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Blogging By the Sea
Saturday, September 24 2022

This month's Round Robin Blog asks: What do you define in your writing about your characters and what do you leave to the reader’s intuition? Is there anything you never tell about a character?

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The answer to this question depends on what we mean by define? For me, I’m going to assume that define means telling the reader what a character is like. Not necessarily what they look like but what kind of person they are. So, using this definition of define, I try NOT to define my characters but rather to show the reader what they are like.

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For the obvious, rather than tell the reader that Mac had a soft spot for dogs, I show him rescuing an abandoned puppy. I follow that up with how he treated it in the days that followed, in his efforts to find the puppy’s owner, and his growing dismay to find he didn’t want to find the owner. Now the reader knows how Mac feels about dogs in general and this one in particular without me specifically defining his feelings toward the dog.

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For the less obvious, things like loyalty, chivalry, honesty, kindness, or their opposites: disloyalty, deceiving, mistreating women or ignoring people in need, I again try to show the reader what’s in my character’s hearts by their actions. If I have my character brush angrily past an old woman fumbling with her parcels because he is in a hurry or perhaps doesn’t even notice her, then the reader gets a pretty good idea of this person’s character without me saying he was callous or rude. Just as I could have a well-dressed business woman in a hurry for an important interview stop to help a distressed child who is obviously lost. Knowing it will mean missing the interview but stopping anyway. Now the reader has a good grasp on the type of person this woman is. Maybe she’s a mother and could relate to that child’s distress, but perhaps she’s not which makes her actions doubly revealing. The same goes for four-legged characters. One might prance eagerly, tail wagging furiously, or cower uncertainly or snarl menacingly. All show the reader what kind of dog this is, at least in this situation.

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It’s a case of show rather than tell, but obviously the reader does need to know this character so they will understand why the character makes the choices they make. You might have a character which a history of abuse and it’s important for your reader to know this so they will understand why the character avoids certain people and situations. Or perhaps a character grew up dirt poor which explains his or her pinching every penny until it squeals, or having finally hit the big time doing everything possible to erase their origins – like introducing friends to their parents or taking a college friend home for the weekend. Knowing where a character comes from not only helps the reader to understand choices made, but also to feel empathy for the character, or a sense of satisfaction or triumph for a success that might have been easy for someone else but was monumental for your character.

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Then there are the quirks a character might have. How much better is it to show the character carefully organizing their catch-all drawer, or hurrying around behind a roommate rearranging everything the roommate tossed haphazardly as they went through the apartment, than to flat out define this character as OCD? Or the character who bites their fingernails whenever they are stressed, or cowers when lightning zaps across the sky? A good author does not need to define those quirks – just show the reader and let the reader figure it out.  

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But showing a character’s personality without telling, also lets the reader develop their own relationship with that character rather than the author telling the reader how they should feel about them. In Mayberry RFD, no one tells the viewer that everyone loves Aunt Bea because she is kind, gentle, loving, thoughtful, the viewer gets to see Aunt Bea in action, supporting Andy, helping to rear Opie, interacting with townsfolk. We didn’t have to be told what kind of officer Barney Fife is, or that Otis has a problem with alcohol, we SEE them acting these characters out. That’s how I prefer to present my characters in my books. Not defining who they are, or what they are like in my own words but presenting them in a way the reader can see for themselves and form their own relationships with the characters.  

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So, my answer to the second question is I try to leave it all to the intuition of the reader. I want the reader to care about my characters because of how I’ve presented them, not because I have to tell them they need to care. I hope there is nothing about my characters I have failed to reveal, however. But that’s just me. Hop on over and see how my fellow monthly Round Robin Blog Hoppers approach the subject.

Connie Vines 

Dr. Bob

A.J. Maguire 

Robin Courtright 

                           Helena Fairfax

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 09:00 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, September 10 2022
September Memories

As I write this, two things are on my mind. Tomorrow’s upcoming day of remembrance for all who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks on our home turf by a fanatical regime dedicated to bringing America to her knees and the death just two days ago of a woman who embodied so much of what is good in this world.

