Today’s guest post comes from Colleen Anderson. Colleen freelances in copyediting and writing and also edits poetry for Chizine and does slush manuscript editing for ChiZine Publications. She’s a past editor for Aberrant Dreams, has edited for many first-time novels for individuals and has worked with publishers and magazines. Her poem “Of the Corn: Kore’s Innocence” was nominated for this year’s Aurora Award in poetry. You can visit her blog here: Colleen Anderson
Originally I was going to write about gender stereotypes but after the unexpected death of a friend last week I have decided to switch. So, in honour of Andrew Brechin who died too young, I dedicate this post to character.
If you saw Andrew on the street you might think, there is a rather stout fellow, or; he is a portly guy. Two ways of saying the same thing but different connotations to them. These statements might give the tone of the time period in which the story is given, or the narrator’s voice and suggest a certain level of education or deportment. They can also indicate a person’s view of another character. We’ll see more about Andrew’s deportment as we go on. In fact, as I play the only partially omniscient narrator of this piece, I will hopefully reveal more about Andrew to make him live in your mind, for that is how we keep all who have moved beyond the veil alive.
If I said that Andrew was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism (or medieval society) you might get a picture in your head of someone who liked history and to dress in costumes. And if I told you his medieval name was Guillermo Portelli, and knowing he was a stout fellow, you might begin to think he made a joke at his expense. And you would be right in both accounts.
He did indeed like to dress up but more of a daily raiment than a costume. He was known to have once dressed as baby Cthulhu, that tentacled Old One of H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. A few pictures do exist. There are other pictures of him with black wings and a black peasant shirt, fake Viking helm with plastic horns, wearing striped pants as he stands proudly on a miniature Viking ship, swirls of paint and glitter as he participates as one of the topless wish fairies in the Lantern festival, or wearing a long red robe with hood as a tech wizard, and wearing a purple top hat as he walks down the street, with cloak and a drum over his shoulders. There are many pictures of Andrew in various types of face and body paint.
Yes, Andrew loved to dress up and was known to have a few hats. You see, he didn’t believe that as an adult you had to let go of the child within. He was a staunch agent of joy and the sacred jester. He brought mirth and fun wherever he went, whether he was drumming for bellydancers, or just out there enjoying a party.
If I stopped here, you would have a picture of him, of how he looked and some of his attitude, but he was much more than this. Every year for his birthday, he would announce Breklormas, a feastorama at a local Chinese restaurant. The greasier the better, and I’m sorry to say I never made it to one.
He had a cunning mind and frequently formed wild plans for world domination or something with bacon in it, or some other crazy idea that he’d share with friends. Once of his last posts before he died was this:
So, on the one hand, I really don’t want the Winter Olympics back. On the other, the idea of taking it back from the Russians and making it the GAYEST FUCKING OLYMPICS EVAR (which is really saying something, since the Classical Greek athletes competed naked except for a coating of olive oil) amuses the heck out of me. We could make a Queer Olympic Flag with seven rainbow rings on it, and I think it would pass copyright law as a parody…
I wasn’t his closest friend but I saw some of this wizardly wit with his quips on facebook. And yes, Andrew’s, or Breklor as we sometimes called him, wit and whimsy were evident. He had a penchant for shooting pictures of toilets and posting them just because it was rather, well…Andrew.
Stereotypes begin in reality and are only a snapshot of someone. We have a clichéd image of what a jock, a hippy, a power attorney, a rock star, a nerd, a hipster, etc. look like. There is a uniform to both clothing and personality type. But it’s like looking at twenty blueberry pies baked by different people. They may all be pies and have blueberries but they will have diverse textures, various flavors and when you really look at them, uniquely different aspects.
When you write, even if you have a stereotype, you need to flesh that character inside and out. Anyone who just saw Andrew walking down the street, in cape and top hat, walking into the Stormcrow, haven for geeky game enthusiasts, would classify him as one of the same ilk. They would be right but what distinguishes one geek or nerd or jock from another is how you portray them. Already, because I’ve described more carefully Andrew’s clothing, he wasn’t just a T-shirt wearing geek. He was always clean and carefully dressed, and while he wore T-shirts from time to time, he also wore other shirts that had far more character.
While he loved to bring in joy and mirth, he wasn’t goofy. He had an innate sense of when to bring in laughter and when to be serious and listen. He loved kids, and while I heard he experienced bullying as a child, he decided to turn it around and put joy in its place. He was a good and intelligent conversationalist with deep insights. The beliefs he held included loving and wholly embracing who he was. Never once would I say he was annoying. He just knew. And he was pervasive, so much so that when the ripples went out last week from the shock of finding out of his untimely passing, various friends were surprised to find that another of their friends had known him as well. He was everywhere and the words most people used to describe him were: wizardly, witty, wise, joyful.
Make you characters come alive so the reader is invested. Stephen King has done this very well, even if it was particularly annoying to get into a character in just two pages and find that on the third page he died. Instead of giving dry descriptions it’s best to show character through movement, expression, dialogue and appearance.
Andrew knocked at the old church gate, black feathered wings tied to his back and a glint in his eye. He leaned forward expectantly, then looked back at the camera, trying to suppress a smile. Giving up, he turned and stuck his tongue out.
With this external view, you get a sense of the character, the surroundings and the attitude. So in a page or less you can define a character and if you’re writing a story, you can drop small pieces of description in as the character moves or talks. A little goes a long way in the reader’s imagination.
As you write characters into your stories, remember this: Even your villains have to live and while they may want world domination, they may also suffer from a runny nose and lumbago, and love kittens and blueberry pies. No one, not even a stereotype is all bad or good. We are made up of shades of grey and of all colours of the rainbow. Andrew was. Not only did he bring light into lonely dark places, he brought rainbows as well.
I plan to use Andrew one day in a story, either as a villain or a good guy. He’d be tickled pink and purple to know that he lives on.