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.
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 hadhappened 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.
When I was in college, I met and fell in love with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. I also read, in close conjunction with that book and its sequels, Frank Herbert’s Dune series. I vowed then that I would combine these two different kinds of science fiction to write my own big-book epic. At that time it was called The Dream-Flood and it was basically the story of Astro-nut Robin (inspired by Robin Hood) and his band of Merry Mutant Space Freaks. It was a jumble of bad jokes and weird science and not worth keeping. But some of the characters I created managed to stow away in my stupid head to come back into my writing whenever the opportunity came.
When I became a public school teacher in South Texas, I fell deeply in love with game-mastering for Dungeons and Dragons games with high school boys who had once been in my middle school English classes. Of course, after three years of that, the Southern Baptists in town decided that D&D was Satanic and full of demons, so I had to stop that story-telling nonsense or be driven out of town. So, enough of that. I was not leaving teaching. I was also not stopping story-telling. I switched from playing with wizards and warriors to a game called Traveller from Game Designers Workshop. Spacemen and laser-rifles.
Games inevitably were subject to the whims and humors of the players. And the players were teenage boys of the mega-nerd variety. So, they would blow planets up for laughs. They would make jokes out of serious events and turn side adventures and subplots into the main story.
It was gold for science-fiction humor.
The result of all of this was that when I lost a teaching job and had an unplanned year off, I wrote the novel AeroQuest. It was a novelization of the basic story of that Traveller game. It was a terrible novel. But I got it published without paying a dime with a terrible publisher, the criminals at Publish America. Once that terrible contract expired, and I had become a better writer, I began rewriting and illustrating it to become five terrible novels.
As of yesterday, the first three of those five are now published.
I finished another re-read of my most recent book, A Field Guide to Fauns. In spite of this being an experiment expected to fail, I read into it a growing sense of my ability to write well. The issues it deals with, mental health, body shame, self-image, and dysfunctional families, are all things critical to my own understanding of myself. All of these things have deeply affected my life and my family’s life. And, being set in a nudist park, it has a certain aura of comedy about it that you can really only achieve with characters who are naked (figurative or literal are both funny).
Ironically, two of my five best books have nudists in them. Six of my fifteen books over all have nudist adventures in them at one point or another. That’s four more more than have Nazis in them. Four more than have werewolves in them. Four more than have zebra puppets in them, as well as four more than have literal clowns in them. And two more than feature aliens from outer space. Five more than have rabbits who are changed into people by science.
If nudity is not funny, then I have seriously miscalculated the appeal and gone entirely down the wrong garden path of humorous story-telling. So, since I now believe The Field Guide to Fauns is one of the best novels I have done, I may have actually laid an egg. (Who knew that farm boys could one day grow up to lay an egg themselves?) For balance I need to plant a few more carrots of irony in that garden that the garden path of humorous writing leads to.
I am planning to make my newest novel this month’s free-book giveaway sometime next week. I have a few more corrections to make on it before I do, so stay tuned. I don’t like it when I find bugs in the writing on the fourth re-read. But I think I may have sprayed them all with anti-bug proofing spray (figuratively speaking again, because with Mickey, you never know.)
In the 80’s and early 90’s I played a lot of the science-fiction-role-playing game called Traveller. Those hours and hours of gaming produced the characters and stories I turned into my novel AeroQuest, now AeroQuest 1, 2, and very soon3. So, most of this artwork is either for the game and was used as a part of it, or the book, used as an illustration.
Tiki Astro is an artificial robot boy that looks fully human.
Yep, it’s lazy-post time again, where all I do is show you pictures from my media gallery. All of it is original art by me, photographed or scanned by me. I don’t know enough about copyright law to say I hold all rights to this artwork, but I am gonna claim I do anyway.
This illustration is also from the book The Boy… Forever. It is a pen-and-ink illustration of a moment in the story when Anita Jones and Sherry Cobble are being held prisoner through mind control by the evil vampire/dragon, Tian Long.
The boy is Tanis, a living mummy from ancient Egypt, kept alive by a horrible process the villain is intending to use on at least one of the imprisoned girls.
This illustration is part of the exposition from my comedy science fiction novel, AeroQuest 3 ; Juggling Planets. It explains about the residents of the planet Djinnistan being genetically engineered humans with bizarre characteristics.
The evil Dr. Havir Bludlust has created these humanoid mutants to aid the human star empire known as the Imperium to make excessive profits from the people they supposedly govern, but actually enslave.
The novel takes place in a nudist park where the main characters are mostly year-around residents, it is also the reason why they appear nude in a majority of the illustrations. It is not a book of pornography, however, just as being in a nudist park is about living a sensual, nature-filled life, and not about people having sex. I will not categorize this as a young-adult novel, though it will be tame enough for kids to read.
This is Devon Martinez’s self-portrait. He tends to draw people as mythological creatures like fauns, satyrs, and nymphs.
He tells the story in first-person narrative. He doesn’t start out as a nudist. But he is thrust into the middle of it because he is forced by a tragedy to move in with his father, stepmother, and twin stepsisters.
They are full-time residents of a nudist park. To live there, he has to get comfortable being naked.
I finished a possible cover for my work in progress, A Field Guide to Fauns. It is a book about re-forming families from tragedies and divorce. It is also about suicidal thoughts and depression. And it takes place in a nudist park where the family has a permanent trailer.
This book will definitely be about some of my own experiences with these things and issues. And I hope to distill a bit of high-quality wisdom from this brewing novel. After all, when it comes to depression and battling it, I have deep scars and burned-in notions of how you overcome them. It is ironic that I know so much about fighting depression and darkness, even though it was mostly about the depression of other people, not me.
I have come to know how to stitch families together out of used and discarded parts. Hopefully not creating a new monster. And again, it is ironic that I know this mostly from other families, not ours.
The book is flowing, practically writing itself. And that is always a sign of a big idea turning itself into a great novel. I look forward to finding out what happens in each and every next chapter… or, in this case, Canto.