Monday, December 7, 2009

Umbrellas and Motorcycles by Morgan Mandel

A few weeks ago I was in a hurry to catch my train. I had my umbrella all set in my tote bag, but at the last minute took it out to grab my cap. The umbrella disappeared. With no moments to spare, I did without. Wouldn't you know, it started raining. Fortunately, my hood was enough to protect me.

That was an unusual circumstance. I own at least six umbrellas scattered in various locations in my house, plus another in my work desk drawer. When the forecast calls for rain, I'm not one to leave the house empty-handed. From this description of my behavior, you might guess I'm a cautious person, not one to take chances. On the whole, I am.

Then again, I absolutely love playing slots. I have to tear myself away from a machine, whether or not I'm winning or losing. Since I'm aware of this weakness, I practice some restraint by limiting my slot playing to vacation.

Another example of risk taking is the fact I self-published Killer Career. Many authors would be loath to take on such a project, but I enjoyed the challenge. That doesn't mean I didn't have qualms, wondering if people would like my book. Fortunately, I must have done something right since Killer Career is highly recommended by The Midwest Book Review, among other reviewers.

Taking the focus away from myself, here's another example for you to consider.
What's your conception of a motorcyclist? Does the image of a wild, unkempt, sex-crazed person with no respect for society's rules spring to mind?

There are probably cyclists like that. Then again, I've heard there are many respectable, white collar, large bankrolled individuals who enjoy riding motorcycles. Some of their machines are quite expensive.

Also, I've seen videos on the news about the Toys for Tots Parade, where motorcyclists gather up toys for children for Christmas. The parade even has a Facebook page. How mainstream is that?

So, people are not as easy to read as you may think. It's something to think about when you're writing. To add dimension to your character, consider adding a quirk, pastime, or weakness that may seem contradictory to expectations. Just don't overdo it, or your good guy could turn into the bad guy, or vice versa. Of course, if that's what you want, go for it.

Can you think of an example in your book or another's where the character says or does something unexpected? Please share with us.

Morgan Mandel

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  1. I put a bit of a twist on a character who worked topless in a nightclub. In the opening chapter you meet her at work. In the second chapter you see her leaving work, jumping into her rattletrap car and racing to get to her GED classes.

    Straight From Hel

  2. In Donald Maass' workshop and workbook he has us do an exercise where you write one thing your character would absolutely not do, then write a scene where she does it. It turned into one of the most powerful scenes in my WIP.

  3. I have a tough-guy protagonist that is smoker, drinker, has a motorcycle...and hates spiders. He also gets seasick.

  4. My character in Sarah's Journey did things I would never have the courage to do...but then she had little choice after becoming the only survivor of a wagon train massacre. I think we often write about things we wouldn't be brave enough to face. I know in my Erotica, Searchers, my heroine became the sexual being I've never been, taking risks and being daring about when and where she had sex. Writing gives us such freedom to use our imaginations...but I confess, most of the ideas belong to my characters and not me. :)

  5. To give another real life example, look at the series and the book on Rescue Ink, the tattooed big guys who rescue dogs and cats.

    Of course, most of the things we think about are inspirational, the ones in which people of whom we don't have great expectations perform admirably. Better than thinking about the nicely dressed, pleasant woman who tied her 6 year old granddaughter to a chair and starved her as punishment for stealing food. There's a disconnect in expectations.



The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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