Tag Archives: characters

Characters in Colored Pencil

As a novelist, certain characters, as I understand them, have to be portrayed in a certain specific way.  It may be because the character is based on a real person, so those characteristics are tied to reality and changing them will impair the character’s realism.  It may also be because the character has a very special function in the story, possibly a metaphorical or thematic function so a change in those particulars can derail the entire story.  But portraying them in colored pencil is not nearly so arcane.  Colored pencil is my own preferred medium, the one I know best how to use as an artist.

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Snow Babies

These characters are not specifically people.  They are created in nature when a person dies in a blizzard by freezing to death.  They act like banshees in that they serve both as omens of impending death, and collectors of the spirit forms of the deceased.  Snow ghosts after a manner of speaking.

They are from my novel Snow Babies and give the book its name.  Of course, they are not the only snow babies that the title refers to.  But they are essential to the basic theme of the story.

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Brent Clarke

Brent is the leader of the Pirates.  He appears in the novels Superchicken, and The Baby Werewolf, though I have another couple of stories in my head where he plays an important role as well.

Brent is an amalgam of two real people.  One was a boy from my boyhood gang, and the other was a student I taught more than a decade after that.  He is a farm boy, naturally outgoing and athletic, but also a bit of a bully and a bigger bit of a jerk, especially around girls.

 

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Miss Francis “Franny” Morgan

Miss Morgan is a middle school teacher based on a real-life colleague who had a gift for reaching and teaching challenging kids, though she’s also got a bit of me in her since the major challenges she faces in the story are mostly things that happened to me, and I made her an English teacher like me instead of the Science teacher she really was.  She is the main character in the novel that bears her name, Magical Miss Morgan.  She is also a minor character in Superchicken, almost twenty years earlier in time.  I pictured her wearing a purple paisley dress to represent her magical abilities.  That magic is, of course, the ability to make stories come to life through imagination and creativity.

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Sean “Cudgel” Murphy

Cudgel is “Grampy” of the Murphy Clan, living in the home of his eldest son Warren.  He is basically a clown character, being an irascible, evil old man who loves his family, only ever drives his beloved Austin Hereford motor car (“the best goddam car in the whole goddam world from 1954”), and will fight for any reason or excuse at the drop of a hat.

He has already played a role in the novels The Bicycle-Wheel Genius and Snow Babies.  And I hope to use him in several more.  He is loosely based on several old men I have known throughout my life, but he functions mainly as a clown, a comic relief character that breaks up the tension in developing plots.

So there you have some characters that I have written about in my novels and illustrated in living colored pencil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Made-Up People

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I often get criticized for talking to people who are basically invisible, probably imaginary, and definitely not real people, no matter what else they may be.

The unfinished cover picture is from the novel The Bicycle-Wheel Genius which I just finished the final rewrite and edit for.  All of the characters in that book are fictional.    Even though some of them strongly resemble the real people who inspired me to create them, they are fictional people doing fictional and sometimes impossible things.  And yet, they are all people who I have lived with as walking, talking, fictional people for many years.  Most of those people have been talking to me since the 1970’s.  I know some of them far better than any of the real people who are a part of my life.

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These, of course, are only a few of my imaginary friends.  Some I spend time with a lot.  Some I haven’t seen or heard from in quite a while.  And I do know they are not real people.  Mandy is a cartoon panda bear, and Anneliese is a living gingerbread cookie.  I do understand I made these people up in my stupid little head.

But it seems to me that the people in the world around us are really no less imaginary, ephemeral, and unreal.  Look at the current Presidentumb of the Disunited States.  He is an evil cartoon James Bond villain if there ever was one.

Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

People in the real world create an imaginary person in their own stupid little heads, and pretend real hard that that imaginary person is really them in real life.  And of course, nobody sees anybody else in the same way that they see themselves.  Everybody thinks they are a somebody who is different from anybody else who thinks they are a somebody too, and really they are telling themselves, and each other, lies about who somebody really is, and it is all very confusing, and if you can follow this sentence, you must be a far better reader than I am a writer, because none of it really makes sense to me.  I think everybody is imaginary in some sense of the word.

