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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday Workout

First, run down the street after a hyper toddler who wants to go to her friends house in a rainstorm. Bonus points for doing this sick, pregnant, or after any major surgery. Double bonus points for doing this in skimpy nightwear your neighbors would never expect to see on you (like that two piece at the back of your closet) or wearing a towel.

And if that doesn't wake your mused up, it's time for CPR or red hot pokers.

Then: Let's do some regression...

Building realistic characters is part decent dialog and part actually understanding the species you're talking about. For the sake of expediency we're focusing on humans today, Homo sapiens sapiens. One of my pet peeves with random books I pick up is that family relationships are very rarely done well. My other major pet peeve is flat characters, the two peeves go hand in hand.

Creating real characters and real relationships between them means understanding that text book people rarely exist in real life. And they are no fun to read about. People and groups of people develop quirks, traditions, and almost their own language. If you don't believe me drop by any established group, be they teenagers on the swim team or the engineers working at the construction site downtown. Notice how they share facial expressions, how they use words and acronyms no outsider is going to understand? They are real people.

Today's excercise is to list five quirks. Regress back to your childhood and think of five things your family did that you would never do now.

Here's my short list:
1- When we traveled long distances my parents would fold down the middle seat of the minivan to make a bed and let us unbuckle and play. Are you kidding me? I won't go half a block with my kids unbuckled!

2- When I was 8 my mother painted the entire house a orange-peach color. I bought her a matching mug. It was scary.

3- During summer vacations we never stayed at hotels, we would spend the day at a friend's house while my Dad slept and then drive at night. He never was in any of the family pictures of vacation because he slept through it all. What was the point of that again?

4- When we moved into the first real house I lived in there were no fences in the neighborhood and it wasn't uncommon to see kids from all over running through the backyard. Bizarre! Can you imagine a pack of half-feral grade schoolers running in your backyard. Half the time you didn't even know their names until they were sharing your ice cream.

5- During summer break when I was in middle school I would leave the house to go walking or roller blading and be gone for hours, often roaming several miles from home by the end of the day. I was 12! With no cell phone or anything! Sure, nothing ever happened, but oh my word didn't my mother read the news? There was a serial killer downtown one summer and I only found out I'd been running loose after he'd been caught. Um... yikes! I would at least make my kid take a friend or the dog.

But, think about it, those little quirks from my childhood can be slipped into a number of genres. The absentee father, even though he's home. The carefree unfenced society. The child roaming freely with no adult supervision or awareness.

Or you could flip it and use my current hyper awareness (Give me a break, my toddler loves to make a mad dash down the street. She's the reason I have locks on my door. I'm not worried about anyone coming in, I'm worried about her running out and deciding to play in traffic when I blink.) as a quirk for a parent. How hard is it for the hero of a middle grade book to save the universe if his mom is checking in every five mintues?


  1. I gotta say I agree with the missing families bit. People in the real world have them, and a lot of them are happy. That's one of the things I loved in Harry Potter--ok Harry doesn't have one and the whole "kid saving the universe" would have been hampered if he did. I'm talking about the Weasleys. I love them. The caring father and mother who love each other and their children and do their best to raise them well. It's such an anomaly in novels that it really stands out to me.

    I'm with you on the whole running wild and running free as a child. I think that's the biggest difference from when I was a child and today. Children had a LOT more freedom--to roam that is. I would often be gone from my house for hours at a time and my mother didn't really know where I was. I'd say I was going to a friend's and go there riding my bike and then we'd run around her neighborhood. I'd come back at the end of the day never thinking about the dangers. Children are a lot more supervised. Don't even get me started about the climbing trees bit.

  2. Let's see if I can think of 5.

    1) Whenever my mom didn't want to deal with us, she would send us outside and lock all the doors. We were only allowed back when she rang the dinner bell. That started when I was about 3.

    2) My parents did the making a bed out of the back seats in our station wagon.

    3) When we "needed" a spanking, my mother would use whatever was nearby to spank us - spoon, brush, branch. My kids get my hand or nothing at all.

    4) To ground me my parents would take away all my books and writing stuff. I take away things like video games (which, yes, I had back then - Atari). Why take away something that's good for them?

    That's really all I can think of.

  3. Amen about flat characters and missing families. But, to be honest, I'd rather they were missing than they way they are often portrayed: parents are idiots and they are the hurdles the ever so smart children must over come.


    I remember a time when the family was the back up and support for the kids.

  4. Great post, Lei. :)

    Things my parents did. Ummmm. *scratching head*

    (1) I honestly can't think of much besides kind of what you said about the seatbelts. We never wore seatbelts.

    (2) My mom let me lay in the sun every day for 3 hours when I was in high school. I'm going to get skin cancer, I just know it.

    And my parent's yard in Heber doesn't have any fences. None of the houses in their neighborhood do.

  5. Only five things? Man, my friends, sibglings and I were probably lucky to surive in one peice. :P

    Escapades as a kid included trying (with friends) to fell an entire pine "forest" (several hundred feet of small pine trees), with an ax, saw, and manpower; building booby traps that backfired on us, building forts that were probably the epitome of unsafe, knocking over old, broken down farm buildings, digging through junk piles and rock piles (somehow we thought it was a good idea to have someone up top dig through the pile while people were at the bottom in the way of falling rocks, glass, rusted metal cans, and broken electronic)... :D

    And then we played all the time in the road (a dirt road, little traffic), would wander several miles into farm land and other property, we built rafts for our pond and tried to trek through the swamps in mid-April when they were quite treacherous (we nearly got stuck and sunk more than once)...

    I lived on an old farm site (thus the variety of chaos), and friends would stay with us every summer for years until they bought a working farm up north. We were trouble. It was fun though. O:)

    Good post, L. I think it's something good to think about when fleshing out characters.