Thursday, July 10, 2008

Characters Just Need To Be...Well, Characters

Recently, I was at the Tech Museum with my youngest daughter, when my cell phone rang.
“Hello?” I said while watching my daughter make a computerized metal sculpture of her head.
“Mom?” a voice over the line whispered. It was my loud teenager. He never whispered. “Mom, there are these people here at the house. They say—they say they used to live here. Wyatt or something like that.”
“Of course--” A loud crackling assaulted my ear. .
“Just a minute,” my teenager called out in a cheery voice, obviously talking to our visitors.
The Wyatts had built our house back in the 70's. I was the first to go looking for them five years after we moved here. We wanted to build a downstairs, to fill in the spaces around the stilts our house rested upon. But the county had no record of our foundation. No building plans. We would either have to find the original plans or pay for a dozen inspections. I got on the internet, searched them down, and wrote them a note. Within a week I not only had the plans, but the ORIGINALS with a note saying, “When you're done, please send them back.” I was blown away by their immediate generosity and trust and willingness to help out. They've stopped through a couple of times since then—and I was glad to know they were back.
There was more crackling on the telephone line. “What did you say?” my son whispered.
“They're wonderful people.” I said. “Don't worry.”
Later in the afternoon, when my brain felt as heavy as a metal sculpture from information overload, I dragged my daughter away from some new friends at the museum—she finds friends everywhere-- and on home.
“So, did you have a nice time with the Wyatts?” I asked my teenager.
“Who?” he asked.
“I thought you said the people who lived here stopped--”
“Oh, those guys,” he said. “It was the daughter and son-in-law.”
“Were they just passing through?” I asked.
“I don't know,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, do they live around here?”
“I don't know.”
“Did they have lots of fun stories to tell?”
“I don't know.”
“Well what did you talk about?”
“Talk?” he said.
“You did talk to them, welcome them,” I said, feeling like I was speaking an alien language.“Right?”
“I said to just go ahead and look around and I went back to the office to work on the computer.”
Oh gawd. I was already forming another note in my head—one of please come see us again.
“What were their names?” I asked, looking for a pen.
“Names?” My teenager gave me his sheepish dimpled grin.
“You didn't even ask their names?!”
“They had a black G35,” he said.
“A what?” Was this a new kind of dog?
“You know,“ he said. “A Lexus.”
But of course. A car.
“Too bad it was a four-door,” he lamented. “The two-door is much sicker.”
“You noticed their car, “I said. “But not them?”
He offered that dimpled grin again.
“Too bad your little sister wasn't here,” I said.“She would have given them a tour, and invited them for dinner and a sleepover.”
“Well, at least it wasn't Poaji,” he countered. “He would have called you and put the phone in the middle of the living room—on speaker—so you could talk to them. At least I invited them in.”
Ha! I couldn't stop laughing. I guess there's a multitude of possibilities for the definition of the word “invite.” Depending on the character interpreting that word. Which brings me to the point of this little story.
We often worry about giving our characters lots of baggage—divorce, child abuse, bankruptcy, alcoholism, history of failure, etc, etc. etc. But, as my kids remind me (again and again) the bags need not be filled with too much history for the characters to be so diverse in personality, interests, use of the English language. :) The characters just have to have their own personal wants, interests, goals. They just need to be fresh, believable, possessing their own unique peculiarities. They just need to be, well, characters.


Anonymous said...

I think our sons are related. :)

Lynn said...

It's amazing to me that children from the same parents and growing up in the same household can be so different -- and from the minute they're born (if not before). Thanks for the great insights about creating characters.

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