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Sensible Shoes is off tonight with family and deadline obligations and asked me to pinch hit.  So I'm knocking the dirt off my cleats with the bat and getting ready to dig in at the plate.  

The intellectual plate, that is.  I've already dug in plenty at the gastronomical plate over the last two weeks.  And I was always picked last for baseball, volleyball, and every other sport.  

Let's jump!

I've been thinking a lot about character development recently, while avoiding writing with the noble excuse that I was Reading Significant, or at least Talked-About, Fiction, namely The Hunger Games trilogy AND American Gods.  Not so much the character of the main characters, but the characters of the extras and the bit players.

In some fiction, the point of the minor characters is that they don't have individual character.  They're the suffering masses, the mindless crowd, the villagers with the torches in Frankenstein, the Imperial Storm Troopers in Star Wars, the orcs in The Lord of The Rings.  Essentially scenery or alternatively a bit of a copout, depending on the story.

At the other extreme, there are writers like Georgette Heyer, who uses almost every minor character as a specific individual to illustrate the society she's writing about (early 19th century England).  In The Grand Sophy, the heroine has to go meet with a lowlife to retrieve a ring her cousin has pledged.  So she takes a cab to his lair.  We meet the cabdriver for exactly one page, but we get a good look at him:

Sophy next hailed a passing cab and desired the coachman to drive her to Bear Alley.  The vehicle she selected was by no means the first or the smartest which lumbered past her, but it was driven by the most prepossessing jarvey.  He was a burly, middle-aged man, with a rubicund and jovial countenance, in whom Sophy felt that she might repose a certain degree of confidence, this belief being strengthened by the manner in which he received her order.  After eying her shrewdly and stroking his chin with one mittened hand, he gave it as his opinion that she had mistaken the direction, Bear Alley not being, to his way of thinking, the sort of locality to which a lady of her quality would wish to be taken.

"No, is it a back slum?" asked Sophy.

"It ain't the place for a young lady," repeated the jarvey, declining to commit himself on this point.  He added that he had daughters of his own, begging her pardon.

Some stories present technical challenges in characterization.  In the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, the central conceit is a long-drawn-out fight to the death among 24 teenaged characters, most of whom are sacrificial lambs picked at random, a la Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery.  Only one is supposed (oops! spoiler alert!) to survive after many days and nights of stalking each other, forming temporary alliances, and also getting killed off by random vicious beasts and floods and so on. Two of the 24 are protagonists whom we've already met.  It would run counter to the theme of the books (IMO) to make their adversaries faceless, but 22 minor characters present a hell of a challenge for the writer to present.  I think Collins does a great job in giving each an individual identity and character which the reader can remember.  At first she identifies them by their district; there's a boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts, and we're getting to know about many of the districts (one is primarily mining, another agriculture, another fishing, etc.).  She designates the "Volunteers;" kids from the elite districts, trained as warriors and who volunteered to be in the Hunger Games (naturally everyone else hates them).  A few of the others are described as noticeably weak or even physically disabled and aware that they're doomed; they die early and offstage, which is a relief.  And of the others, one girl is extraordinarily resourceful; another is a talented evader; one boy is both physically powerful and intelligent.  They're all victims, but they're not faceless victims, and you feel it when they die.  

It's something to think about in the story you're telling, when it's not confined to just a few people on an island.  Are some minor characters just scenery?  If so, are you using them to contrast with or to mirror a main character's situation?  Or are you just pasting them up there like the fake people in the fake town at the end of Blazing Saddles?   Can you do something more interesting with them?

Tonight's Challenge, which has to do with major character development:

The protagonist in one of the following scenarios writes a letter to his/her mother about his/her antagonist.  Or the antagonist writes the letter, about the protagonist.  Or, of course, use some other well known protagonist/antagonist pair.  Try to keep it to 100-150 words:

*Belinda learns that her rival Adelaide is plotting to marry Belinda’s beloved Lord Postlethwaite-Praxleigh (pronounced Puppy) in order to get her hands on his jeweled sash.

*A callow youth gets the chance to obtain the Jewel of Togwogmagog and save the kingdom, aided by his Stout Companion.

*Goodwife Thankful Goodheart is feeding her hens and minding her own business when she sees that awful Agnes Addlepate giving her the evil eye.

*A stranger has come to the Wiltchester Dragon Farm, wanting to buy a baby dragon, but ace dragon breeder Jocasta Entwhistle doesn’t trust him one bit.

*Private investigator Celia Spunk realizes that her client is really the Chainsmoke Killer.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good even to you (8+ / 0-)

    Interesting challenge, have to think on it a wee bit. Also have to do something about dinner, which may or may not overlap the first bit.

    Happy new year to you and all here.

    Be back a bit later.

