Blended Reality


John Clark weighing in on character(s), this months topic. I’ll start with a definition of the word composite: made up of various parts or elements. A composite material is a material which is produced from two or more constituent materials. These constituent materials have notably dissimilar chemical or physical properties and are merged to create a material with properties unlike the individual elements. Really interesting characters (and ice cream flavors) are like that methinks.

I live in a state where there seem to be more characters than people. I have little doubt others who post regularly on the blog feel their state, or area is unique. I feel that way about Maine. We’re very large geographically, but very small people-wise. For example, when Beth and I were climbing Mount Katahdin the year we got married, who do we meet on the trail, but her brother’s best friend from High School in Massachusetts. Then many years later when I was the librarian in Hartland, who should walk in but the same fellow whose family owned a camp on Great Moose Lake in town. I have endless stories like this, but back to characters.

After going to a high school with less than 100 students, then working in the larger of two state mental hospitals for 27 years, going to AA meetings for 43, and being a one person library staff for nine, I’ve met my share of 100% genuine characters and heard tales of many others.

Such an extensive exposure to genuinely interesting and odd people has not only helped me create a mental database of potential characters, it has given my imagination free reign to pick and choose aspects of multiple folks to create a composite that has his/her/their own uniqueness. These folks are great fodder for short stories, sometimes more challenging for full length books, but never dull.

While we tend to think of characters as human, sometimes animals, insects, and even geographic locations can appear in literature as characters. Picture the hotel in The Shining, or the planet in the classic film The Forbidden Planet.

Sometimes writers can change the reader’s perspective of a character in a single sentence. Think about how many times you started a new book and disliked one of the major players like the nasty queen bee in a high school. Thirty pages later, the author casually reveals that she lost her little sister in an auto accident, her parents retreated into an emotional cocoon, she has untreated survivors’ guilt, and is drowning in her own toxic feelings. Think you’ll see her the same way?

Massaging characters so they force us to perceive them differently is not only challenging, but fun to do as an author.

I just started what might possibly be described as a new adult story and one of the two main characters describes herself as follows when she’s trying to explain why she was found wandering on a tar road on a cold misty May night by an older Maine deputy sheriff: “I’m probably the wealthiest homeless person you’ll ever meet. I’m bi-polar, an orphan and, as you probably suspected, absolutely terrified of hospitals for good reason. That a good start?” she sat back, looking over her coffee cup at him.

What might you make of this young woman, especially when she goes on to tell him that her birth name was Ektarina Sobol. As soon as she turned eighteen, she got it changed to Sorcha Bresnahan. What, good reader, might you make of this character? Can you come to some conclusions about her. One further teaser, she tells the officer that she found him as if he were the strongest signal on AM radio late at night.

Characters are so much fun to create and manipulate. Who might you choose as a favorite literary figure?


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