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So, if you happen to see me talking to a big white rabbit-man who used to be a pet white rabbit, but got changed into a rabbit-man through futuristic genetic science and metal carrots, don’t panic and call the police.  I am just talking to another fictional character from a book I just finished writing.  And why are you looking inside my head, anyway?  There’s an awful lot of personal stuff going on in there.  Of course, you only see that because I wrote about it in this essay.  So it is not an invasion of privacy.  It is just me writing down stuff I probably should keep in my own stupid little head.  My bad.

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A Girl Called Dilsey

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Mary Murphy, mother of Dilsey and Little Sean… among others.

If you have never written multiple novels about the same set of characters, you will not have inside knowledge of the process I am going to talk about in this goofy blog post.  Because you don’t fully understand what I am talking about, you are welcome to call me an obsessive-compulsive fool.  I am definitely a fool, but I prefer to believe the obsessive-compulsive part is off base.

I fell in love with Dilsey Murphy.

“You’re kidding!” you say with a disbelieving smile.  “You fell in love with a fictional character from one of your stupid hometown fantasies?  Nonsense!  Not only is she not real, she’s just a supporting character.”

I think that might be the one thing I love most about Dilsey.  She’s never the one demanding to be on center stage.  She’s a shy, sweet-natured girl from a big family who does the best she can to avoid being the ant under her brothers’ magnifying glass.  And yet, when she is called upon for empathy, or a little bit of sister wisdom, she mines the gold from King Solomon’s mine.

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A new picture of Dilsey Murphy wearing her father’s old Carl Eller T-shirt.

You may not know this if you are not a writer of fiction, but a lot of the character-building process consists of compiling the character’s personal facts, personal history, and back story, developing an in-depth storehouse of details that may, in fact, never get used in any book, short story, or other writing.  In order to create a character that feels real to the reader, an author must know the character far more intimately than the reader will ever be made privy to.

Dilsey is a member of the Murphy family who live in Norwall, Iowa.  Her parents are Warren Murphy and Mary Murphy.  Her father was a member of the infamous Murphy Boys, all of them brothers, that played brutal linebacker defense for the Belle City Broncos high school football team in the 1960’s.  Mary Murphy is famous for being a small woman with a very large personality.  The family is Catholic and of Irish heritage, determined to avoid church and yet hoping to get into heaven.  They ar e also devout Minnesota Vikings football fans.

Dilsey’s older brother is Danny Murphy, a skinny, goofy kid that grows up into a reliable problem solver and mature young man.  Danny eventually falls in love with Carla Bates, the sister of Blueberry Bates, Mike Murphy’s girlfriend.  Danny and Carla marry in 1992.

Dilsey is the second oldest, born in 1977, so she is a young teen in most of the stories she appears in.

Mike Murphy is her younger brother, a member of the Norwall Pirates, a kids’ gang and 4-H softball team.  Mike is a year younger than Dilsey. His girlfriend, Blueberry Bates, has a terrible secret, one that makes Mary Murphy turn resolutely against her even though she previously loved her.  Mike and Dilsey refuse to abandon Blueberry even when Mike is forbidden to see her any longer.

Tim Kellogg is Mike’s best friend.  Dilsey believes him to be a jerk and a hopeless goon. And yet, even though Dilsey hates him and is a year older than Tim, he is the only boy she dreams about naked.  They eventually go on dates in high school and it is rumored that they will be married in 2000, though my hometown stories never progress beyond the 20th Century.

Dilsey is based on my unmarried sister and my daughter, though she really isn’t very much like either one in the long run.

Okay, so I know I haven’t sufficiently explained why I am so much in love with Dilsey Murphy.  I, of course, take that as a challenge.  I will write more stories.  You will fall in love with her too.

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NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)

In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world.  You have to be them.  You have to think like them and talk like them.  You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them.  They become real people to you.  Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.

But there are actually two distinct types of characters.

These, remember, are the Player Characters.  My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood.   They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.

But there are other characters too.  In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters.  And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads.  I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.

Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways.  Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.

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D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience.  In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place.  You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack.  There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword.  And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.