    We are often so identified with whatever thoughts we may be having that we don’t realize the thoughts are a commentary on reality, and not reality itself. -- Gangaji

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:15:34 PM PST

  •  Ok... Here's a shot... (9+ / 0-)

    Dearest Mother,

    I shan't trouble you with the recent turmoil between myself and Belinda.  I did mention Belinda to you, did I not?  

    I truly do not know what the men of the court see in her.  She's blind for a start.  She can't see more than a foot or so in front of her without peering in that little piggish squint that for some reason the Lords all swoon over.

    I find it bizarre that were it not for a abnormality of coloring, or rather the lack therof, she would be nothing more than yet another hanger on, squealing at the trough of courtship, whilst awaiting the slaughter of her virtue.

    I fear that being here has engraved in my very soul a cynicism which can not be easily slated.  Rest assured Mother, I shall find a way to recover your property, no matter the machinations of the pale slattern.

    With greatest devotion, and admiration,
    (Soon to be) Lady Adelaide  

    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:17:45 PM PST

  •  mine (10+ / 0-)
    Dear Aunt Marron,

    So I am sending you a piece of purple onion to save 'til we get home.  
    Gosh, it is swell being on the road with my friend Hitch.  

    He lets me have the floor where it is safer to sleep than the bed.  He can always get the inn lord to lower the bill just by smiling at him.

    He is teaching me how to walk through the swamp without getting stung by every tiny beastie.  He rubs muck all over me and it works.  No one comes near me.  

    We expect to meet up with the dragon soon and Hitch says I can have the first chance to ask him about the jewel.  He wants me to have all the glory.  Isn't that great of him?

    See you soon!

    Your loving nephew,


    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:18:38 PM PST

  •  I think that prompt is Freddie Mercury's (7+ / 0-)
    Mama, just killed a man
    Put a gun against his head
    Pulled my trigger, now he's dead
    Mama, life had just begun
    But now I've gone and thrown it all away
    Mama, ooo
    Didn't mean to make you cry
    If I'm not back again this time tomorrow
    Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters
    Yes, Bohemian Rhapsody.
  •  Best wishes to all here (7+ / 0-)

    Keep on writing!  I want to read your books!!!!

    Thanks to Emmet for subbing!!

    Many good thoughts to SS to get the story done by deadline.

    I shall return later to read and rec.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:30:18 PM PST

  •  Last Week's Excercise (9+ / 0-)

    This week I'm doing last week's exercise.  At the time I couldn't think of a good idea for it, but a couple days later one came to me.  It's kind of long, because sometimes that happens when the characters start bouncing off each other.  Here we go:

    Write a scene where your character is faced with having to do something that he or she would “never” do.  Use your own story, or one of these scenarios:
    Diedrie snuggled up against Cal and rested her head on his shoulder.  The hut they had taken refuge in while Murray went on ahead for supplies was small, and the area free of drips from the leaking roof even smaller.  For a mad moment Cal considered offering to sleep outside in the tned and letting Diedrie have the hut to herself.  No, the rain was already coming down too hard for that.  Besides, she was sleeping on his arm and he wasn’t sure he could move it.

    He took a deep breath and tried unsuccessfully to relax.  Cal always found it hard to relax around Diedrie.  She was so... distracting; and even moreso when they were together alone.

    Of course, they weren’t really alone.  As usual a cohort of Diedrie’s faerie friends flitted aobut over her head, the glimmer of their magical auras glinitng off the damp timbers of the hut and the tinkle of their voices jangling between the sounds of the raindrops.

    “Oh, you be quiet!” Diedrie said.

    “What?”  Almost immediately Cal wished he hadn’t asked.  Too late.

    Diedrie giggle.  “She wants to know why you don’t fuck me.”


    “That is the right word for it, isn’t it?  They use a lot of expressions for it that I think they make up, like ‘the beast with two backs' and ‘playing hide-the-salami’...”

    “Oh, yeah.”

    “...And ‘the horizontal hokey-pokey’...”

    “I get it!”  Cal hadn’t meant to shout.  He paused a moment to gather himeslf.  “Listen.  Diedrie... it’s not that I don’t like you...”

    “Of course you do!  I know that!” Diedrie turned over and faced him with a peculiar expression, as if she was regarding something wonderful for the first time. Her nose was uncomfortably close to Cal’s.

    “I’m the Chosen One.  I have to use the Jewel of Togwogmagog to save the kingdom!”

    “I know that too, Cal.  I think everyone knows that.”

    “And the weilder of the Jewel must be pure.”

    Diedrie was silent for a moment before she said, “Pure what?”

    “What do you mean, ‘pure what’?”

    “There are lots of kinds of pure.  Faeries are pure magic, and Mother is pure malice and your friend the Kitchen Drudge is pure stubbronness; so things can be all sorts of pure.”

    “You know what I’m talking about.”

