It’s Halloween night and as I sit here contemplating a topic to write on–about writing–I think of my characters and the many “hats” I require them to wear, to become just who I need them to be for any given piece. So I’ve dragged out some of my gang and locked them each in a room, with no windows–just a box of costumes and asked them to try on a few and tell us a little bit about themselves. Please enjoy this Character Costume Parade inspired by the wacky holiday where at least one day a year we have the freedom to dress up and become anyone we like!
Christine is a 10 yr old, red headed, precocious lil gal. She loves her dysfunctional family and really has no idea that all families aren’t exactly like hers. Her bestie is a school chum named, Pearl. The two girls have many zany adventures as they sojourn the pages of my stories side by side.
ME: Christine, can you tell us a bit about the costume you picked?
Christine: It’s not a costume, per-say.
Per se – frequently misspelled as P-e-r-s-a-y. Per se is an adverb and means: by, of, for, or in itself; intrinsically.
Momma’s an English major. She demands that I be well spoken. But my teacher is actually the one responsible for my vast vocabulary. She has us memorize our spelling words along with their definitions. I can converse with most adults on a level they can comprehend–which blows a lot of them away. But, I digress.
Digress – verb (used without an object): to deviate or wander away from the main topic or purpose in speaking or writing; to depart from the principal line of argument, plot, study, etc. Sorry, it’s a habit.
I dressed like Pippi Longstocking. It was the natural choice given my red hair and quirky nature.
Quirky – adjective: characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits.
Me: And how do you think you identify with the character of Pippi?
Christine: We’re adventurous girls, me n Pippi. I know some folks can’t grasp the concept of kids with independent spirits but we’re wild and free. I really like that about myself and it’s fun to have a girl to look to who represents the essence of my character.
Essence – noun: the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character.
Me: Sometimes, do you wish I’d written your character less like Pippi and more like–
Christine: Laura Ingalls Wilder? Interesting that she’s much more respected than Pippi, but has a similar personality.
Naw, I don’t wish to be anyone other than who you’ve created me to be. I like my red hair and my wacky family and my dog–Slumpy, and my bestie–Pearl. I wouldn’t have myself any other way. I just wouldn’t be me, then would I?
Me: Truly, you wouldn’t. You don’t seem to give me any grief or hassle like some of my other characters. Of course, we’ve not yet reached the teen years.
Any parting words you’d like to share with our audience before I leave you to play dress-up?
Christine: I hear teens are more of a challenge to write than me. I know you have this one girl who’s quite promiscuous and has been in trouble. Mama says boys won’t marry a girl who gives away the farm. I’ll pass on the definition of ‘promiscuous.’ I think it might make some grown-ups uncomfortable to hear a girl my age define a word like that. I’m guessin’ we all know what it means.
I like the life you’ve created for me. And I like that sometimes you allow me to take the lead and shape some of my adventures. And I super-duper love you for giving me a puppy for my birthday! My parents kept saying “no, Christine” but you up and wrote him as a surprise mystery gift. No way were they gunna say I couldn’t keep a birthday gift!
Me: Well, I hope you prove trustworthy of the responsibility, Christine. We’ve yet to see what adventures are in store for you and Pearl with Slumpy by your sides.
Now, I’m off to another room to speak with another character. Have fun!
UNNAMED FEMALE CHARACTER
This young lady is not the girl to whom Christine made reference above. I actually intended to let said girl come and play with the box of costumes and share whatever she’d like, though that may have been unwise, before Christine even mentioned her. However, I’ve another character, who won’t stay quiet and is busting down the door to see the light of day. Unfortunately her sole role was in a piece I’d only begun to draft, and as I did, the character that emerged, and overtook the project, was nothing like the girl I’d imagined and painstakingly attempted to create. This girl was, in fact, the complete opposite. I didn’t get very far before I shelved the project because she was turning it into something that it was never conceived to be. Alas, I never gave her a name; so, to this day she remains the nameless girl from ‘Flying Fat.’ I’ll just refer to her as UFC, short for unnamed female character. Brace yourselves!
Me: Oh, I see you’ve found the box of costumes and decided on the lovely pink princess frock.
UFC: Aye, isn’t that what you want me to be? A nice girl who gives off airs and does as she’s told … dressed in a sparkling pink gown, of course. I mean, that’s why you’ve hid me away … yes? Because I wouldn’t conform to your ideal of who I should be?
Me: I see you’re still bitter. The truth is, the story I wanted to tell wasn’t suited to you. The girl I was writing it for was, admittedly, someone quite different from yourself.
UFC: So you thought you’d just stuff me away in the dark recesses of … where, your memory? Forget all about me; make sure my story never got told?
Me: I agree–your story is an important one. But, it wasn’t the project I intended to pen. When you popped up, out of nowhere, and just took the whole thing over … I didn’t know what to do. So, I shelved it.
UFC: You mean you shelved me!
Me: I suppose so, yes. I mean, you were taking over the project. And, I hadn’t quite encountered a character like you before. Not one that I’d created anyway. It was a tad overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what else to do really.
UFC: How ‘bout telling my damn story and not locking me in the closet like I was some monster–treating me like a perp instead of acknowledging that I was the victim!
Me: It was obvious you were a victim and that you’d been perpetrated upon. I never meant to treat you poorly. I’ve explained why I had to do what I did, why I couldn’t, at that time, tell your story. It wasn’t even close to the tale I set out to tell. And you weren’t the girl I meant to summon.
UFC: Because I wasn’t your perfect little princess. I was noone’s princess and far from perfect after they were done with me.