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Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.

But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted.  He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side.  And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties.  He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat.  He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.

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Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however.  In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.

Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks.  Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way.  And Dru was a complex character from the start.  Her fire spells often went awry.  When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia.  Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once.  She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire.  She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers.  And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that.  More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru.  There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.

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The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations.  They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures.  And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords.   Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.

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But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I  will have to draw it all to a close.  There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game.  They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity.  But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.

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Dramatis Personae D&D Style

One of the most fascinating things about Dungeons and Dragons, the story-telling adventure game with sword battles controlled by dice rolls, is the characters.  They are a creation by committee.  You take a blank character sheet, roll six basic numbers by complex rules on dice, and then decide who that character is; paladin, rogue, magician, archer, swordsman, etc… what that character is; human, elf, dwarf, hobbit… I mean halfling, orc, gnome, or Minotaur… and then do the complicated math that those choices entail.  But then you have to do the real work and give that character life in the form of hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, personality quirks, and goals.  They have to become collaborative characters for a play that won’t actually be written until the players perform it.

These, you may recall if you are nutty enough to read Mickian regular features, are my children’s player characters.

Adventure1Ditty Bytcha who prefers to be called Fate is my number one son’s original character.  He is a fighter wearing magic armor who loves to make things as an artificer (one who builds devices with magic).  He eventually wants to cut his own arms off and replace them with mechanical ones.  He is also quick to leap into the fray and is fairly deadly with his chosen weapons.  He once made a crossbow that had explosive power enough to blast apart a ship and kill everyone on board, including the people he was trying to save.  He is also a good leader and is always ready with a joke that can even make the Dungeon Master laugh.

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And number two son’s character, Gandy Rumspot, is a food-loving halfling that also likes making ships.  No kidding, he likes being a shipwright and designing sailing vessels… and flying airships powered by captured air and fire elementals.  He likes riding pteradactyl-back and firing crossbows at the evil enemies from the air.  And he is good at making fun of other characters, even to the point of making some of them angry to the point of tantrums… especially his sister’s character.

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And, of course, my daughter the Princess’s character, Mira Mirkestasia is a telekinetic Kalashtar who floats everywhere instead of walking.  She possesses an intelligent throwing knife that not only comes back to her hand after every throw, but seriously wants to kill Gandy for his sister-jokes.  She protects the whole group from those like the evil Dr. Zorgo who threaten to take over your mind and put your brain inside a stone golem.

And, of course, three people is probably not enough to actually survive in magic-rich and dragon-filled Eberron.  So additional characters are required to go on and actually survive dungeon-crawling adventures.  These are known as NPC’s, Non-Player Characters.  I will tell you more about them in another post, but here are the two most important ones;

Druaelia is a female wizard whose familiar is the owl Temper.  She was there for the very first level-one adventure killing rats and gnolls who were particularly weak and stupid.  She started as a magic user looking to be the fireball expert.  But her fire magic kept going astray (rolling a 2 or a 1 on a 20-sided dice is catastrophic failure and not a good thing to roll when fire is involved).  And she eventually learned she was much better with ice and snow magic.  She is naturally immune to cold and can wear bikinis in winter, a useful thing when more than half of your team is made up of adolescent boys.

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Elytharra, more commonly referred to as El, is the cleric and healer of the group.  She is much more modest and devout, being a worshipper of the blue dragon Aureon, god of wisdom and magical knowledge.  She is the one charged with learning how to heal boo-boos (and re-attach heads and raise the dead) because hunting for treasure in dragon caves is a dangerous business and dice rolls can make really bad things happen.  She was also part of the very first adventure, and the rats almost ate her.

So the main reason we have enjoyed D&D adventures so much is the fact that the characters are so surprisingly real.  We learn to care deeply what happens to them, and want them to prosper in the face of evil, no matter what comes.  And the real secret behind them is… in truth they are really us.

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Magnificent Maisey on the Mound

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Okay, I am taking over this danged silly old blog today to talk about something important!  Baseball!!!  Yeah, and even more important, I wanna talk about how girls can be good at baseball.