    She rolled onto her back again to look up at the faeries.  “You know, Mother used to tell me that a woman’s maidenhood was a precious gift to be cherished and protected.  But you could say the same thing about a box of treasure or a valuable jewel.  It seems to me that keeping it all guarded and safe but never using it would be silly.  Don’t you?”

    Cal turned to look at Diedrie; the faerie-light glistening in her golden hair; her dreamy eyes closing.  He saw one of the faeries glide down near her head; she pointed at Diedrie’s ear and gave Cal a wink.

    Stretching his neck, trying hard not to disturb her, Cal gave her ear a kiss.  Then, on impulse, he gave her earlobe a gentle nibble.

    Diedrie squirmed and made a peculiar little noise, a delicious, delirious sound like a cross between a purr and a squeal that ran through Cal’s body.  In an instant, Cal knew that more than anything else in the world, he wanted her to make that noise again.

    He pulled his body closer to hers and she put his arms arms around his neck.  They kissed.

    Above their heads, the faerie-lights danced.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:50:30 PM PST

  •  Something like this (8+ / 0-)

    Jocasta Entwhistle turned to the stranger and said "I really have to see to this poor beast's furnuncle; it's going to need a fulgarator if I don't frobnicate it this instant. It shan't take long however. Elidoran can show you the dragonets currently ready for outplacing, and I should be with you momentarily.

    She bent to her task, but kept a covert eye on the stranger as he turned to follow Elidoran along the enclosures.

    Elidoran was one of her more reliable helpers, but he suffered from some unfortunate traits. His gait was uncertain - he tended to lurch more than walk. His speech was clear - except for the large moustache that obscured it and the accent that flavored it. His complexion was not improved by the nasty flare up of dragon-pox currently emblazoning his cheeks.

    At that it added a certain alarming tincture to the pong emanating from someone displaying the inescapable side effects of mucking out dragon stalls. Yet he was unfailingly polite and cheerful.

    Entwhistle narrowed her eyes as she analyzed the stranger's body language, and a tiny crease appeared between her eyebrows at what she read there.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:55:23 PM PST

    •  A little variety on the prompt never hurts... (5+ / 0-)

      Only one little thing bugs me on this is the vast majority of images which don't have a lot of RL touchstones.

      As a result this doesn't quite describe the character as well as it could.  There are some good images, but the others are hard to get a handle on.

      Nice work, and thanks!

      I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

      by detroitmechworks on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:02:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well then, how about this? (7+ / 0-)

        Jocasta decided to dash off a note to her counterpart at Ravenbrook Aerie. After putting down some pleasantries, she got to what had troubled her about the stranger. I thought I'd pass on my misgivings if he should call on you seeking a young dragon. I had the opportunity to watch him with Elidoran. You've met him a time or two I believe?

        I had Elidoran show him some of the younger dragons while I unobtrusively watched from behind Queen Lostromos, one of my dragons currently preparing to lay a clutch.

        Elidoran's... well Elidoran. He still has that unfortunate case of dragon pox - leaves his cheeks a mottled green. His mustache is as exuberant as ever, along with his back country twang in his speech. He also smelled about as well as you'd expect from a morning of mucking out. Still, he's personable enough in his own way, attentive and competent.

        The man's reaction to him was... cold. Nothing overtly rude, but his entire body seemed to be expressing contempt. It left me with a bad feeling and I have learned to trust my instincts in such cases. There's nothing about Elidoran that should offend anyone of good character and charity - yet this man barely deigned to deal with him.

        I'm afraid he left here more than a little upset at not obtaining a dragon, though he hid it well. I thought if perchance he should come to you, you might be wise to consider him carefully.

        It seems ridiculous to worry about something as outwardly fearsome as a dragon, but I did not like the thought of one of mine in his hands.

        Yours etc. etc.


        Jocasta frowned a moment longer over the missive, then sealed it and summoned a servant to dispatch it posthaste.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:08:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Dear mum, (8+ / 0-)
        How are you keeping?  I am writing to inform you with greatest optimism and enthusiasm that your Jewel is still safe in my possession where you left it and the rumors of a young hero and his stout companion are entirely false and exaggerated and you have no need to concern yourself with them.  
         You may have heard that my minions have been unable to subdue them but I promise you that it has been only a temporary setback and only because I sent my weaker minions to taunt them.  There is no need to be worried or angry because the young hero poses us no threat and will be taken care of I promise.
         If you should hear from anyone that the hero has made significant progress toward my castle it is only vile and mendacious slander and please do not send your punishments onto my head, which is only just beginning to heal.  
         Your loving son.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:04:35 PM PST

  •  Yay for Emmet, (10+ / 0-)

    and deadline-beating hugs to SensibleShoes.

