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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

personality

So, it’s Henry the Gray’s tenth birthday today…..

……and in the eight years that I’ve known him, he’s mellowed into a mildly sociable and funny personality.

Henry the Gray is my cat. This is him, trying to convince me that I want to give him my dinner.

Henry the Gray using mind control.
Henry the Gray using mind control.

Henry the Gray was not the most congenial of cats when I met him. At two, he was angry, aggressive and spoiled by his owner, who felt guilty for not spending time with him. Because Henry’s previous owner was moving and could not take him to the new place, she turned to me. I took him in. I couldn’t not take him in. If I didn’t, he would go to the pound or a shelter and aggressive animals don’t last long there.

After we established that I was his boss, Henry the Gray relaxed and took on the role of my watcher. He enjoyed surfing the internet with me (although I suspect it was the cursor on the computer screen that had his interest more than anything else). I would leave the local jazz station on when I left my apartment for the day and found him relaxed or sleeping when I came home.

Henry the Gray sleeping.
Henry the Gray sleeping.

When I decided to move back to my home town, Henry the Gray came with me. He loves to explore the garage and the back yard and has an on-going negotiation with another cat that has decided to make its home with us.

Henry the Gray (left) and Otis the Orange (right).
Henry the Gray (left) and Otis the Orange (right).

As a cat, Henry the Gray takes his duties very seriously. Whenever the kitchen waste-basket trash talks him, Henry the Gray takes it upon himself to establish who is boss.

Henry the Gray displays fierce hunting skills and asserts dominance.
Henry the Gray displays fierce hunting skills and asserts dominance.

Because I am concerned for his safety, Henry the Gray is not allowed outside on Halloween or the Fourth of July.

He does not approve of these rules.

Henry the Gray sulking because he is not allowed outside due to his safety.
Henry the Gray sulking because he is not allowed outside due to his safety.

It is amazing to me that he has grown to be such a funny and curious cat in the time I’ve become his human. His personal growth touches me and reminds me that we are all capable of such change, given patience, love, guidance and consistency.

Many Happy Returns of the Day, Henry the Gray.

Henry the Gray relaxing after a full day.
Henry the Gray relaxing after a full day.
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So, meeting the characters in my stories…….

………is a lot like meeting people in life. I get the first impressions of who they are by how they present themselves in their manner of dress, hair and grooming. As I get to know them better, I learn how they think, what their views are, their likes and dislikes, their sense of voice and style and personality.

Sometimes characters, like people, are hard to pin down until they actually show up. Some are mercurial. Some are as they seem to be and others are duplicitous. The last type usually ends up being the villain because, you know, villains require duplicity to achieve whatever goal they may have.

Case in point: My second book, ‘The Pike Horse’ (2012).
Because I don’t want to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, I won’t be identifying the character by name. In my book, one of the characters gains the trust of the narrator, Josie March, and proceeds to manipulate her reality before betraying her in an ugly and violent manner.
This particular character did not start out to be such a nasty piece of work. But the more I worked on the story, the more I became aware that he was not who he at first appeared to be. It was more an intuitive feeling that grew into a conscious realization.

In my Current Work In Progress, another character has gone through at least seven name changes. In addition to that, his nationality went from American to British, which altered his speech patterns. This, in turn, influenced his mannerisms and even his coloring went from blond to dark. All this occurred before he even showed up in the story. It came out of my notes as the story developed and I got to know the character’s motivations and his ethics from the point of view of other characters.

Having detailed biographies of your characters, right down to the time of birth, can be helpful. I often give my characters birth dates, which can have some influence on their perceptions of the world, but I don’t often put a lot of thought into it, unless absolutely necessary.

Case in point: My Current Work In Progress.
I specifically designed an historical timeline and a family tree for this story, to keep track of a particular family and which generation some members came from. A supernatural-themed story, I’ve worked out a system of magic that can be seen in my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls’ (pub. 2011; re-issued 2013).
I chose to have certain characters born in a month under a particular Zodiac sign that belongs to a specific element, which reflected their dominant skill. I’m only starting to see where this thread is leading and I’m agog with curiosity to see how it all plays out.

I actually prefer this not-knowing of my characters. I enjoy the discovery of how to get them into or out of situations that arise in the course of the story. It’s a completely organic process, where a thought will chase a thought and lead me to discover the answer that I’d been unaware I was looking for. To keep the discovery going, I keep a journal and jot down any questions that arise. There are always questions.
As I write and re-write, the questions will either change focus or be answered. I’ve always used the five W’s and one H of journalism to formulate these questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), and they have served me very well.

Don’t be afraid to try any method in getting to know your characters, their wants and their goals. Borrow methods used by other authors and see if they work. Sometimes using another artistic method helps jog the writer’s block loose or opens a train of thought you hadn’t tried before. Don’t worry if one method doesn’t work for you. Find another and try that. Repeat as needed. Writing is a process and there is no one correct way to do it.

The only incorrect way to write is to not write.

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