My name is Maisey Moira Morgan.  I am a left-handed pitcher for the Carrollton Cardinals.  That’s a boys’ Little League team, in case ya didn’t know.  I ain’t the only girl in boys’ Little League, but I am the only girl on the Cardinals’ team.  The only girl pitcher.  The only WINNING girl pitcher.  I woulda been an undefeated winning girl pitcher if Tyree Suggs hadn’t dropped that fly ball in the bottom of the ninth inning out in right field two weeks ago.  I ended my season at 3 wins and 1 loss.

You see, the thing is, I know the secret to striking out boys at the plate.  First of all, I am a left-handed pitcher.  Those danged boys are all used to seeing the ball flung at ’em from the right side.  Ninety-nine and two-tenths per cent of all pitchers in our league are right-handed.  So are most of the batters.  So that futzes them up right there.  And on top of that, Uncle Milt taught me to throw a knuckle-ball two years ago.  That is one amazingly hard pitch to hit square if you do it right.  You curl your fingers on the ball and give a little sorta push-out with your fingertips as you let it go.  And you try really hard to make the ball not spin as you push it towards the batter.  It can do amazing things after it leaves my hand.  Uncle Milt swears that he saw one of my pitches double-dip and then corkscrew as it went across the plate low in the strike zone.  A mere boy can’t really get a good swing at a pitch if it flutters around like a crazy bug with butterfly wings.

But that ain’t even the real secret to my baseball success.  You see, them danged boys all think they can step up to the plate and put their bat on any ball thrown at ’em by a mere girl.  They are not afraid of me, even the third time they get up to bat after striking out twice before.  My uniform is not exactly sexy, but all I really have to do is wiggle my behind a little and smile at them, and they don’t even seem to be thinking about hitting the ball any more.  I get an even bigger smile on my sweet little face when strike three flutters past ’em.  I always take ’em by surprise.

I expect to be the first woman pitcher in the major leagues one day.  Remember my name.  Maisey Moira Morgan.  Future Hall of Famer.

(Disclaimer; Maisey might actually have a hard time claiming her place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, not because the major leagues don’t have any women in them, but because she is an entirely fictional human being, only existing in Mickey’s stupid little head.)

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Them Bones

Harker Dawes asleep was certainly no prettier or better looking asleep than he was when he was awake.  You know how people will say about a demonically possessed child that causes chaos and havoc and dread in the lives of the people who gave life to him, “He looks like such an angel when he’s sleeping”?  Well, no one ever said that about Harker.  Even when he was a child, he looked more like a deformed potato with its eyes shut when he was sleeping.  His balding head had an odd dent in the crown that had been there since birth.  His kinky-curly red-brown hair was only a fringe around his ears and the back of his head that could accurately be described (and usually was by local Iowans) as Bozo-the-Clown-hair.  His eyes were somewhat bugged out of their sockets, giving him a look of being permanently surprised by life… or more accurately… permanently stupefied.  Mercifully those goofy-looking eyes were closed in slumber.Dem Bones

It was a benefit to Harker himself that his eyes were closed and he was sleeping.  And this was because he had accidentally fallen asleep on Poppy’s grave in the Norwall cemetery.  And also because he was currently surrounded by skeletons, members of the local un-quiet dead, standing in a semi-circle and ogling Harker with their eye-less eye sockets.

“Do we have to eat him?” asked the tall male skeleton with the seed-corn company baseball cap on his head.  “I mean, if it’s all the same, I’d really rather not.”

“I think you only have to eat his brain,” said the little boy skeleton.  “I don’t know for sure because that Night of the Living Dead movie didn’t become popular around here until years after I died and video tapes became popular.”

“How do you know about that then?” asked the church lady skeleton.  It was obvious that she was the remains of a church lady because she still had quite a bit of long white hair on her skull, along with a pillbox hat, and she was dressed in a tattered church-lady-type dress of green rayon with a printed pattern of red roses turned brownish gray by years under the mud.

“When I wandered into town one Halloween night in the 80’s, I looked in the living room window of the Martin family, and the two boys were watching that movie on what they call a VCR.”

