Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Really Know Your Characters Kill Them Off

As some of you know, and I wish more of you did and were of the purchasing kind, I like to write. I have a number of published stories, had an agent, a wine label, and even self-published an ebook, my novel for middle aged readers "Dr Zombie Lives Next Door." (Now only 99 cents.) If you follow this blog you've heard about every one of those and you'll hear every hit on my rocky road to success. I promise. Why do you think I have this blog?

But as I'm still novice, at least that's how I look at myself until I get that big time publishing contract, I am continually on the lookout for tips and tricks of the trade. I haven't found the magic formula. But I might have something that will help.

Today let's talk about characterization. How do you create a really moving and deep character for your story or novel? Stick with me and you'll learn a unique and quirky way that just might be the key.

There are hundreds of ways to develop a strong character. If you've read the magazines and books, attended the conferences, and watched the webinars, they all tell you to write your characters biography. Get to know them. Where were they born? What was their family life like? Do they have any talents? Would make anything? And on and on. I have a list of over 50 questions that I've gathered from numerous sites and classes. If you'd like to see it, drop me a line and I'll send it to you.

But everybody does it that way. What if you bored or tired of doing it that way? Want to try something new?

A few days ago I got an email from AARP, their daily news digest. (Yes, I'm a member and have been for 7 years. Do the math.) An article caught my attention. It was called "The Do-It-Yourself Obituary" by Elaine Appleton Grant.
 "When you die, what will your obituary say? Leave it to others and you might get boilerplate: cause of death, biography, survivors and where to send donations. Wouldn’t you rather have your life story told the way you’d like it?"
The basis of the article is simple. Large numbers of narcissistic Boomers can't leave their memory to chance, so they are taking care of their obituary themselves. The author of the article tells how they are doing it.

Some are hiring professional obit writers. Some are writing it themselves. They are taking classes, yes, classes in writing your own obituary.

There are even kits. The article talks about Obitkit. One workbook is $20 but if you buy 10 you get one free. Wow. The only people that might need 21 obituaries are Doctor Who or the members of an apocalyptic cult. (How fast can you write after drinking the Kool-Ade?)

All of this got me thinking. Yes, it does happen. I can apply this to my writing. Instead of writing a biography of a potential character, what if I write their obituary? I'm not talking the daily newspaper variety which gives you only a couple of brief paragraphs. That's fine for minor background characters. For your main guys and gals I'm talking the New York Times variety, feature article stuff.  It has all the pieces required of a good bio, a brief life story, survivors, with the addition of what other characters might have thought of the character.

One of the truest notion of a quality life, or lack of in some cases, is how we'll be remembered by others. Why else would so many people be wanting to write their obituary themselves? Is it to help those left behind or an attempt to rewrite history?

An obit also tells how they die. That tells a lot about a character. Is it at a ripe old age? Or is fast and young? Is it violent or from sickness? Was it expected? Don't be afraid if your character's death is a surprise in the story. Go ahead and write that obit. You know how they'll die anyway. It's no surprise to you.

Give it a try. It's a great writing exercise. Instead of writing a stogy biography, write a front page article. Have fun with it.

And if you get carried away you can join the team and write your own. Maybe buy an Obitkit. There's only one thing to remember, the Obitkit doesn't come with and that's a guarantee that your loved ones will actually use what you've written.

I'll read you later. adios

UPDATE: After posting I realized this was my 100th post on this blog. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and remember: Keep reading. It makes your brain juicy.

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