Monday, May 30, 2011

Character traits and the evil black cat

I was reading this blog post, and this caught my eye, because it's absolutely true for me too:

Characters, relationships, and feelings come first. Then setting, plot, and so on tend to filter in around it. The details of the plot, the bones that hold it together, are often the last things I work out; there are parts of the plot I don't know until I get to them in the book, and they happen.

Characters are similarly elusive. A conversation I'm writing may veer off course or get out of hand; I can intend a character to say something, but it doesn't mean she will. My characters often surprise me. And then I realize I was wrong about who they were, and I adjust my perceptions.

I wrote an older post on building characters where I said I pretty much don't plan anything, and often end up having to re-write stories after getting to the end and realizing what the characters are actually about. While I don't intentionally base characters on anyone I know, sometimes tiny aspects can seep into a story accidentally.

One of the strangest times this happens is when personality quirks of my cat claw their way into a story without my realizing. Parts of my dog will occasionally wander in and sniff around, but primarily it's my cat. Not only in characters, but in odd bits of description like this (from Project #3):

One of the weights on my chest stands, stretches, and lopes off on padded feet.

Yeah, it's weird.

It might be 'cause I work from home, so I'm not often around a lot of people. 

If right now you are nodding your head, frowning and thinking, 'she needs to get out more and interact with actual humans,' you are most certainly correct.

But I don't think that's the real reason.

I've mentioned before that my evil black cat is a rescue animal with *issues*. He bites, he yowls, he growls, he attacks. He has repeatedly thrown his body against a sliding glass door for 20 minutes straight because a dog wandered onto our patio and the cat was trying to get out and kill the dog. When a friend of mine came to visit, he stood on the stairs and hissed and spat, absolutely refusing to let her in the door.

So, he's very territorial. He also has major trust issues.

There are very few people who he lets touch him, even people he's known for the seven years we have had him (like my own sister or mother). For the people he does trust, that trust is absolute. When I'm standing, he will flop like a rag doll over both my forearms, so his legs and stomach are dangling in mid-air. From that position, I can roll him to my chest, then roll him out again to my hands... and he doesn't resist. He trusts completely that I will not drop him. He is the only cat I know who actively listens when you speak to him, will stop dead in his tracks and turn if you say his name (even when he has just escaped from the car in a gas station parking lot at 2am at the end of a 14 hour road-trip from Airdrie, AB to Birch Bay, WA), and who will instantly stop panicking or fighting the moment he sees your face or hears your voice.

...he's also the biggest suck for attention/love... but only when no one else is watching, even the husband.

His personality is fascinating to me, especially since one of the primary themes I explore/write about is the nature of trust.

For the first time, I'm including a cat in a story, though he did just pop up without me planning to include a cat in Project #3. So, for the first time I am whole-heartedly, and intentionally, basing a character on someone/something I know in real life. Note I said *basing*. Not everything about him is the same and certainly not the name. My evil black goblin was named after a philosopher (since he had such a rough *childhood*, I felt he deserved a good one), thought both names do start with the same letter.

So, what about characters in your stories? Are they an amalgamation of people you know, do they arise from a character sheet of questions? Have you looked back on something you wrote and it clicks in your brain that they are actually based on someone you know?

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