Exercise: Write a short bio for one of your lessor characters
Bio of Marie Marisol
How do you want readers to feel about the character? Are they to have favorable or unfavorable feelings? Will they like the character? Will they be able to relate to her? Probably if the character behaves in a manner that is consistent. A bio can help guide you in how your character would perform in various situations. What she will say and do. So when you need something to happen in your story you know which character is most appropriate to assign that role to, because of their bio.
Marie Marisol was born in Windsor, Canada. Her father was a former French Canadian hockey player who worked as an equipment manager for the Detroit Red Wings professional hockey franchise. Her mother’s family was a minority owner of the team. Marie inherited her parents’ passion for sport and was an all-city athlete in high school. She was on the fencing team at Wayne State University and competed for Canada in the Olympic Games. Marisol has a PhD in Native American Studies from UC Davis. Before becoming the college chancellor she headed the Center of Teaching Excellence at Stanford University. A passionate animal lover, she has a standard poodle she brings to work with her.
Her husband enlisted: eager to fight,
eager to serve. She was a good wife,
accepted this. She could argue, but why
fight? The last night the sun set pale
in their wine by the garden. The last
kiss was fragile—lips thin and chapped
with goodbyes. In his absence, she bathed
behind a wickerwork screen, enjoyed
the iridescent rainbows of shampoo bubbles,
the way soft light manicured her nails,
the curl of toes beneath hot water,
the volume of hair as humidity twirled
fingers around her loose locks.
— Read on www.writersresist.com/2018/06/14/bathsheba-wants-to-write-metoo/
I live in a Redwood tree. Five foot thick branches extend out from the trunk I call the hearth. Like the spokes of an octagon shaped wheel, each branch leads to a different room. Looking east you’ll find the sleeping room, the first room of the day. To the right of the sleeping room you encounter the open air shower room where water cascades down in a soothing massage of rainfall. Follow your nose southward into the cooking room where you smell the aroma of fresh fruits, berries, nuts and vegetables being prepared. Just across the way sits the dining room, glancing down you notice a brilliant sheen glistening off the surface of a hardwood table carved from a log.
Head west where the drawing-room awaits. Complete with musical instruments, a fully stocked bar, card table, billiards suite, portable table tennis, hand sculpted built-in chess table, sunken sitting area for tea, and a lounge. Off the drawing-room is the play room equipped with a working stage. A vast library of play scripts bookend the stage. Yoga mats are rolled against the far wall. Near at hand is a rack with jump ropes, carved wood weights, display shelves of jigsaw puzzles, a standing desk with sketch paper, pencils, ink, fountain pens, paint, brushes, and an array of canvas materials. Two adjacent doors stand behind you. One is labeled darkroom and the other ceramic studio. The north branch leads to the entry room, access to all available transportation. Between the entry room and the sleeping room is a parlor, where there is a writing desk and a sofa surrounded by bookshelves.
There are massive skylights in the ceilings with rolling shades. Fine wood furnishings highlight polished hardwood floors. The walls have rich wood panelling of course. Portal shaped windows are positioned in such a fashion to create enough natural lighting throughout the day.
Outside you can see birdhouses above and below. The patio has swings, hammocks and a small yard. There is a launchpad and a zip line for ferrying to lower elevations.
As you walk through the house it seems heavenly. A natural aura emanates from the walls as you examine the layout. The northeast wing is quite restful, and you close heavy eyelids, unable to resist sampling a pleasant dreamscape. A peaceful air dominates the southeastern portion of the house. You hear harmonious chords being struck as a fresh breeze blows through the west windows, perfumed by forest blossoms. You can’t seem to shake the almost prophetic sense of deja-vu when you find yourself in the entryway, not remembering how you arrived there.
Standing at the outer edges and looking down, the view is majestic. Lake Tranquil is separated from a lazy river by an earthen dam. Below the river is a steep plummit called the Everlasting Falls. Once the pool of falling water settles, the path heads into a steam of rolling rapids that disappear into a lush forest I call The Hidden Wood. Completely secluded, only the squirrels and birds ever find their way to my front door.
Try creating by writing your sky-house. Or pick another imaginary place.