*UFC twirls around and curtsies for me, holding the corners of pink taffeta in each hand. A stiff smile stretches her lips thin. She flutters her lashes*
UFC: More to your liking, M’lady? Sweet as sugar … and save the spice for the prince who wakes me at midnight with true love’s kiss? He’ll have to take me over his knee to teach me some proper manners but he won’t leave any visible bruises. Men are trained in the ways of abusing their women. Yes?
Me: It doesn’t appear that any of the therapy you insisted on for your back story has helped in any way.
UFC: Therapy? Nay. Since it was a court appointed punishment by the King and Queen. I went, but put no real effort into it. I doubt old baldy would have believed my tale anyhow. Nobody else did.
Me: Perhaps it’s the manner in which you conduct yourself that keeps people from being able to connect with you. I know I certainly felt intimidated by such an egregious personality. No matter how hard I tried, or what scenario I put you in, you just weren’t interested in being personable.
UFC: Personable? Sorry. My mind was busy processing years of abuse at the hands of a trusted adult and how that effectively turned me into an invisible tub of lard. Guess I forgot to schedule lessons on how to be ‘personable.’
Me: Fair enough … but as I’ve already stated – your story, while not new to you, was big news to me. Unexpected news. I was neither in the place to understand it nor appropriately deal with it. It wasn’t because you weren’t a pretty little princess. The other story didn’t showcase one of those either. It was because I couldn’t cut through all your brashness to figure out where you came from and where you were going. Because you wouldn’t avail yourself of the therapist or group therapy or any other tool I tried to contribute. And because, though you never told me the details, I knew your story was so shocking that I wasn’t going to know how to let you tell it outside of the boundaries I was trying to provide for you.
It had nothing to do with the person you think I wanted you to be. Honest.
UFC: It had nothing to do with the person I think you wanted me to be? You didn’t even take the time to give me a proper name!
Me: I knew that was going to come up. Shall I name you now?
UFC: What? So you can look good and proper in front of your friends? Pass! Let them see who’s the real monster here.
*UFC turns her back and flounces across the room to sit in a corner, facing the wall. I slip quietly out, leaving her door ajar just a bit.*
Oh, where do I start with Dominick. He’s been many a girl’s dream. He’s successful and handsome and strong, intelligent, wealthy, stupidly attractive, in control and … sexy. Oh My God–sexy!
It’s like he stepped out of a sort of bad boy mold, though appearances might beg to differ. He’s married–just a year–and already looking for something more stimulating than the wife who lies in bed next to him. He’s used to getting what he wants, the way he wants it. One day … he decided he wanted Rebecca. ← (the female lead in his story) And neither of their lives were ever the same.
D: What’s with the box, T.
Me: Costumes. Pick one and try it on. Anyone you like. Think of it as a game.
D: For whom am I dressing?
Me: Me. And our guests. They’re watching too.
Me: Come on, D. Not that kind of game. Just pick something that speaks to you. Maybe something that represents who you are, or who you’d like to be, or maybe someone you think I want you to be.
D: I already know who you want me to be. I’m wearing that outfit.
Me: You’re wearing a double breasted, three piece Armani suit, D.
D: Exactly. You’re favorite. It was my birthday gift from you. Like me, you have exquisite taste.
Me: It was from Rebecca. But thank you.
D: Come now, we both know you’re Rebecca.
Me: We do, do we? How’s that?
D: You know you’re in love with me. Rebecca’s just your … “host”, if you will.
Me: You certainly are the most confident man I think I’ve ever met. I’ll give you that.
D: You’ll give me whatever I like.
*Dominick walks over to me, backing me away from him until I feel the rough wall–firm behind my back.*
D: Tonight, I think I might just like you … “Rebecca.”
Me: Old reliable. You’re becoming predictable. Careful, D.
*I hold the gaze of his lovely ice blue eyes. He brings his 6’4” frame as close to me as possible. There is no air between us. He lowers his head until his mouth finds my ear.*
D: You like the wall. That’s why I use it. Because, it always works!
Me: We have an audience, don’t forget. This interview isn’t rated for adult content.
D: Not my concern; I didn’t write it. Besides, I know you like to be watched. I know all your dirty little fantasies, T, because I know you. That’s what you like about me.
Me: This has fast taken a turn I’d not anticipated. I only intended to write a little ditty about whatever outfit you chose to model. Let you have some voice to share your thoughts with the world. Are you not interested in that, D?
D: I don’t have an appetite for interviews at the moment. I do, however, have another suit I’d be happy to model for you.
*His hands find the knot on his silk tie and he begins to release it. I watch as he slides it from around his neck and then moves on to unfasten his belt. I want to avert my eyes but … he’s right; this gets me every time.*
Me: I hate that you’re right about me. I hate you! You know that, don’t you?
D: That is, again, no concern of mine, my red headed mistress. Now, are those clothes going to remove themselves or do they need some help?
*TL draws the curtains.*
He’s a bastard y’all. But he’s sexy as hell and I can’t let that go to waste!
*winks and waves goodbye*
EPILOGUE: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Sometimes the writer is in control and sometimes the characters are in control. I’ve experienced both. Here, you’ve seen both. (Thanking God for little Christine right about now.) Bringing them out to play in some way, allowing them to air their grievances or have a discussion with you, another character, someone from their story–these can be great tools for fleshing them out. A good character is worth it’s weight in gold. And why not? They are the driving force of any story. So spend some time getting to know them and what to expect from them when you open their Pandora’s box. They just might surprise you.