Friday, December 23, 2011

From Animals to Characters--How stories evolve

Barn Owl
I'm an animal lover, have been since day one. I find them beautiful, elegant, and loving—not necessarily toward me, but toward their offspring and groups or packs. Molly the Barn Owl and her mate, McGee, entranced me for months. I still check in from time to time for updates. Watching them, waiting for the eggs to hatch, the babies to grow and finally branch and fledge (owl-speak for their first steps outside the box and first serious flight), and then the cycle began again. McGee, the magnificent and relentless hunter, Molly, equally fierce in the care and teaching of her young—what wonderful creatures! I learned a lot about barn owls and wish we had a suitable habitat so I could put up an owl box. Instead, I'll have to content myself with writing about them.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I met the most charming little screech owl. Emmett was injured and is no longer able to hunt, so he lives with the kind people at PAWS-SC. His companion is Tosh, a barred owl who's blind in one eye, so he's another permanent resident.
Furry animals—wolves, dogs, cats, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels—they all intrigue me. We don't have any wolves, but the rest live around us. We feed them and discourage predators, such as the black snake who lurks in the woods behind us.
So what about a main character who works with animals? I'd have to do some research, which should be great fun. I like this idea. It will be a man, because I can see him now. Would you believe he has dark hair tied back in a low ponytail? This is how characters come to life for me. Oh, it's Charlie! That's a surprise. He already exists in a story I'm working on. It just took me a minute to recognize him. Now I'm eager to get back to the story because I've discovered another facet to his character. He takes care of injured animals. He was a medic, injured in the Middle East, and is badly scarred. He has PSTD and is up and about at night, so he could easily find an injured owl. He's a character I love.
Red-shouldered hawk in back yard
Who could not like writing fiction? It's full of surprises and delights, and you meet the most interesting people. And you can always find ways to use the things you enjoy.
How do characters come to you? What's first, the character or the storyline? In this new one, I met the heroine first and sort of fell into her story. Then one night, Charlie stepped out of the woods.
I'd like to know how you find your characters. For me, it's the best part of writing.


Polly Iyer said...

Oh, you know it's the same for me. Characters are my first concern. The story builds around them. They have to be interesting, and since bland is never interesting, my characters are usually--can't say how I'd describe them on a PG blog, but you get the drift. Charlie sounds like my kind of character. Please write the story because I get first look, selfish person I am.

Ellis Vidler said...

I'm thinking about how to get from A to D in one page--or less. It's a boring period of adjustment, not for Charlie but for her. Meanwhile, back at the keyboard, it's Time of Death.
Keep at yours too. I'm here and ready to read.

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

You have a colorful way of developing your characters. I enjoyed watching Charlie become fully realized.

My process of creating characters is less imaginiative. I have a full list of names/relatives of my main character and choose a name from the list, then build from there.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season.

Ellis Vidler said...

Gail,whatever works! My names come late, after I see the character, but we all have to find our way. Some people start with the plot. As long as we get there in the end, I don't think the path matters.

Unknown said...

Great idea, for years I worked with the Hawk & Owl clinic at Glenn Helen outside of Yellow Springs, OH.
Might keep this in mind. The naturalists at the center kept old coolers in the trunks of their cars to scoop up road kill for their patients.

Sylvia A. Nash said...

Hi, Ellis. I'm going to try this again. Earlier today I tried to leave a message, and it disappeared! After you visited "my home," I Googled your name, found your website, and then your blog. I enjoyed reading this post. I love animals, but I have a ton of allergies, so I have to love them from afar.

Isn't it interesting how characters and their names come to writers? Charlie sounds like a good character to get to know; and from his description, his name fits him. One of my character's name, which I could not discover, came to me while I was driving down the road not even thinking about her story! It just popped into my head. I have a feeling non-writers would raise an eyebrow or two at this conversation. Take care!

Ellis Vidler said...

Irene, what a good thing to know. I'll use it! Just what Charlie would do. I may be asking you for some more information. Thanks!

Ellis Vidler said...

Sylvia, nice to have you here. Driving is a good time to think. So is sleeping. Sometimes I wake up with an idea or character already there, just waiting to be noticed.
I think our subconscious takes over and gives us little gifts.

Una Tiers said...

I'm jealous of you finding Charlie, and I can picture his high ponytail. My stories begin with a subject to teach about, e.g. probate. Then I add a murder to keep it interesting. The next one is about a trust and lies. But they (lies) make the story move.

Ellis Vidler said...

Una, are your characters a composite of characters you find in a courtroom? Or are they entirely fictional? You have access to really interesting problems, so plot is probably a natural for you.