fence 3Quite a while ago, before my brain was frostbitten, the poem below was published for a holiday issue of Soul Engravings.

Recently, I came across it and had to smile because it reminded me of how this blasted winter storm in Michigan, with its unforgiving icy prisons and below zero temps has affected the attitudes of many people around me.

***

Frozen Decadence

Usually, I can force
all who have desires to hastily drink up
and drown in a spiral of never-ending wants.
I can lick souls to death and catch hope on fire;
it’s almost too easy, but someone has to do it.
Most days, the game of manipulation brings
forth sparkling innocence, which I shred to pieces
with only a glare of sugary lust.
I can blind those who would otherwise give
and I can deafen those who habitually listen.

But, alas…when the autumn air chills
and snowflakes fall upon my misery,from aaron ice2
I seek refuge for a smidgen of time and freeze.
Strange red and green balls of light
drape over my power and weaken me.
Silver and gold tinsel, surely infused with optimism,
strengthens my everyday victims; they do not feel me.
Quite foreign to the likes of me, hope rules without fear.
I am left abandoned in an abyss of frigid solitude
where I fester until ‘tis the season is over.

True, in the poem hope rules, but heavens! Has anyone noticed the winter blues…more like blustery grays, have saturated optimism and replaced it with negativity dipped into chilly dispositions? A friend of mine got her little car stuck in a huge snow drift and since no one stopped to help her, and her cell phone refused to work, she walked about twenty-five frigid minutes back to her home. Even with all of her winter attire, she said it took hours for her body to warm up.

ryan outside2Now, almost the same thing happened to my daughter, although she had the good fortune of a neighbor with an awesome truck to assist. So, yes, not all is lost! I like to think this visit from Jack Frost will not completely destroy hopes and wishes for 2014.

Many stories swirl around in my head most of the time, yet I’ve never introduced “weather” into the storyline as a driving force. Sure, weather conditions are in my stories, and a demonic storm does attack Jake Cottrell in The Twelfth Paladin much to his dismay. This latest bout with Jack, with his mind numbing temps, skin slicing wind, and so much snow cars disappear into drifts has inspired me to use weather much differently. Too cold, too dark, day after day and then maybe into months…what might happen to people not used to it, like me? I hate being cold! I sip on either hot chocolate or hot tea all day and night. Just the warmth of it helps, you know?

If your imagination is held captive by Jack, don’t let him triumph! Consider how the weather might enrich a story or poem you are working on.

• Frosty temps with snow, ice, high winds, loss of electric, and gasoline shortages lead to desperation settling in. How will your characters react? Can they hunt for food? Did they plan for a disaster, or were they caught off-guard?
• It’s so cold your characters no longer feel their limbs. Starving, who will survive? Who stands out as the leader, and who falls well below everyone’s expectations? Are any of the characters willing to sacrifice big time for others?
• Possibly, a character once believed to be mundane, weak, or simply irresponsible is the one who has the smarts to rise to the occasion and think his/her way to beat Jack at his own game. Or, turn this around. The supposed genius of the group proves to be unable to function once fighting for basic needs comes to play.

Have the harsh winter conditions changed your attitude? If so, what prevents your spirit front2from ice overload? Have you considered using the weather as a character in your work? Feel free to share!

Off I go! It’s tea time.
Thanks for visiting the Noracast.

*Also a big thanks to Aaron and Ryan for the lovely pics!

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Charlie2Inspiration has bitten you hard! You have a grand idea for a novel…maybe it involves a guy, let’s name him Charlie McAllister. Charlie finds himself waking up in the middle of a desert with no idea where he is, or how he got there, but he’s quick to notice his entire left arm and shoulder are throbbing in pain from a freshly inked tattoo—elaborately applied and looking like a fierce dragon. Some of the scales of the dragon have names written in an ancient language on them.

 

Yikes! Who is this guy? What has he done? Is he the good guy or the bad guy?

If, at this point, you feel a bit stuck, simply run a background check on Charlie to evaluate his potential to be the protagonist or antagonist in your novel. Yes, I do realize a background check is usually used by employers before hiring someone to discover facts about his/her employment references, character, gaps in employment history, identity and address verification, credit history, and probably one of the most important areas of a background check…the criminal history report. Also of interest might be a person’s driving record, litigation record, citizenship, and military history.

Character building can be a tricky thing. If handled as though Charlie is a real person, then the pieces will fall together quite easily. Pretend you are about to hire Charlie for a position in your company, called Prime, which writes computer code…secret code, for the US military. No way would he be hired on the spot.

So, Charlie got a background check that is revealing. Hum…maybe he knows it will be and doesn’t care for some reason because this is all part of his plan. Would you hire him?

Here’s some of the information CEO of Prime, Ethan Cromwell, has to ponder about…

BC1

*The STATE BY STATE criminal background check turned up a criminal history in four states: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Offenses included Driving Under the Influence-DUI’s 3X, Aggravated Assault 2X, Driving With Suspended or Revoked License, and Disorderly Conduct.

*Educational background checked out with a Graduate Degree in Computer Science earned from Michigan State University in 1990. Military service in Marines from 1993-2005 ended with a dishonorable discharge, no other details provided.

