Category Archives: characters

Character Developments

If I am ever going to sound at all like an author talking about his craft, then I guess there is really no better place to start than with character development.

This is the first illustration in my work in progress, The Wizard in his Keep.

One of the most important factors in starting a new novel is how you put together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces that are the characters. I have had the characters in my head since about 1974. Daisy Brown and her two younger brothers, Johnny and little Mortie (short for Mortimer Snerdly Brown, named after his Great Grandpa Mortie and his Grand Uncle Snerdly) are the three characters that the story starts with on the night of the car accident.

Notice that the plot throws the three children above directly into a conflict right from the start. They were all in the back seat of the car. Their parents were in the front. Dad (who’s name is Brom, short for Bromley Mortimer Brown) has a bad reputation for reckless driving and being an alcoholic. He is driving. But he is sober. Mom (who’s name is Stacey Clarke Brown) is in the front passenger-side seat. Both of them are killed in the wreck. (Ironically the young man who hit them also dies, but he is the one guilty of drinking and driving on the night of the accident.) Some of those details come out in the first two chapters. Some of those details never actually come out in the course of the story. That’s the thing about characters, the author must have an idea of all the important details of their lives from early on in the creation process. But many of those details are not necessary to use in the story. You just need them so that you sound like you know them as you write about them.

Let me start by describing the development of my protagonist, Daisy Stacey Brown. She has been the protagonist of this tale since 1974. She was originally based on the younger of my two younger sisters. That is where the adventurous spirit comes from. And the slightly ditsy quality of her highly-imaginative inner monologue comes basically from my sister’s daughter who was born about 1993-ish (and the story, of course, happens in 1996, so it is based more on the present form of my niece shoe-horned into Daisy’s fifteen-year-old skinny body). Daisy is followed as the focus-character in a third-person-limited-point-of-view narrative. Here is a sample of that described in the story’s opening and filtered through Daisy’s unique brain;

The sound of the ambulance siren was raucous behind the car, like someone trying to play an AC/DC medley with a circus air-horn.  And a clown playing it who was drunk on too many pre-show hits from the gin bottle in the straw at the bottom of the lion cage.

It kinda made Daisy smile to think of that analogy.  She needed something like that to get her mind off what had happened that horrible night, a mere half an hour before.

I haven’t given any physical descriptions of Daisy in the first chapter of the story. Those things are slipped in later in nearly unnoticeable bits and drops. The fact that she has strawberry-red curly hair doesn’t get said until well after the reader sees it in the black-and-white illustration. Her skinniness, pale coloring, and awkwardness will be in descriptions that happen later in separate and isolated spots.

Far more important is the way her mind works, which I try to show rather than tell. She is one of those people who is both innocent without being ignorant, and imaginative without being merely random.

Other characters will be established too with an eye on what they are like at the beginning, and a mindfulness of what they will become as the plot changes them over time.

Johnny is a sad-sack introvert who blossoms as he overcomes problems associated with the initial tragedy. He grows as he proves to himself that he is neither a coward nor a fool.

Mortie is unflappable from beginning to end in the way small children often are. He possesses a powerful sense of wonder that overwhelms fear and sadness over his losses.

That is probably enough of an insight into how I am shaping these characters for now. If you look inside this process too closely, and compare it to my last post, I run the risk of letting you see how I may be using this story to process my own upcoming loss of a parent. The pandemic and my father’s Parkinson’s disease ironically is hitting this story with enough irony to iron out more than just the wrinkles. It may well iron me flat.

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More Art Day Role Play

Again I go back to artwork done for Saturday role-playing games, a thing which I started doing in 1981. It filled my life for a time. And it also taught me to be a teacher. After all, the DM (Dungeon Master, or Game Master) has to be a story-teller and a master explainer… just like a school teacher.