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Social media has been flooded by images, poems and memories of Queen Elizabeth II. For seventy years she reigned with grace, dignity and aplomb in a world filled with anger, hate and blame. While Britain is a democracy, still she represented all that was good about Britain's influence in our world. I am old enough to remember when she became the queen. Although our family didn’t have a television yet I was aware of it through pictures in the local papers and discussions among my parents and their friends. And Queen Elizabeth II has been there, a quiet, yet influential part of our world ever since. I’m an American, so she isn’t technically, ‘my’ queen, and  yet . . . It felt like she would always be there and now she is gone. Her son, Charles III sits in her place and only time will tell if he will grace the monarchy with the charm and poise his mother showed for so many years. From tea with Paddington, to visits of state, her beauty and wisdom showed through and touched all who had the good fortune to spend time in her presence. The closest I ever came was watching the changing of the guard outside Windsor Castle while she was actually in residence, and staying at the bed and breakfast housed in an old gatehouse attached to the castle grounds. But just knowing she was part of the world I enjoyed was a blessing. She will be mourned by millions and dearly missed.

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So too, are thousands still missed who perished on September 11, 2001. Can it really be twenty-one years since that day? It sometimes feels like it was just yesterday. Working in an environment without outside connectedness, my son’s phone call was my first shocking realization of what was happening in New York, but very quickly the market closed and my company began streaming CNN onto our desktops. The reality of the attack, the utter devastation, the images of those planes, of firemen rushing into buildings they would never come out of, people fleeing from waves of dust and later, the words overheard from the brave men on flight 93 who decided enough was enough. It all feels so fresh and real and awful, even all these years later. Maybe it's the harshness and raw hurt that stand out in our memories. I can only imagine my parents shock and disbelief on hearing FDR on the radio announcing a day that would live in infamy and how those words might have stuck in their minds for the rest of their years. Almost as if it were yesterday, I recall the stunned silence in the halls of my high school when we were dismissed early after our young and much loved president JFK’s assassination. These memories of lost innocence, however old we were when they happened, stand out in our souls as changing points in our lives. Social media will be awash once again with reminders of that awful day in September so recent to most of us and yet before all those in my grandchildren's generation were even born. I pray they will not be ripped so harshly from their naïveté as the generations before them.

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So today and in the days to come, I remember a Queen who reigned with charity and poise, through good times and bad, in the face of personal tragedy and national turmoil. God speed her soul and may God bless Charles who now wears the crown and has to live up to the example she set.

And God bless all those who still mourn the loss of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, daughters, sons, brothers and friends who lost their lives 21 years ago and all those who stepped forward to serve since and paid the price. Freedom has never been free and I write this in honor of all those who paid that price.

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Take a moment, if you will, to be thankful for the blessings you have and to tell those who make your life the blessing it is, that you love and cherish them.

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 02:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, August 26 2022

August’s Round Robin Blog topic is: How do you create your characters--their quirks, habits, values, and what part they will play in the story, etc.? Do you have a process or do they come to you instinctively?

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For me, the answer to this question is a mixed bag. Sometimes I create the characters to fit the plot that has taken over my imagination, other times the characters are born first and they drive the plot. And sometimes a character will just appear out of nowhere in the middle of a story, or be created when a need for such a character presents itself.

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If I already have a plot, or at least an idea for a story, then the characters I create end up with habits, values, jobs and backgrounds to support their part in the story. When I wrote my time travel, I needed to give my time-traveling heroine a backstory that supported her understanding of the era in which she found herself, so she became a history teacher. When I was writing The Candidate, I needed my protagonist to have a career that would support his candidacy for president, thus he began his adult life as a soldier who returned to school to become a lawyer and then ran for a state house of representative seat before moving on the US Senate. When I needed a character who suffered PTSD and survivor guilt, I created a woman born to a single mom who went into the military service as a way to get a college education and ended up being sent to serve a few years in a war zone, while her husband and two sons waited back home.

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For the stories where the characters come first, I’m not sure I have a set method, but I usually start with a name which isn’t always as easy as you might think. This name will depend somewhat on what kind of a character I am creating. If he’s a pompous, egotistical person, his name needs to fit that image. In my current project I have such a character. He’s not my main character, but he’s pretty impressed with himself and I named him Malcolm Beauregard Riggs III, which he likes to use ALL of. No one would ever think of calling him Mal, or Beau, or even Riggs. His son, a very different sort of man, who happens to be my main character and bears the burden of being Christened Malcolm Beauregard Riggs IV is called Mac by one and all. I try not to stereotype my female characters so their names are chosen less for image and more for what sounds nice in combination with whatever surname she carries and has a convenient and pleasant nickname.