As you can see Charlie’s life has been anything but ordinary, especially since the background check also brought to light he was buried in debt for over six years with four credit cards, a car loan, and a hefty mortgage. Then within a four month period, that debt was paid in full. Where did he get the money to pay off everything?

BC3A

Looking at the details about Charlie make shaping him into a memorable character much easier now because motivation for some of his actions can be instigated from his background. See! He is shaping up.

BC3C

  • He’s a loner, and does not play well with others.
  • Charlie is not an honest person.
  • Frequently, he was found where he should not have been at work…sneaky.
  • He is a dangerous man with a criminal past.
  • Is it possible he has a grudge against Prime somehow connected to his military service? Does he want to steal code to sell it?
  • According to this report, he was “Kind of a scary guy.”

Continue adding details to Charlie’s background check until he becomes so real you’ll feel like you could pick him out in a crowd. Use neighbor references, other social references, psychological workups found on him, anything to give this guy depth. It may be possible he has been undercover for years and is actually the good guy!

How do you make your characters interesting? Please feel free to share!

Good luck building strong characters, and thanks for visiting the Noracast.

Color Them Gray

“It’s an art to live with pain… mix the light into gray.” Eddie Vedder

Edmond Dantès from Alexandre Dumas,’ The Count of Monte Cristo is a successful merchant sailor living in Marseille, France (in 1815) who is wrongly accused of being a Bonapartist traitor. Edmond is imprisoned for fourteen years in the Château d’If. Pain and suffering ruin his colorful outlook on life…he transforms into a protagonist determined to seek revenge upon the men who imprisoned him, and he does this, so beautifully. Once Edmond becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, anything and everything he has is used to manipulate the wickedness in his life for the sake of vengeance.

Edmond feels justified; his motives for becoming a “gray” character…one whose thoughts and actions are not entirely right or wrong, whose morals have blurred into the gray area, adds danger and excitement to Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

I love characters smothered in gray—who are torn between right and wrong, who ache to do what’s right, but have lost their way. In my science fiction adventure, Guardian 2632, Zane Grayson fights with his conscience about betraying the time monitoring facility he’s in charge of, called Guardian TMF, because a pastian from 1998 needs his help, or she will perish. He is forbidden to assist pastians without clearance from the Elite Guardians, yet Zane is drawn to this pastian, named Julia Emerson, like never before. His desire for Julia becomes incessant, secrets are revealed. Zane’s sense of belonging in 2632 is stolen by Julia, so he dives into the gray area where chaos rules. A murky, dark shade of gray envelopes Zane, while he plans the most important mission of his life, however, if caught…merciless Time Mercs will execute him. Yeah, Time Mercs are big, bad, and ugly.

Adding gray is good for character building! Why? Do you know anyone who is perfect? I do not, and that’s okay because the imperfections found in us all make us unique. Spicing up your characters with moral dilemmas where they will either rise to the occasion and do the right thing, or fall into an abyss of misery are ways to push a story forward. Perfect characters would always decide to do the safe and logical thing, which doesn’t make for much of a story. Oh, but when a character, like Edmond Dantès goes to the pits and back to finally see the light…ah, now there’s sweet satisfaction found in that!

Going Gray

Think about your characters. Are their personalities, desires, and goals so lovely…and absolutely dreamy that they come across as unbelievable people?

For example, Zane Grayson (protagonist in Guardian 263) is a mastermind in charge of fixing paradoxes throughout time. I even used his last name as a hint to show he’s a character splattered with gray traits. It would’ve been easy to make him a super techie with a personality similar to a robot. His looks, temperament, dialogue, and habits could’ve been the typical, calm genius who wears glasses, always has a white lab coat on, has no desire for anything other than knowledge, and his only hobby would have to be building computers. B-o-r-i-n-g!

Zane left that nonsense behind. Going gray meant this character had to…

  • Be at odds with his conscience-Zane is a good man, but flaws exist. He time surfs (looks for paradoxes throughout time in unauthorized time zones), refuses to follow Guardian TMF’s dress code for executives, is an adrenaline junkie…needs danger and risk too often, he’s stubborn to the point some would say he’s insane, has quite a temper, and Zane is willing to risk everything he has in 2632 to help a pastian (Julia Emerson) in 1998. His ancestry is a mix of Japanese and European, and he is quite sarcastic. Going gray made him more interesting!
  • Understand his definitions of right and wrong are not written on white paper with black ink-Zane comes to realize laws must be written to serve people…all people, and not be written as a means to justify helping only the history makers. The gray area is an uncomfortable one to be in, but it forces characters to do something…Zane decides to fight for change.
  • Finally make decisions about what he believes is right and wrong-Once Zane becomes aware of things that needed altered, his grayness fades a bit as he steps back toward the light. He chooses to set things right.

What characters come to mind who are painted with gray? Riddick, from The Chronicles of Riddick is one of my favorites! He has a whole lot of gray going on… If you’re an author, what have you done to your characters to make them a bit on the gray side?

Feel free to leave a comment, and thank you for visiting the Noracast!