Poem by Mary Oliver
Beside the Waterfall
Source: The August 1993 edition of Poetry, a JSTOR publication with the Poetry Foundation poetryfoundation.org
Here I want to examine specific ideas which would fit seamlessly into my story. I should do a close reading and determine which additions would be consistent with the themes I have built. How well can these be woven into the overall plot of the story? Do they help build towards a climax or move the story along constructively in other ways? Another use for this practice is to find the right amount of tension. Are you satisfied with the level of tension in your story? By adding and removing you can make adjustments here and there until it tastes just right.
Take one of your stories and try this technique too. Did it help? Do you have a similar technique that works for you?
My protagonist ‘John’ is attracted to a woman. By adding another character to compete with him for her attention I could introduce tension. How does John feel about the idea of losing her? How does John react to what the other person does and says? How does his behavior change because of the presence of competition? Alternatively, does the woman have a job or a family member whom John has to compete with? Would that create guilty feelings in John for wondering if he is being selfish?
2. Work Stress
John has an important position at work. I might have something bad happen on the job. Perhaps an accident occurs where John has to split his attention from his current assignment to help out. Someone could file a complaint or lawsuit which would add pressure on John from both that direction and from his superiors as well. How does he handle pressure from his boss? What are the consequences to John and others if the lawsuit has merit? How can John solve the situation or prevent it from getting worse?
3. Family Trouble
John’s sister is his closest living relative. If she is dealing with a medical condition and needs John’s help that could increase demands on him. She might refuse the help or be a difficult patient. She might have a secret that she is keeping from him causing him concern. How does he feel about his sisters actions? Does she have personality traits that get under his skin? Does he fear losing his sister because he is a widow who already suffers from the death of a loved one?
John has been alone since his wife died. He could have an unresolved issue related to her loss. The anniversary of her death, or their marriage might be a source of stress for him. His son might blame John for her death and act out in dangerous ways as a result, forcing John to resolve the conflict. How does he relate to a son who resists his attempts to heal their relationship? What happens when he thinks about his wife and the times they had, does he remember happy times or conflict? Is he struggling with regret?
5. Personal Flaws
John is not perfect. He makes a mistake or forgets an important event. Now he has to deal with the aftermath. Perhaps he had to choose between two conflicting demands on his time. Why did he make the choice he did? How did having to make that choice affect him? How did the people affected respond to John’s choice? What new challenges does he have to overcome as a result?
John Grisham is in my short list of favorite authors alongside Tana French, Philip Kerr and Pierce Brown. My two favorites are probably Runaway Jury and The Client. I never finished Gray Mountain so that would not be a positive review if it came down to it.
Camino Islandis a heist story. It takes place in the book world. My complements to John Grisham for writing a novel about the novel writing business. A book about authors and their work can’t be all bad. I’m convinced this book is Grisham’s tribute to his readers and book lovers in general. It’s also a salute to independent bookstore owners
What I liked:
The story takes place in the summer. I chose it as a summer read. It’s so appropriate to have summer novels cover the summer season! It’s on the beach too. What a perfect setting for a summer read. The only regret I have is that I didn’t take it to the beach with me.
There’s a nice vignette depicting authors talking about authors and writing. Or not talking about writing. Apparently, writers come in two camps, those that talk about their writing and those that don’t. Either way this for me was the cornerstone of Camino Island. I wish there was more, a lot more, of the group of writers. That was a book I really could have gotten into. There wasn’t enough of that part of the book for me.
There’s a private insurance investigation group of characters in the story. This part also has potential. I could see an entire series of novels based on them. I doubt that John Grisham has the inspiration to do that though. He’s written so much already and I don’t think he needs the money. Oh Well.
What I didn’t like
None of the thieves involved in the heist were convincing. Having spent time around people who steal things, I have an impression of what they’re like. None of them were given much depth either. At least if they weren’t convincing I might have tolerated them had I gotten to know them a little bit.
I got the impression that Grisham was interested in writing about one character – Bruce Cable – a book store owner. He spends his time and energy on Cable. Just not enough on the others, any of them, to make the book enjoyable.