“Was the movie any good?” asked the skeleton in the cap.  “I heard of it in life, but never watched it.  It would’ve been too scary for my daughter, the Princess.”

“The zombies were all fake.  And when they ate human flesh, you could tell it was all special effects.  They should’ve asked me.  I could have shown them how it really looks.”

“Heavens!” said the church lady, “They don’t actually kill people when they make a movie, do they?”

“I don’t think so,” said the boy.  “That may have changed since I passed away in the 60’s.”

“I still don’t think I really want to eat him,” said the skeleton in the cap, “even if it’s just the brain.”

“We can’t start the Zombie Apocalypse without eating brains and making new walking dead,” said the boy.

The other two skeletons turned and looked at the little boy skeleton.  Both of them let their bottom jaws drop open, but without flesh, it was impossible to tell if that was an expression of surprise, disgust, or… hunger.

“Do we really need to end the world with a Zombie Apocalypse?” asked the church lady.  “I’m not sure eating living people’s brains is a very Christian thing to do.”

“Aren’t there supposed to be bad consequences for falling asleep in a graveyard?” asked the skeleton in the cap.

It was then that they noticed a fourth skeleton had joined the group.

“Why, Bill Styvessant,” greeted the church lady, “I haven’t seen you in half a century!”

“True.  You were but a girl in the late 40’s when I passed on from a broken heart.”

“You remember me in life?” asked the church lady.

“Of course I do.  You are Ona White.  I sat with you the night you died, under the street light on Pesch Street.  You were mauled by those two dogs that shouldn’t have been loose.  I tried to comfort you as you passed away from shock and blood loss.”

“I thought you were an angel, Bill.”

“I was.  Angels take many forms.  An angel is merely a message from God.”

“Wait a minute!  How can a skeleton know who another skeleton was in life?” asked the skeleton in the cap.  “Especially if you died many years before she did?”

“It’s in the nature of angels, Kyle.  I know you too.  I watched over your family several times when evil lurked near… for a couple years after your suicide.  You are ready to take over that job now.”

“Kyle Clarke?” asked the church lady.  “You’re Kyle Clarke?  What’s this about a suicide?”

“You died before me,” said Kyle, “so you wouldn’t have heard.  I lost a third of the family farm to the bank in the early 80’s.  The shame and despair was so overwhelming that I shot myself to death in the barn.  It was the stupidest act of my entire life.”

“Well, I should think so,” said Ona White.

“Is that why we walk the Earth?” the child skeleton asked Bill.  “We all had a tragic death and were doomed to walk for all eternity?  How did you die, Bill?”

“Of a broken heart,” the old skeleton said.  “My wife died while mourning our son Christian who died in Germany during World War Two.  I lived alone for a short while and then simply expired from the weight of my sadness.”

“You didn’t join your loved ones?” asked Ona.

“Of course I did.  The same way you joined your father and mother, Ona.  Also the way little Bobby Zeffer here was joined by his father a couple of years ago.”

“You are Bobby Zeffer?” asked Ona, surprised.  “The little boy who died of Hemophilia?”

“Of course.  Who’d ya think I was?”

“But I don’t understand,” moaned Ona, “how did we get to be walking dead when we already have one foot in Heaven?”

“People die, Ona, but the memory of them lives on, and they continue to impact people’s lives in many ways.  We walk not as ghosts, but as metaphorical spirits of the past.  No man could live in the present if there had not been those who walked the Earth before him.  A life doesn’t end with death.  And the word angel has many meanings.”

“So we don’t have to eat this man who is sleeping on the grave of his father?” asked Kyle.

“Of course not.  I think that might have a very negative effect on the poor man’s dreams.”

“I don’t think he would taste good anyway,” said Bobby.  “He looks like a deformed potato, and I hate potatoes.”

“You can all go back to your rest,” said Bill.  “I’ll watch over this one and protect him.”

The skeletons all faded gratefully from view.

Harker Dawes woke up, stretched his arms and yawned.  He looked around at the graveyard and the dark of the night.  He smiled to himself.  He only ever seemed to remember the good dreams.

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