It’s funny, what comforts a person.
For instance, Big Bopper loves napping on the couch to the sounds of cartoons.
Bottled Lightning loves silence.
BoyWonder likes to sit around the dining room table with his family and talk, after a big meal.
Freckles McYoungest loves a stormy afternoon, curled up with a book.
I like wind…
An unremitting sea breeze on the beach.
An afternoon gust that cools the porch and blasts away the mosquitoes on a summer evening.
I wonder if it’s because the first house I lived in, situated in a coastal town, had no air conditioning. But every room had windows designed to catch a cross-breeze.
Or, could be I’m just weird.
As writers, though, it’s interesting to think about what would comfort the characters we invent. For instance, there are times that I get a whiff of stale oil and hot engine parts, and maybe a little pee, which reminds me of the Paris Metro. Would that be a comforting smell to someone raised there? Maybe a character loves raking leaves because it reminds him of New England and maple syrup and red flannel shirts—and home?
I dunno. I ponder these things, when I write characters.
Hope I’m not weird.
Oh, I am going to admit a dirty little secret. Ready?
Freckles McYoungest and I have been watching old seasons of The Jersey Shore.
Man. I felt filthy just typing that.
It started when we were with Bottled Lightning, and she kind of sort of FORCED US to watch an episode or two. Holy Cannoli. The DRAMA. I couldn’t. Stand it.
We came home to the land of Antenna TV where I guess Freckles watched the rest of the episodes on Hulu or Netflix or something.
I must admit that now–I am fascinated. I honestly have never known people like this. Well, I might have run across them, but I didn’t stick around to see what made them tick.
Now, a couple of episodes into the Miami Season of The Jersey Shore, it’s easy to see who is a kid sowing wild oats:
and who is a frickin’ sociopath.
Favorite quote of the day:
“You stepped on the only toes you had in the house.”
The Situation to Angelina
If you haven’t seen this amazing slice of Americana, let me explain. Approximately half-a-dozen twenty-somethings hang out in a house for a couple of months near the beach and party. Oh yeah. Occasionally they go to a minimum-wage job. Mostly they get drunk and have Drama. (Please note the capital “D”.)
OH BUT LISHA. HOW CAN YOU MAKE FUN OF THESE PEOPLE MAKING DRAMA WHEN YOU WRITE YA AND CHAMPION TEEN DRAMA AND NEVER, EVER MAKE FUN OF IT? EVER.
Thank you for asking.
Teens aren’t manufacturing their drama. There stuff really IS as big as they’re feeling it. First love. Choosing and getting into the right college. Losing your best friend. Standing up to peer pressure. Enlisting in the army. Deciding what to believe in, independent of your parents. Yeah. That’s big.
These guys on the Jersey Shore? They’re stirring up trouble, just so they can feel alive.
So there you have it, writers–the difference between flat characters and ones you can build a story on. You can’t put my characters’ day into a few gifs.
AND THEY NEVER EVEN ACTUALLY GO TO THE BEACH!!!
The Second Banana.
The comic who supports the lead comic. Often a straight man. Not always.
He’s the buddy. The little brother. Maybe the dog.
He’s your main character’s back-up.
But it always works best when he’s a fully drawn character.
A strong Second Banana demands an even stronger main character.
In this clip, you might notice:
Jack Benny is calm…………………………………..Rochester is on his toes
Jack Benny is naive………………………………….Rochester is street-smart
Jack Benny puts a good face on things…………Rochester tells it like it is
The dichotomy makes humor, but in another situation it might foment tension.
The Second Banana is the hardest workin’ man in Showbiz.
I had this aunt.
She wasn’t really my aunt, she was my father’s cousin’s wife.
When my sisters were young, before I was born, she would call my mom five or six times a year and say, “Let’s pool our resources and have a potluck dinner.”
So Mom would throw in her watermelon and potato salad and green beans and meat loaf and corn on the cob and baked beans and fried chicken and cornbread and apple pie.
And Aunt Jo would bring over her three kids, two floppy stalks of celery and a half-loaf of stale bread.
Mom complained about this for, oh, forty years. Told the same frickin’ story over and over again. How Aunt Jo took advantage of her. How she was such a mooch. How Mom fell for it every time.
I fell for Mom’s story. Every time.
One day, the light bulb went off.
“You know, Aunt Jo loved you,” I said.
Mom shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t know why.”
Well, I think I do. They’re both dead and there’s no way to know for sure, but I have a feeling Aunt Jo was out of food to feed her kids and was asking for help.
Mom was too dumb to take a hint.
Aunt Jo thought Mom understood what she was doing.
If I was going to write about Aunt Jo, I would start off with my mom’s point of view, but what a great twist the story would take when I showed what was really going on.
Any of you who know me in actual-factual walk-around life or twitter fun-life are aware of the fact that I am REVISING THE HECK-FIRE OUT OF my current manuscript.
Well, ladies and gentlemen. Two more chapters to go.
Yahoo, and all that stuff, but I’m already a little sad. Because I love my characters so much I’m going to miss working with them every day.
Writers are the only ones who understand this. If you tell you neighbor you’re going to miss your characters, their response is, “They aren’t real, you know. Shall I call Shady Haven for you? I hear they have full satellite t.v.”
Um, you don’t get it sister.
