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Friday, April 23, 2010

Basenjis, ratties and character building

Cleo on the lookout, and yes, we let our beastie family members up on furniture--even place furniture for their enjoyment!

As I posted earlier, Cleo passed away. The past couple of weeks, I've been on the search for a new dog family member. This is partly for myself and partly for the cat--who is missing having a dog sibling.
Bax grooming Cleo, now the cat insists on grooming my hair!

So the search is on--and over the past couple of weeks I've learned a lot about a different breed, rat terriers or ratties or feist dogs. I have friends who have ratties and I adore those particular dogs so I read up on the breed and fell in love with a new type of dog. Why? Because the breed is different in a way I believe will add a lot to my life (and I can add a lot to theirs because of who I am). Rat terriers are healthy, curious and active dogs, who adore their people. In the last three ways they are like my previous dogs, basenjis. But they are different in that they are very social, and adore being in the midst of it all, are not overbred so not prone to many diseases and are a terrier--so trainable and love to "do stuff with others." Me too. It gets lonely sitting in a room by myself, writing.

Cleo, under the clean towels on the bed, wondering what all this has to do with writing.

Well, Cleo, I got to thinking about how, basically, all dogs have much the same character in many ways, because they are pack, i.e. social animals. Overall, they get along and need to be with other pack members. This is part of their secret of success with humans, who are also social beings. The huge majority of dogs are friendly, love being with people, etc., no matter what the breed. (I've known a pit bull that knew he was just a big lap dog.) That having being said, I thought about how the dogs I've known personally have all had very distinct personalities one from another. And while a particular dog might be "of the breed," basenjis for example love to eat paper products, each dog will have their own unique twist. Cleo liked to eat paper-like weeds:
 Cleo going in for the kill.

If dogs have these many unique differences, how about sentient, supposedly more evolved, people? It doesn't matter if my book is set in a small town where most people are middle class and staid and...would seem indistinct one from another. But then one goes and eats a weed.

So now, as I'm building characters for my new novel, I question: How is this character like other people? How is this character different--and why the differences? Why does this character eat weeds? How does that work with the plot/the other characters/the entire book? (In real life there may not be a reason, but there needs to be in fiction.)

Dear readers how do you build a character? Or do they come to you fully formed? Or?

27 comments:

Aubrie said...

I'm sorry to hear about your dog. Good luck with your search for a new friend.

My characters form as I write. Sometimes they tell me stuff I didn't know about them. :)

Angela said...

So sorry to hear about your dog. That's so hard when you lose a member of the family--not just the humans, but the other animal critters, too. Hugs!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Yes, Aubrie, that sometimes happens with me too.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Thanks Angela--yes, critters are family!

Carol Kilgore said...

Much good luck on your search for a new member of your family. My backdoor neighbor has a white and gray rat terrier named Misty.

Jim Murdoch said...

I never start out knowing very much about my characters. Part of the fun for me is discovering them and watching them evolve before me. That does occasionally mean that I end up writing something I didn’t expect to write but I’m not writing for anyone bar myself so that’s fine. The only time it’s not fine is when the character decides they’re boring. But you can do a lot with a boring protagonist as long as you have an interesting cast of supporting characters. Take Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or even, to a lesser extent, Alice in Alice in Wonderland, they’re just proxies for you the reader.

Talli Roland said...

I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your dog.

My characters are usually half-formed but they develop through the course of the novel (hopefully!).

Kathy McIntosh said...

I'm trying to know more about my characters before I start my new novel. Most important to me is to have respect and empathy for the antagonist, not just to chalk her/him up to the bad side. One issue I have is finding quirks of behavior and/or language that distinguishes characters from each other.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Carol--since I've fallen in love with ratties I see them everywhere, every time I leave the house!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Ah yes, Jim, good points, all. And Kathy, did you read his point about protagonists? It's okay if they're "straight man foils"!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Talli--I too hope my characters evolve, but I've working hard to make sure they start out with lots of "juice" to carry them through big story arcs.

Helen Ginger said...

This will be crazy to someone who's not a writer, but my characters reveal themselves to me. Usually in how they talk and interact with other characters.

Helen
Straight From Hel

beth said...

Oh, I'm sorry to hear about your dog. And you're so right--dogs very often have very distinct personalities, and it's something we should pay attention to as we turn to writing.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Words have no meaning when you lose a furry member of the family. May you find another furry friend that will fit into your clan.

Some writers start with a novel situation : an employee who goes to a company retreat only to discover the rustic camp is his employers' quaint way of not having to pay retirement benefits!

What kind of character would be most interesting to read in that situation?

A man who just found out he had cancer and wanted a fast end?

A man whose long history with the company was thanks to Federal Witness Protection -- and he had beeen an icy hitman before?

An alien with loathsome dietary habits who had worked at the company as a cover and looked forward to adding his hunters to his menu.

Me? I start with a character. Someone whose personality and skills I sbape in my mind until he is interesting to me -- then, I say : What can of mess can I drop him into that would make for sparks?

Hope this helps. Come check my entry into the Body Language blogfest, and see how my interesting character fares in a wordless dialogue with the ghost of a little girl lost. Roland

Enid Wilson said...

Sorry to hear about your lost. Cleo seemed such a nice and cool dog. I hope you find another one soon. I lost a cat many years ago and decided not to take on another one. It's too emotionally draining to lose a pet.

Steamy Darcy

Dave King said...

Sorry to hear about your dog.. Hope the new one works out well for all concern ed. Lovely post. Even though I cannot claim to be a doggie person, I enjoyed it immensely.

SWUBIRD said...

Conda:

I do love your posts, they're always so thought provoking. Sometimes it makes my head ache.

As to the dogs. We had a lot of dogs when I was growing up. And they were about as different as any group of people. One was so spastic we had to give him away. Nothing made me sadder but it was all we could do.

As to building characters. Well, I usually base my characters on people I know. So that's a little easier for me. But when I do a pure fiction piece I tend to like the odd character. By odd I mean someone who's missing a few cards in their deck. And I try to introduce his/her character traits a little at a time.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Happy trails.

Lisa and Laura said...

Great post, Conda! It takes me a while to figure out our characters. I tend to think about them a lot when I'm not writing and they'll slowly unveil themselves to me. I'm always sending random e-mails to Laura or jotting random notes about them. It's one of my favorite parts of the process!

Caryn said...

I love all the pictures but I, too, was sorry to hear about your dog. It sounds like you have a very special home for whatever dog you do get next.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Helen, yes, I've had characters pop into my head, full blown and demanding to be put into my book.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Yes, beth--if even a DOG has lots of personality--what about people?!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Roland, first, welcome to my blog! Your ideas sparked my thinking on my next post--and I'm checking out your entry.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Enid--I can tell from your blog that you have a big heart--I understand your reluctance to wound that heart again.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Dave, thanks, and some people are dog people, some not--another personality difference!

Conda V. Douglas said...

SWU--sorry to make your head ache! Your comments are always fascinating!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Lisa--I love creating the characters too!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Caryn--news on the next dog and thanks for your kind comments.