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Once upon a time I was trying to be careful never to use a name possessed by a family member or friend, but then one of my granddaughters asked to have a character named after her. Now I’ve managed to include all of them. I have lost two wee grandsons, one to SIDS and the other to a playground accident so all of my books now feature a Sam, Samuel, or Sammy and a Philip appearing somewhere, usually as secondary characters. I’ve also included two friends who were delighted to find they had namesakes in my books. I try to match names to the ethnicities, heritage, cultures and the time in history they inhabit. Nearly all my characters have a nickname that goes well with their surname. And if they have a significant other, they might also acquire a pet name. Another tip I got from several writers earlier in my writing career was not to have repetitive starting letters that can confuse the readers. Thus, the same story will not feature Anna, Andy, Amanda and Anthony (unless maybe he’s just called Tony.) And one last thing about names, if the character is simply a placeholder, who fills a needed function but isn’t that important in their own right, they are never given a name, but rather referred to as ‘the waiter, officer, doctor, his teacher or her secretary.

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So, now my character has a name. But they are as unformed as a newborn baby. They need to grow into the character that’s going to drive the plot. In my romances I needed to create two characters of equal importance who would be attractive to each other and yet possess some conflicting traits that they would have to overcome to find their happy ever after. In Trusting Will, my heroine was a war widow who had vowed never to get involved with a man who put his life in harm’s way on a regular basis. That hero turned out to be state motorcycle cop in an era where just wearing the uniform often means having a target on your back, never mind that his official unit only had two wheels. Sometimes it fits best if the character is an only child, but I also have a book on traits of Birth Order which is interesting, all by itself, but offers insights into the differences between the way a first born, middle child or baby in the family approaches life in general or problems and roadblocks in specific, which is handy to know as your character runs into trouble. As my characters begin to take on personalities, they acquire careers that fit the needs of either the plot or the conflicts with other characters or both. Sometimes it’s handy to give them hobbies that fill a need in the story, like my grounded pilot who learned carpentry from his grandfather and is currently working on a construction crew, or my volunteer firefighter who ends up delivering a baby in the middle of a hurricane.

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Sometimes it’s influences from outside that give a protagonist their drive and goals. Jesse Quinn, who idolized her dad, but was totally under her mother’s society matron thumb, did her best to be a model daughter and wife . . . until she discovered her ‘Model’ husband, chosen for her by her mom, had been cheating on her nearly from their wedding day. Even before the ink was dry on the divorce decree she doubled down, went to the police academy and followed in her father’s footsteps in spite of pressure from her mother, and is more than proud of the person she has become by taking charge of her own life and decisions.

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And then there are those exceptional characters who just arrive on stage, totally unexpected until that moment and seem to create themselves. In Keeping His Promise, a secondary character, running for mayor wanted the town to turn an old run-down plantation willed to the town into a half-way house for young men who’d gotten into trouble with the law but wanted to get squared away when they finished serving their time, yet had nowhere to go and no job offers. My heroine was a reporter with a ‘Not-in-my-backyard’ philosophy. Part of the conflict in this romance was the hero is a small-town cop who thought the half-way/second chance house was an excellent idea. Then, out of nowhere comes Lucas Trevlyn, name and all, who was introduced to our reluctant heroine as the man who would be running this halfway house. He arrived on the scene complete with a history that backed up his credentials and he was so charming he won over both me and my heroine. He was such a compelling character in that book, I am now writing his story which will be out next year.

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Bottom line, your characters must fill the needs of the story-line, while being real. Heroes with no faults are as boring as white hospital sheets. All your characters, both good guys and bad, need to possess both positive and negative traits. They say even mob enforcers love their moms. Give your characters a quirk or two to make them memorable, like Kojak who always had a tootsie pop in his mouth. Or Columbo with his habit of having just one more question. A writer should be a people watcher. The world is full of ideas everywhere you go: The whiny toddler at the grocery store who has a frazzled mom, the biker who goes out of his way to retrieve a ball and toss it back into the game. The way people treat their pets, their spouses, their cars. Their attitude toward their jobs and the cop who pulls them over for speeding. Everywhere there are people, there are ideas you can stow away to enhance the creation of your characters to make them real, memorable, loveable – or hateful, and different.

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Now you can hop on over to see how these authors approach the creation of characters.

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Connie Vines 

Fiona McGier 

Dr. Bob Rich  

Anne Stenhouse 

Robin Courtright 

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 08:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email
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    Skye Taylor
    St Augustine, Florida
    skye@skye-writer.com

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