THEY ARE REAL.
They’re just made-up.
I ought to know–I’m the one that made them up. From people I have known, people I know now, and parts of me. Those emotions I poured out on those pages had to come from somewhere. If I haven’t felt them, I’ve observed and empathized with them. The “good” emotions and the “bad” ones too.
But it’s time to wrap up this WIP, start querying and release my characters into the wild.
I hope they’re real enough to make it out there.
Anybody else in love with their characters like I am?
Tim Burton? I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you. You are a master of visual splendor. The Wonderland you created for Alice is incredible.
I saw your film with my pal Jenn Bailey and two of her three BaileyBoys–The Bandman and Lord Bluntly. We enjoyed it, yes, but…
Tim, you don’t really get it.
On the surface Wonderland is fantabulous creatures,
But Alice learns very quickly that she cannot let her guard down. Eat an irresistibly tempting cake and grow too large to fit through the door.
The gorgeous flowers can talk–
but they only have nasty things to say.
And if you meet a grinning, good-natured looking Cheshire cat, beware. Even he will admit, “…we are all mad here.”
I read this book approximately six million times when I was a kid. My own kids hated it. Now that I’ve seen your film, Tim, I finally understand why. It’s because the book has what you’ve left out of the movie:
I’m not talking about obvious dangers like the bandicoot or the jabberwocky. Enemies who declare themselves are easily dealt with. I’m talking about the darkness that comes clothed in the guise of angels, like the walrus and the carpenter:
“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”
We all know how THAT turned out.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
The Mad Hatter, who poses a riddle without an answer. The Red Queen who will chop off the gardener’s head for planting the wrong color of flower. The baby who turns into a pig.
Even though Alice is only a quarrelsome little girl, she sees these petty creatures for what they are. Chess pieces. A pack of cards. Nursery rhymes. They are grand-standers and charlatans, and she can protect herself from them.
Not your usual children’s literature from the Victorian Era, when childhood was deemed an idyllic time tended to by all-knowing adults. As kidlit writers, we know the notion of a carefree youth is a myth.
So now I get why I loved these books as a child, and why my kids didn’t like or understand them.
And Tim? Afraid you really missed the boat. There’s a rumor you’re looking at the Wizard of Oz next. If you are, think LONG AND HARD about the STORY before you start. And let me tell you a secret:
The shoes are silver.
Steampunk: the new old genre.
Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are the fathers of Steampunk, what with Captain Nemo’s Nautilus:
and the Time Traveller and his machine:
The word “Steampunk” conjures thoughts of gears, goggles, parasols and petticoats. Ingenious technology paired with Victorian sensibilities. It’s often easier to show someone a picture than try to explain the Steampunk genre in words.
Sure, the trappings are cool–the computer with the fine oak cabinetry, the steam-powered bomb factory, the button-up leather coat. But isn’t it interesting that Steampunk stories are generally set around the Victorian Era–and not past around 1930?
Why? You ask. Why? Why? Why?
Well, you’ve come to the right place, my dears. I have all your answers.
Steampunklandia is a safe place to play. To challenge ideas. Like who should be considered strong or weak, who is appealing and who is repugnant. Even who is right or wrong.
Once upon a time authors wrote about any human being they wanted to, in any fashion they wished, with impunity. The Pinhead. Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. The Snake Girl. But now, it’s no longer popular to write about characters as OUTLANDERS. Our society has come to understand that we are all human beings, even the most seemingly different among us have the same fundamental desires and needs, and the right to respect and dignity.
Now, take the gal on the right:
You are not going to get away with writing about this little lady in a straight novel.
If an author wants to write about a gypsy in a modern-day novel, she will have to shed light on the historical context of gypsies: how they’ve been persecuted, their culture, lifestyle, migration patterns. Heck. She won’t even get to call them gypsies.
But in a Steampunk book, there is an alternate universe she can populate with all kinds of clichés and politically incorrect characters, because it is OTHER. Steampunklandia may feel familiar, but it is not our world. We have permission to enjoy any character the author cares to dream up.
I think it’s a good thing that we demand gypsies aren’t just silly, two-dimensional characters in our literature any more. That we want to know their real story.
But come on. Somewhere deep in a guilty little corner of your soul…don’t you miss stuff like this?
I don’t think I’ll ever write a 100,000 word manuscript.
First of all, my attention span isn’t that long. Also, I have been known to search for just the “right word” for 45 minutes. You don’t pound out 100K words doing that. But the biggest reason is…
I’m just not that into detail.
I can’t spend three pages setting a scene. Which makes me a perfect kidlit writer, of course. Only adult market writers can get away with crap like that. The one thing that would bore me more than reading such a thing is writing it.
And I don’t want to describe what my characters look like down to the last wart on Aunt Junie May’s left pinkie toe. Sorry. Most of the time, I won’t even tell you what color their hair is. Or their eyes. Not unless it’s important to the characterization or the story.
And the house might be “needing paint” or it might come “from family money”, but I’m not going to furnish the blueprints and color swatches.
Because if you’re reading my story, I’m going to make you work.
When you pick up my book, you and I enter into an agreement. I will do my best to entertain you, and you will do your darnedest to be entertained. I ply my craft, you apply your imagination.
You, the reader, get to create too.
And that, my fellow writers, is the reason that there will always be books.