He has another character, a young author named Mercer, who is struggling to write her second novel. She is also struggling, financially and personally. However, her story would have meant a totally different book. I suspect Grisham didn’t find her challenges interesting enough on their own, so he folded her into this heist novel. Mercer has writer’s block. I am wondering if she’s a projection of the writer’s block Grisham had trying to write the novel about her, until he gave up and put her in Camino Island. All in all I expect Grisham fans will appreciate this book. If you aren’t a fan I can’t see any reason why this one would convince you otherwise.
Here’s the lesson. Stick the landing. I enjoyed Jurassic World from the beginning, the middle, and the end. We moviegoers know what we want, and we know what we like. Movie makers often appreciate that, meaning us. Infinity War didn’t deliver. If you doubt that just check any source of viewer responses.
I don’t care about the setup for your sequel. You can give an audience an enjoyable ending and still setup the sequel at the same time. Infinity War is a comic, so I guess it falls into the category of fantasy. And don’t assume I have anything against fantasy. Bilbo and Frodo are all that and a bag of chips. Jurassic World is science fiction. I think that matters.
By developing a taste for science fiction you are enabling yourself to contemplate important issues of the day. You can engage your curiosity. You can form ethical arguments. You begin to think and act in a way that determines your future, and you can do good things for someone following in your footsteps. Science fiction perpetually compares the now with the what if. It asks this question. What would happen if we had the ability to do such and such? History has taught us that the less prepared we are for advances in technology, the more bad decisions we suffer from. Remember DDT? Shouldn’t we commit the time to consider the harm of new abilities before we make ourselves too vulnerable? Science fiction has proven to be one of the most reliable tools we have to engage in the debate.
The science in Jurassic World is cloning. Genetically modified organisms, otherwise know as dinosaurs, are brought to life by combining original ‘dino’ DNA with other animals’ filling in the missing pieces. In a fairly frightening manner, the movie weighs the possible outcomes of producing genetically modified animals for profit. I’ll borrow from one of my favorite 70’s sci-fi TV shows, the Six Million Dollar Man, which introduced us to the idea of the bionically enhanced human, who’s famous line is “We have the technology. We can make you stronger, faster, better than before.” The antagonists in the film decide to do just that when they investigate the possibility of turning a dinosaur into a military weapon.
Today we are faced with a number of staggering challenges from the technology we now, or very soon will possess. What are the right answers for whether or not we should clone animals, or humans? Who should police the internet? What are the worst consequences for us of the dark web? Can there be rules and punishments for cyber warfare and cyber espionage? Where will unchecked gene research lead us? More good than harm? Will that depend on how careful we are? Who will decide? These are a few of the necessary questions. Turn to your favorite science fiction book or movie to consider the answers.
If you have never appreciated the science fiction genre before, there are many places to go for recommendations. I will offer some suggestions. Here is my Mount Rushmore of authors.
Suggested Science Fiction
Books by or films based on the writing of
Philip K. Dick
Let me give an honorable mention to Neal Stephenson, whose novel Seveneves promises to offer some of the best in science fiction movies to date. Read the book now before the first movie comes out.
Author Philip Kerr died a few months ago. In honor of his passing I wanted to include a review of his latest novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts.
First, I confess I am a biased. I think the Bernie Gunther novel series will at some future time be recognized as one of the significant literary contributions of this era.
What I liked
Bernie Gunther detective prose is compelling reading. If you have never read one, I recommend you start with book one, March Violets. You can decide then if you’d like more. These are genre books and as such they will not appeal to all tastes. They are very sober subjects. The setting is Nazi Germany. That creates a convenient opportunity for some very brutal conflict, murder, mayhem, deceit, the double cross, the triple cross, and a constant reminder of what happens to a society when it sacrifices legitimate moral authority in favor of brute force.
Because of the premise of his books, Kerr was more than able to provide story arcs that placed situational ethics at the forefront. Sheer reading enjoyment is here for you if you appreciate engrossing tales with unpredictable outcomes and fascinating characters.
The hero, Bernie Gunther, is one of the most complex you’ll ever find. This is a man with the fiercest of survival instincts, who never ceases to communicate his antipathy for the Third Reich. Greeks Bearing Gifts finds him enjoying himself more than anytime in his previous travels. Which is logical, when you consider by this time, 1956, the Nazi regime and its aftermath have reached an historical conclusion for the most part.
