Last month, my husband and I were invited to participate in the Once Upon a Time art show, which gave artists the opportunity to illustrate their favorite children’s stories. Our friends at Green Horse Gallery in Manitou Springs, Colorado, hosted the show and it was a wonderful trip, returning to our old home and creative stomping grounds. We saw lots of friends, visited favorite restaurants, and enjoyed the cool pleasantness of this charming community at the base of Pikes Peak.
Then it all came near to burning to the ground last week. In a horrendous firestorm that started in Waldo Canyon, just down Ute Pass from our honeymoon cabin, the wind-fueled hell fires descended not only toward Manitou Springs, but shifted east and north into the city of Colorado Springs where our families live. By the time it was controlled, 30,000 people had evacuated their homes including residents of the venerable Air Force Academy, and sadly almost 350 homes were lost including numerous ones belonging to friends. Saddest of all, two senior citizens lost their lives.
|Photo credit: Denver Post|
Our theme last month was technology, and all the ways writers use it to further their craft. Back then, I would have told you the most important aspect of online technology was the ability to do research, and the ease of promoting books. But what a difference one event and a few weeks can make. Today, it is the personal connection and the ability to communicate online with anyone almost instantly that carries the most weight with me.
When word of the fire hit the news, I immediately went to Twitter to read the second-by-second news of the fire’s development. The city, the mayor, the sheriff, the news services, everyone was tweeting up-to-the-minute developments. I also discovered a link to radioreference.com which allows computer users to tap into an area fire department scanner and get live reports between incident command and fire fighting units in the field. I sat at my computer and worked, all the while following a non-stop stream of updates, and listening live to the scanner activities. It was almost like being on the scene in person. I was glued to the drama for endless hours each day.
Writers of thrillers and police procedurals often research first-hand what their characters might do by going on “ride-alongs” with policemen or listening in on official dispatchers. I doubt, however, that most authors spend 16 hours a day over the course of a week observing a major crisis. That’s where I had an epiphany that could well work its way into some future story. Not only did I get all the fast-paced plot as this tense real-life story unfolded, I got to hear and know the characters. I started recognizing voices without knowing names, and I got a sense of who they were as people in the ever-increasing stressful situations of this fire from day-to-day. I learned the lingo (bug out!), I heard the deep commitment of the players, and felt the bone-tired weariness at shift change. But I noticed something else that surprised me. Beyond professionalism and respect, I heard kindness in the voices of the people fighting this battle. In the worst case scenario, they were at their very cores, deeply kind people.
Here’s how this played out. At the end of the day, the fire fighters were dispatched to eat and rest with directives like this:
Get some rest. Tremendous effort. Thank you.
Knock off for a few hours. You did great work. Thank you.
See you in a few hours. Good job. Thank you.
Not one person was forgotten. Ever. Each participant got a personal acknowledgment. That’s what finally brought a tear to my eye, and that’s when I had one of those “I can use this” moments.
|Photo credit: Bobbi L. Belport|
When was the last time you thought about how kind your protagonist is? Can you hear them saying “thank you” to someone? When and why would they? Can they graciously accept gratitude from another? Or maybe they only show their kindness through actions. How much more depth would your character have if you consciously added this aspect to their personalities? Also think about your antagonists. Perhaps you’ve developed a great serial killer. What if he fed the birds every morning? Would your feelings about that character change?
I learned a lot about people under fire last week, and how the worst situations can sometimes bring out the best in us. How about you? Share with us some experiences in life that helped you add depth to your characters.
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, a writer, blogger, editor, artist, purveyor of the BBT Café, and special projects coordinator for Little Pickle Press. You can explore the many aspects of kindness at the Little Pickle Press blog this month, and participate in a Kind Karma drawing for a bag of children’s books.