Sunday, November 29, 2009

Favorite Flavors for Characters

My Great Room mantelpiece, with a friend's artwork and the shadow of Shaolin.

Above is an example of how I like to decorate and my type of artwork, plus the shadow of a statue I have in my front hall. What does this have to do with favorite flavors and characters?

We all have differing tastes, even with the simplest, most common things. This came home to me this Thanksgiving. Myriad examples abound. Everyone has specific ideas of what is traditional food for Thanksgiving--all very, very different. For example, yams are traditional, but with marshmallows or without? Without for me, for growing up, my dad (he who hated sweets) would only eat them plain.

What this has to do with characters should be obvious. We're all so different, in so many ways, from the small (no marshmallows!) to the great and sublime. Adding those differences, big and tiny, to every character will create characters fascinating and walking around in your readers' heads. They may even live past your writing!

What are some of the ways you find to create characters? How do you do their makeup? A touch here--or layer it on with a trowel--or?

And finally, another pumpkin recipe in honor of the holiday season:
Pumpkin curry soup:
1 c. cooked pumpkin
1 c. milk, soy milk or broth of your choice
curry powder to taste
Mix, heat and ENJOY!


Swubird said...


A great question. There are so many choices and flavors, old and young and in between. Personally, I have a vast memory of some beautiful characters I have met. And I remember them because I have always been a keen observer of interesting people--even as child.

My Queen says I love weirdos, but I disagree. I tell her that the people I like must have some interesting quality about them. They definitely do not have to be geniuses, or rich or important. But they must stand alone as individuals. For instance, in my recent story I wrote about a young boy by the name of One-Eyed Wink Junior. If you read the story then you know that he could hold his own weight in the character department. Even though he nearly got me killed playing his little games, I still loved that guy.

Sometimes I see peole at the mall, or the movies or the parks or just walking along the beach, and I think look interesting. But the real test comes when I get close to someone--close enough to hear the slight subtleness in their speech pattern, or the little quirks in their mannerisms. These thing are like chocolate candy to me and I eat them up.

Hearing and watching, and identifying, are all good, but transferring those observations and impressions onto paper are entirely different things. Steinbeck, Stegner, Capote were all masters at the ability recreate what they saw, heard and felt. Oh to have their gifts.

Another thought provoking article. Well done.

Happy trails.

Helen Ginger said...

Well, I do like soup and the more simple to make, the better. Can you use canned pumpkin? Just wondering, then it would be easy to make year-round.

I tend to make notes on my characters as I see them in my head, then I can make sure they're not all blonde or blue-eyed or sarcastic.

Straight From Hel

lisa and laura said...

Ooh, that soup sounds delicious. As for our characters, it's a little weird, once we've written the first chapter from their voice we can usually sit down and write a character sketch. We like to get down 25 things about each of our characters. Just stuff to keep in mind as we write.

Carol Kilgore said...

This is a great post, Conda. That's a good thing all by itself, but it makes me think about my characters, which is even better. And what makes it best of all is that after a late night last night and sleeping in this morning, being forced to think is what I need most. Or maybe a bowl of pumpkin curry soup :)

Conda Douglas said...

Swu, you're an example of what it takes to be a writer. Someone once asked a famous writer when he wrote and he replied, "Always."

And so do you.

Conda Douglas said...

Helen, it's an excellent idea to "write it all down" as you develop characters, for the reason you state!

And I only use canned pumpkin, no time for anything else, too busy writing.

Dave King said...

And there is nothing more enjoyable than an unusual blend of flavours - usually! - in my opinion. Interesting idea for a post.

Jim Murdoch said...

Character begins slowly for me. I started my current book - the one that I keep saying I'm writing - with a woman in a car going through the prescribed actions prior to driving away. As she drove she started to think and as she thought I began to get a flavour of who she was.

I believe Pinter worked much the same way, he'd 'hear' a voice talking and have no idea who was doing the talking or whom they were talking to.

I so badly wish I didn't work this way, that I could outline a plot and then fill in the blanks like a colouring-in book but that isn't me.

Conda Douglas said...

Lisa and Laura--25 things sounds just about right.

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Carol--and pumpkin curry soup is full of stuff to get the brain going for writing!

Conda Douglas said...

Yeah, Dave, good point. Of course we forget that pumpkin is a squash and without the sugar, completely different taste!

Conda Douglas said...

Yes, but Jim, I believe all writers have those times when a character inserts themselves into a book and won't least you're probably not often surprised, and your characters are flesh outed and natural.

Jim Murdoch said...

Can't say that's ever happened, Conda, but then I keep my characters to a bare minimum.

Kathy McIntosh said...

I tend to forget to add descriptions of my characters, because they're clear to me, in my head.
I like the sketches of characters painted by Robert Parker, and I like characters who aren't too heavily made up or sweet.
And I love pumpkin curry soup, but I add apple to mine.
Good post.

Lynda Lehmann said...

The soup is so simple to make and it sounds yummy. I must try it. I just bought pumpkin butter spread last week, to use on toast, but I haven't tried it yet.

The hard part about creating characters is to reveal them through the unraveling of the plot, while keeping them consistent! Not an easy task, as we might tend to "bend" the characters as we move them through the plot, if we haven't initially made a well-conceived plan.

You are making me want to re-visit my writing, Conda!

Conda Douglas said...

Kathy, good point. It's one thing to have a character in our head, quite another to get it on the page.

Conda Douglas said...

Wow, Lynda, thanks! And of course we've got to write that character arc...