A Dungeons and Dragons picture from 1981.
A Shaitan Rider, a villain from 1982.
The Giant Sorcerer’s Hand, a monster from the 2011 family game.
A heroine-ally and her pet werewolf.
The father of mys son’s player character was found at the end of an adventure. He is apparently me with fewer legs.
An enemy necromancer
Two versions of the same weretiger
This unused non-player character would become a novel character in 2019.
Some characters are borrowed directly from TV
Some characters are kept around as potential instant player characters.
A Talislantan librarian from 1992

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Role-Playing Game Art

Here I am back to doing D&D and Traveller on Saturdays. All of the art in this post was once used in conjunction with RPGs played with former students, and my own kids. I was always the game master in the past, and I used drawings and illustrations to help the imaginary adventures come to life.

Zoran-Viktor was a Mirin Ice Wizard from the Talislanta D&D campaign. The player of this character was Victor, a gifted dancer and actor from the school’s theater department.
The Lawgiver was a powerful Non-Player Character in both D&D and Talislanta. The character design came from a metal figure I painted myself.
Zoric was a Talislantan Thaumaturge, the player character of a weird kid who told x-rated jokes better than any other high-school boy I ever met.

Harun the Charmer was only ever used as a player-character once. The boy whose character it was provided the face I modeled it after. He was an absolutely arresting boy that had such a winning personality that people fell in love with him almost instantly.

He spent way more time helping another teacher grade papers than he did playing Talislanta games with goofy old Mr. B.

And I promise, only one of the facts presented here about Harun is a lie, in attempt to protect this young gentleman’s identity. We unfortunately lost him back in the 1990’s.

Crane the Sorcerer was an NPC trapped inside his own crystal ball by his own
evil familiar well before my kids met him in the D&D adventure.
Viktor, the Snow Wizard of Ice Keep, was the father of Zoran Viktor. Victor loved playing Talislanta.
Swordpoint Castle

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Something Unexpected

I finished up a final proofread and formatting project on the novel I am re-publishing on Amazon, Magical Miss Morgan.

And, you know what? The story made me cry again. An unbroken record. It is about the fifteenth time I read through it. And every single time, the little three-inch-tall fairy is killed again, and I can’t keep my eyes dry.

He’s not even based on a real person as so many of my characters are. It’s not like it is someone I know and love. It’s a fairy. Not even remotely real. And I’m the one who decided he had to die in the story because because good comedy stories always end with at least one main character dying… Don”t they?

Mike Murphy and Blueberry Bates

But I can’t help feeling things about the characters in my stories. I don’t love them all. I hate some of them. But, they’re the ones you are supposed to hate. They are villians, bad guys, characters based on real people who hurt me in real life.

Silkie and Donner are fairies.

It’s not just my stories that make me feel. I have read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities twice, and both times Sydney Carton made me cry. I read Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop only once. And Little Nell made me cry so hard I could never reread that book. And there’s Simon in The Lord of the Flies, and, of course, the old Yeller dog in Old Yeller by Fred Gipson… I’m a sucker for heroic deaths and tragic losses. They touch and twist my little blue heart.

Miss Francis Morgan, school teacher

But I cried for the fifteenth time, and I survived it. I will probably cry again if I read it again. That is what life is like. That is what fiction is for. To make me think and feel and… love.

Magical Miss Morgan will soon be back in print.

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Character Portraits in a New Novel

I am past the 50,000 word mark. It is almost finished. Here I wish to show you the main characters of the novel through illustrations I have created over the years..

Milt Morgan is one of the four main narrators of the novel.

He is a fifteen-year-old Belle City High School freshman in 1976. He is the most imaginative of the Norwall Pirates softball team and liars’ club.

He tells his portion of the story in the form of journal entries.

Anita Jones and her boyfriend the Superchicken (Edward Campbell)

Anita Jones is the most central of the four narrators in that she is the cousin of Icarus Jones, the character at the center of the whole plot.