His biggest conflict seems to be an internal one. Because he has learned to succeed numerous life threatening battles involving duplicitous and unprincipled people at every turn, he finds himself incapable of trusting anyone. You really get to explore what it would be like to try to have a normal life under such circumstances. It is a powerful study of how the environment we evolve in can make an indelible impact on our ability to appreciate life’s wonders.
What I didn’t like Greeks Bearing Gifts was probably my least favorite Kerr novel. Perhaps because I felt it had more of an educational bent than a provocative noir foundation. However, the plot itself should have gravitas enough for the typical reader. The pillaging of the entire wealth of an ethnic community, a targeted race, and the desperate pursuit to keep the stolen treasures by the vanquished. Add to that the mass escape of untold numbers of Nazi war criminals from the reaches of justice.
However, I was fascinated by the prospect of the next novel. Which is hinted at quite a bit. I understand this final posthumous publishing with take place next year. Because the books have reached such significant depths and spanned over three decades, the final entry has the potential payoff of a genuine master stroke. Bernie Gunther has lived a memorable life, made serious mistakes, suffered consequences few could endure, and grown in ways we ourselves often wish we could.
What you should know
There is much more In the Philip Kerr novels to be appreciated than a well told tale. My apologies for not sharing them. I hope you find out for yourself firsthand.
Missing, Presumed is essentially about how absence impacts the lives of people. How the void filled by people in our lives becomes fully appreciated in their absence. Our personality and behaviors are shaped by relationships, and by the dynamic of how we interact with one another. The feelings and impressions caused by what others do around us. What we do with these feelings creates a persona from which we view our environment, make our decisions, and it influences how we categorize our efforts, positively, negatively, or with indifference.
In the setting we find Manon, who is very fearful of intimacy, having suffered the death of her mother at the age of 14. She also witnessed her grief stricken father sleepwalk through his responsibilities only to replace their mother with a new wife whom she does not accept.
Another player in this drama is Manon’s partner Davy, who is in a relationship with a depressed girlfriend. Davy needs the to be with someone, anyone, more than he actually needs her.
Then there are the three people affected most by the missing person, Edith. Her best friend Helena, who’s fragile in so many ways that without the presence of the dominant Edith in her life, she might not be able to handle it. Next is Ian, Edith’s overbearing father, now distant from her mother Miriam, is it because she is the missing link that connected them? Finally we have Miriam, who suffers the most when her daughter goes missing. We see every ramification of the effect it has, on her thought life, her daily routine, her belief in herself as a parent, and her relationship with her husband, as well as with the outside world in general.
What I liked
Often it’s the little gems that you discover in a novel that you appreciate most. All of us suffer loss and the grief associated with it. For me this passage struck a chord. On grief –
Manon knows what lies beneath, how people can seem normal and yet grief swirls about like an unseen tide working against the currents of life, the mourner wrong-footed by its undertow. The bereaved should wear signs, she thinks, saying GRIEF IN PROGRESS – for at least a couple years. (page 275)
As a law enforcement professional I am always aware when something genuine pops out of fiction. Here is one I am especially fond of:
He thought it would be one long arse ache, that pint with the boss, but as they sat at the small round table, he found he was too tired for toadying, so he looked Stanton in the eye and told him how rotten he felt…and how responsible. Stanton licked the foam off his upper lip and said, “If you can keep those feelings, Davy lad-and let me tell you, every minute in the police will chip away at them-but if you can hold on to those human feelings, you might just make a good copper.” (page 270)
What I didn’t like
I think one reason we read fiction is because it can take us to far away places and provide experiences unavailable in our everyday lives. Since police investigations are something I know well from first hand experience, I have found a great entertainment out of exploring police stories in foreign lands. Vikram Chandra provided that for me in Sacred Games. But my absolute favorite is Tana French. This book brought me to England, and the tiny community of Huntingdon.
Sadly, the course of the missing persons case was all too realistic. I have always argued that real police work is unbearably dull and unimaginative, a far cry from the famous fictionalized super sleuths of the traditional detective novel. I found it an accurate rendering of how cases are worked, but how many people find these things great reading? I sure don’t. That’s my paradox. Until I figure it out I won’t be able myself to endeavor to write similar stories with any confidence that an audience is waiting to appreciate them.