    Here's mine -- imagine it written in 18th-century copperplate hand:


    I am in receipt of yrs of Friday last, that you wish to call upon me three days’ hence fr purposes of purchasing one (1) baby dragon of the litter from the breeding of Satan’s Purple King of Usaland with Gr. Ch. Cannon of Orange, which you inspected and handled on Tuesday last.

    I regret to inform you, Sir, that Gr. Ch. Cannon was most upset following yr recent visit, so much so that she tried to eat the babies rather than let them out of her sight. We allow Gr. Ch. Cannon to make her own evaluations of prospective purchasers of baby dragons, and hers is quite clear.

    Therefore, I regret further to inform you, dear Sir, that no baby dragons from Wiltchester Dragon Farm will be made available to you for purchase now or in future.

    I remain, Sir,
    yr humble & obed’t servant,

    Jocasta Entwhistle
    Dragon Master, MA Oxon, Order of Saint George, CBO

    We are often so identified with whatever thoughts we may be having that we don’t realize the thoughts are a commentary on reality, and not reality itself. -- Gangaji

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:08:59 PM PST

  •  It isn't something I've thought too much on (9+ / 0-)

    I think because I look at how we live our lives- a handful of people we are close to and know well and a larger circle we know of but nothing too deep. I see my story from the main characters, those around them and important to them and the rest are minor.

    That's not to say that there haven't been minor characters who've wound up not to minor in the telling. I think I spend more time in rewriting to beat them back.

    Dear Mum,
    This is likely the last letter for a long time, if ever. I wish to iterate, for the record and in writing that I did not ‘thieve’ a dragon from Mistress Entwhistle. Being famous is no endorsement to character and you’ve known me a good deal longer. The interrogation was uncalled for. It is also why I do not trust you to at least provide neutral territory until this legal wrangling is done.

    If it can ever be worked out. I did not steal any dragon. If anything, it is I being absconded with! Where I am headed is in his claws. You know enough about the pig-headedness of dragons.


    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:09:56 PM PST

  •  Great diary, Emmet! (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks so much for doing this. You are saving my writerly tale, er, tail.

    The challenge, um...

    To: Fricasia Wortwenth

    From: Jocasta Entwhistle

    Re: Attempt to Buy Dragon

    IT has come to my attention that an attempt was made, under false pretenses, to buy, purloin, or otherwise obtain a baby dragon from the Wiltchester Dragon Farm for nefarious purposes.

    We are aware that baby dragons are frequently sought for spare parts, including but not limited to: scales, blood, livers and eyeballs, which are utilized in spells, potions, and hexes.

    We here at Wiltchester Dragon Farm utterly condemn these practices and will in no way be party to them. Be advised that any future attempts to obtain dragon parts will be dealt with severely, and any "strangers" employed for these purposes will face lethal retaliation. Nice try, mom.

    -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

    by SensibleShoes on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:20:44 PM PST

  •  Diedrie's Letter (6+ / 0-)

    Picking up from the previous excercise above.

    Diedrie waited until Cal stepped out of the hut the next morning before she summoned one of the faeries.  "I want you to deliver a message, if you please," she said.

    "Dear Mother:

    "I am sending you to let you know that I am well.  I'm asking the faerie not to tell you where I am, because you'd probably kill Cal, and I'd rather that didn't happen.  Cal, my beloved, has recovered the Jewel, but the Grebe has probably already told you about that.  So we'll probably be seeing you soon."

    Diedrie paused.  Then she added:

    "I made love to him like you told me.  I don't know why you wanted us to do that, especially since you want to kill him.  I wish you wouldn't because I really do love him oodles much.  Now more than ever.  He's worried that now he won't be able to use the Jewel which I think is silly.  Unless this is one of those Sex Magic things you'd never tell me about.  I'll have to ask the faeries.

    "Don't worry about the sousaphone.  Mister Muldoon is taking care of it.

    "Love, Diedrie."

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:07:36 PM PST

  •  Sorry for missing the party (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I've been down with the Evil Flu from the depths of Togwogmagoggian Hell, and today is the first day I'm semi-conscious.

    Dear Mom,

    Stout and I finally got access to the law library at a time when no solicitresses were there.  We were told by Henry Libale to ask for Leonard the Librarian.  When we got in, the only individual there was a beagle in reading glasses, absorbed in reading Paul Clifford.

    We asked for Leonard, and the dog peered at us over his spectacles and gruffly informed us that his name was Learned, as in Learned Hound, and he was the librarian.  He then said he'd be happy to help us as soon as he checked that we had no overdue books.

    Unfortunately, it turns out that Stout's book on Common Flora & Fauna of Togwogmagog - the one he used to identify grebes - was 10 years overdue.

    Do you think you could send us 20,000 gold galleons so he'll let us out of this doghouse?  Thanks.


    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:00:16 AM PST

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