She is a fifteen-year-old freshman girl who has had a steady boyfriend since the spring of 1975. She tells her part of the story by writing letters about Icarus and the things happening in the little town of Norwall in the summer of 1976. She is writing to her cousin Dot who is much more interested at the start about Anita’s boyfriend Eddie than she is about cousin Icky.

Brent Clarke is the high school freshman athlete and leader of the Norwall Pirates. He is interested in becoming a policeman or detective, and as one of the four narrators, he tells his part of the story through his investigator’s notes which he takes religiously on practically everything.

He feels responsible for all the Pirates, especially Icarus when he comes under attack during the adventure in the summer of the Bicentennial year.

The fourth narrator is Sherry Cobble who has a twin sister named Shelly and is dedicated to being a nudist. In fact, she very much wants to convince all the Pirates to be comfortable with their own naked bodies. Realizing that dream, though, is complicated.

Especially because it’s Bible Belt Iowa and her nudist family is looked at as being the somewhat crazy hippie-type kind of people that are barely tolerated by the law.

She writes about it all in her Lovely Nudist’s Diary where she can write about her naturist beliefs, successes and failures, and her boyfriend, Brent.

Icarus Jones is the central character of The Boy… Forever. He tries to kill himself early in the year of 1976 and finds out by jumping off the MacArthur Bridge in St. Louis that he cannot die naturally. And worse is in store. Beyond the fact that he is an immortal, he is being pursued by an undead Chinese wizard who is a dragon in human form.

Fiona Long, usually called Fi, convinced her stepfather to move to Norwall, following Icarus as he moves to Norwall from St. Louis. She tells everyone in her freshman class that Fi is really short for Firefang, and she is a red dragon in human form.

She becomes friends with the Pirates. She learns to trust and like Anita and Sherry. And she is mightily attracted to Brent who is actually Sherry’s boyfriend.

Fi’s stepfather, Tien Long, is the villain. He is in reality a Chinese Celestial Dragon in human form. He also needs Icarus’s blood to continue to live his long, nearly-immortal life.

It is almost done, this novel. And as you can probably tell from the character pictures, this is not the first novel about the Norwall Pirates. So, it is a pirate novel with dragons and immortals in it. It has been fun to write. And soon it will be complete.

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People in My Head at the Moment

Anita Jones

As a writer seriously immersed in a particular work in progress, I find myself talking more and more to certain people who exist only in my head. They are the characters in my novel, The Boy… Forever.

The novel is itself an epistolary novel. That means, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is made up of letters, notes, diary and journal entries, and other personal writing of the central characters. It also means that I have to become the different people who write these things. At least while I create each individual artifact that goes into the mosaic of first-person narratives.

Anita Jones, pictured here, is the letter-writer who starts the plot in motion when she gets a very disturbing letter from her cousin, Icarus Jones.

Icarus writes about his problem with becoming a midget, and his response to it being a plan to kill himself. It seems that he simply stopped growing at the age of ten. Now, being a fifteen-year-old in the body of a ten-year-old, he writes a suicide note in the form of a letter, and then goes to jump off a bridge into the Mississippi River. But when he does, he survives. Or, rather, he succeeds, but cannot remain dead. He doesn’t know it, yet, but he has become a human mutation known in the secret world of unknown things as an Immortal.

Tian Long, the Celestial Dragon

Icky’s problem becomes worse when it is discovered he is being pursued by another immortal, a sort of vampiric immortal who needs to consume the essence of other immortals to stay alive. He is a three-thousand-year-old Chinese Celestial Dragon who is able to assume a human form.

Neither Icky Jones nor Tian Long the dragon, though, really needs to be in my head. Icarus himself only writes the first and last letters of the book. Tian Long, the villain, does not have a say at all in telling the story. The only part of it he writes are the wizard spells he uses to confound everyone, and most of those are in Chinese.

