I work here. You’ve seen me every day this week.”

“How come you don’t have a sticker on your car?”

“This is the first day I drove my car.”

“You got a sticker?”

Marino nodded to one of the new volunteers, “Vicki, could you run out with a parking permit for Dr. Pahtmus, please.”

He met Pahtmus in the entranceway. “Pretty loud today,” Marino said.

“Ah. You heard.”

“A little. You’re in triage today.”

Pahtmus nodded and shuffled off to the waiting and reception area.

“Wait a second. You’ll need this.” Marino held out a folding chair.

“Uncomfortable and austere is not chic, my friend.” Pahtmus waded into the sea of too many people and too much noise.

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