Saturday, November 13, 2010
I went to hear Betty Auchard talk about her second nonfiction book, The Home for the Friendless: Finding Hope, Love, and Family, a memoir about growing up in a family of three kids born to two parents who loved one another, but couldn't figure out how to stay together. She believes one of the main problems was that her mother was almost certainly mentally ill in a time when such a thing was never diagnosed, much less treated.
Unlike many memoirs in which the twisted and loathesome are staples, Betty, who also wrote Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood, said that while she and her sister and brother had a chaotic childhood, they were cared-for and loved, despite being poor and shuttled from one relative to another or staying for periods of time at a home for abandoned kids called the Home for the Friendless in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In fact, she said, it was just that chaos sans abuse that made and her siblings into the interesting, creative people they became.
At one point she said, I can't help it. I like myself.
As a character development junkie, I can't help but admire memoir writers like Betty who understand two things:
1.The author is the main character of the story. Even if the author is writing scenes or chapters about other people, ultimately the author is the one who takes readers on a journey and eventually experiences the epiphany.
2. The number, variety and unusual nature of the author's experiences is what creates the deep pool of very specific details from which the author draws in order to write scenes that show readers how and why she changed.
Details such as:
• Betty once got a gift referred to as toilet water, only to learn she was supposed to put some on her neck to make her smell good.
• One winter when she and her family didn't have enough fuel to heat their small house, the kids wore a uniform of long johns, over which they pulled brown ribbed stockings that came to the knees and were held up by garters that attached to the bottom of their underwear, which they wore on the outside of their long johns.
• Her mom asked her young sister if she had to go to the bathroom, to which she said, "I don't have to she-she."
Such details, which create a great visual while also show the era, region and cultural, were so numerous, all I had to do to find them was to open the book to random pages and set down my finger.
Fiction writers attempting to make their characters great should consider studying Betty's books and those of other memoir writers to see how, by simply and consistently dropping in specific details, they show readers who they are and what makes them great, by which I mean consistent, believable and admirable.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Romance writer and fellow wordsmith Micole Black wrote a few days ago, saying she just finished my book, Growing Great Characters, and wanted to make sure about the following:
Can an antagonist be a thing or does it haven't be a person? My protagonist which is my hero is recovering from an injury. And I was wondering if his disability is the antagonist since that is what is pushing him towards conflict.
An antagonist is the person or thing that opposes the protagonist. In terms of a thing, think of Stephen King's Christine about an evil car. Another is the dead wife, Rebecca, in Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, whose aura continues to haunt her husband's new wife.
So yes, Micole's protagonist's main antagonist could be his disability.
My friend, Martha Alderson, reiterates the concept in her book, Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple. She lists the six main antagonists as (the examples are mine):
1. person against person (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
2. person against himself/herself (Catcher in the Rye)
3. person against nature (Moby Dick)
4. person against society (Wild Swans)
5. person against god(s) (The Odyssey)
6. person against machine/technology (The Terminator)