Milton John Morgan, the Wizard of the Norwall Pirates

Besides the letters that Anita Jones writes to her cousin in Dallas, Dot Jones, the story is also advanced in the journal entries of Milt Morgan, one of the leaders of the boys’ gang in rural Iowa known as the Norwall Pirates. He has been asked by the Freshman English teacher to keep a daily journal and write every day in 1976. This he struggles to do, but gains writing and typing skills as he goes along, especially when he befriends Icarus and learns about the dragon pursuing Icky.

Milt is full of imagination and a sense of adventure, a thing that makes him an unreliable narrator, not above embellishing the truth as he writes his not-so-much- daily-as-infrequent journal entries.

Brent “the Cat” Clarke

The story is also taken up by Brent Clarke, the leader of the Norwall Pirates. Brent wants to be a policeman or a detective or something like that when he grows up. He takes careful investigation notes on everything, and he is the first one to become suspicious of the Chinese man and his step-daughter who pick a house in the town of Norwall that they want to live in right before the actual owner and occupant of the house mysteriously dies in a falling accident. Brent befriends the local Sheriff’s Deputy and sets out on a serious possible murder investigation that yields some very disturbing results. His notes are very detail-oriented and generally fact-based. He carefully records his own eye-witness accounts of everything.

Sherry Cobble, the nudist, calls herself the smarter and more beautiful twin.

Sherry Cobble, the more outgoing of the identical twins known as the Cobble Sisters, is a happy nudist with a very positive body image for herself and her twin sister. She is a very positive person over-all. She and her sister Shelly had started out keeping a “Lovely Nudist’s Diary” between them, but Shelly is not nearly as interested in writing and storytelling as her sister. So, Sherry takes over the diarist duties with the same sort of glee and enthusiasm she has for promoting nudism to her friends, especially the Norwall Pirates. It is her goal to eventually see all of the kids in Norwall naked and happy just as she and her sister Shelly always are.

Those four different character voices are the main voices I have to work with in telling this fantasy adventure story in much the same way as Stoker tells the story of Dracula.

So, if I begin to seem like I have a disordered mind full of multiple personalities, it’s because I am a novelist, not a mental patient or a vampire or even a Chinese dragon in human form. I am simply trying to tell a story by allowing four distinctly different characters to live inside my head.

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Novel-ty Art

Valerie Clarke in the Snow for Snow Babies

Some Art is created for the sake of illustrating my novels. So, today’s artwork is all about that.

Running for the Bus in The Boy… Forever
Re-done cover art for Superchicken
Francois and Mr. Disney for Sing Sad Songs
Davalon, Tanith, and George Jetson from Stardusters and Space Lizards
Silkie and Donner in Magical Miss Morgan
Mike Murphy and Blueberry Bates from Magical Miss Morgan
Invisible Captain Dettbarn, Valerie in Squirrel Form, and Mary Philips from When the Captain Came Calling
Anneliese the Gingerbread Girl from Recipes for Gingerbread Children
Grandma Gretel, Todd Niland, Sherry Cobble, and Sandy Wickham from Recipes for Gingerbread Children
Zearlop Zebra the ventriloquist’s puppet, Terry Houston, and Murray Dawes from Fools and Their Toys
Orben Wallace, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius
Torrie Brownfield from The Baby Werewolf
Milt Morgan from The Baby Werewolf
Dorin Dobbs from Catch a Falling Star
Ged Aero from Aeroquest 1 & 2

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Portraits of Norwall Kids

An illustration for the WIP,The Boy… Forever

Today’s Art-Day Saturday post is about the pictures I have drawn to establish in my mind the characters that make up the fictional world of Norwall, Iowa. Specifically, the kids in my YA novels.

Milt Morgan, wizard of the Norwall Pirates

I do manage character development and detailed descriptions by creating early on a picture of what the character looks like for me.

