Sunday, January 26, 2020

Realistic Characters

Last week my friend Mary shared a tale. She’s an avid reader and has enjoyed both of the Jefferson Chene novels. In conversations, Mary has told me a number of times that she found this character to be very realistic, to the point where she expects to bump into him someday. 

It turns out that Mary was with friends in Detroit for the weekend. They went to see the Red Wings hockey game and explore parts of the city. Along the way Mary insisted that they find the intersection that gave Chene his name. She even got her picture taken in front of the sign post. 

Although she didn’t find him, Mary is determined to track Chene down the next time she’s in town.

That’s one of the greatest compliments a writer can receive. To create a character that readers believe is real, one that they can relate to and connect with. The idea of searching the city to find him is priceless. That’s why it’s part of my ongoing effort to make a character an individual, not something out of a cookie cutter, with real traits that readers can recognize. 

So whether it’s a main character or a sidekick, you want to make them memorable.

It’s just as important to me that supporting characters are well designed. Here’s an example from “Fleeing Beauty” the third book in the Jamie Richmond series.

    In this scene, Jamie is with Ian, the teenager who is Malone’s unofficial little brother. He has been helping Jamie with the project of opening the crates in her late father’s studio and building a catalog. Ian has been smitten by Brittany a young girl who lives in Jamie’s neighborhood.

A few days later Ian was at the house with Brittany. I was just finishing up some work on the computer when I remembered the sketchpad. Taking it from the bookshelf, I walked out into the backyard. Brittany and Ian were at the picnic table with glasses of lemonade. Her dog, Lucy, was lounging in the shade. The kids were sitting close together. As I set the sketchpad on the table Ian’s eyes widened in disbelief.

      “We bumped into Krip the other night at the studio. He happened to see these and encouraged me to bring them home.”

      Ian started to reach for the pad, but Brittany was faster. She snagged it and flipped it open, His sketches of her were right on top. She carefully studied the first one, then moved it aside to look at the next. Soon all three were spread out on the table before her.

      “I can explain,” Ian said. His voice was soft and meek.

      Brittany raised a hand to silence him. She kept staring at the drawings.

      Ian turned his gaze to me with a pleading look on his face. I shrugged. There was nothing I could say to diffuse the situation. We waited. A minute later Brittany turned to Ian and placed her hands on his shoulders.

      “Did you draw these from pictures?”

      He slowly shook his head. “No.”

      “So this is how I look in your head?”

      “Don’t be mad. I know you’re even prettier in person, it’s just that Malone challenged me and I…”

      He never got another word out. Brittany raised her hands to his face and drew him to her. She planted a deep kiss on his lips that left both of them blushing. The fact that this happened less than three feet from me may have occurred to them only after they separated.

      “That is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me,” Brittany said. “You think I’m pretty?”

      Ian shook his head. “No, I think you’re beautiful.  Pretty was all I could do from memory.”

      Was Malone coaching this kid in more than just baseball? The thought brought a smile to my face.

      “So you think you could do even a better job if I was right in front of you?”

      “Brittany, I don’t know, but I’d like to try.”

      She pushed the sketchpad toward him. “Well, let’s try.”

      Ian scrambled into the house for pencils. Brittany looked at me as if suddenly remembering that I’d been there all along. She glanced at the sketches spread out before her.

      “He really did these?”

      I nodded. “Yes. And Mr. Krippendore thinks he’s very talented. Krip is a painter. He wants to talk with Ian the next time we’re at the studio.”

      “Would it be okay if I went to the studio sometime?  Ian’s told me all about it, but I’d like to see it firsthand.”

      “Sure, we can go next week.”

      Ian returned with several pencils and a big gum eraser.  Brittany moved to the grass and pulled the dog with her. She knelt down and coaxed the dog to sit beside.

      “Okay, Rembrandt, let’s see what you’ve got.”

      Ian picked up the pad and started to draw. I took that as my cue to leave.

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Music this week is from The Rolling Stones.

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