Sherry Cobble, nudist, twin sister of Shelly, also a nudist
Mike Murphy and his girlfriend, Blueberry Bates
Edward-Andrew Campbell
Brent Clarke, first leader of the Norwall Pirates
Dilsey Murphy, everybody’s big sister
Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf
Grandma Gretel Stein, Todd Niland, Sherry Cobble, Sandy Wickham
Francois Martin, the Sad Clown who Sings
Anita Jones, the girlfriend of Superchicken
Valerie Clarke, the most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall

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How NOT to Tell a Story – Part Two

Yesterday, in Part 1, I tried to convince you that, “You should never take too long a time writing a story” because I have written some twenty-plus-year-long novels that took me forever to write, and I am an unsuccessful writer. So, you should not do things the way I did. (Some might accuse me of trying to use a little too much irony, claiming I am a bit too obscure about what I am actually telling you that you should actually do… But, remember, I advised you not to take advice from Mickey. And you need irony in your diet anyway to avoid irony-poor tired blood.) Therefore I am going to advise you further that, “You should never make your characters too complex and interesting.”

After all, there are Mickian characters that are literally blue with red patches on their cheeks that absorb harmful gamma radiation and make those characters immune to radiation sickness from exposure in deep space. You don’t want to make readers so curious about a character that they waste time reading more and more closely to discover more about that character.

Junior Aero, the alien Nebulon boy in the AeroQuest stories is just one example. Not only is he a member of an alien race that are belittled as “Space Smurfs” and treated to racial bigotry based on skin color and not being able to speak English at first, but he is also gifted with mental “Psion powers” that allow him to telepathically read computer minds, even the sentient and intelligent ones.

And some of my characters are green with shark-like fins on their heads. They were born on Starships and orbiting artificial satellites like the one going around Barnard’s Star. They are like George Jetson here, named after his father, Xiar’s, favorite Earther cartoon show character from the 60’s. Not only is he a green-skinned amphibious humanoid life-form from a different star system, he learns a lot about himself in the adventure he has in the novel Stardusters and Space Lizards. He goes from being a narcissistic space-pilot wannabee into becoming a humble crash survivor and expedition leader who helps save an entire planet from ecological disaster. And he even gets a girlfriend out of the deal in Menolly his nestmate and fellow survivor.

Characters like that are far too interesting and developed to be good for your reputation as a serious producer of money-making fiction stories. And you certainly don’t want to waste time on developing the same characters in multiple books.

I used the character of Valerie Clarke in the book When the Captain Came Calling as an eleven-year-old protagonist who loses her father and has to rely on older kids and good friends to save herself from depression and the trash-pits of despair.

I used her again as a main character in Snow Babies where she befriends a mysterious stranger and also finds a runaway boy who makes her think seriously about life and young love, all in the middle of a deadly blizzard.

She’s also in the book Sing Sad Songs where she learns to negotiate love with a boy who also lost a parent, in fact, both parents and a twin sister, in a car crash that made him a lonely orphan. She not only has to face the loss of her own loved ones, but has to help somebody else to face the same thing, in fact, more than one other somebody.

She’s also a character in The Bicycle-Wheel Genius and Fools and Their Toys.

It is unthinkable to use a character that much and make her grow and change in so many different ways. She should be used only once in a simple and clear way. Like, maybe, Mark Twain’s use of Huckleberry Finn.

Huck, as a character was only used in the books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer, Detective… and… never mind. Forget I even said anything about Huck Finn. In fact, maybe this whole post is so ironic it’s making my story-teller gears all rusty. Never-the-less, let me threaten you with a possible part three.

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The Captain

In my newest book When the Captain Came Calling, there is a fantasy character who is basically an invisible man. Captain Noah Dettbarn is the captain of a ship called the Reefer Mary Celeste. It is an ill-fated ship on a fatal voyage. It runs afoul of a mermaid with man-eating intentions, a witch-doctor with a hungry volcano-god to feed, and a beautiful young girl who bewitches the captain.

All of this happens in the log book of the mysterious invisible captain who has returned to the Iowa farm town where he was born and raised just as the local kids’ adventurer’s club, the Norwall Pirates, is being re-organized with a girl as their leader.

Today’s first Paffooney is an illustration that I intend to use in the book.

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