Collections… or, why I have rocks and wood in my house


DSC00866Different things fascinate different people. I lean towards items with textural appeal, like rocks, wood, and pottery. I have a collection of handmade pottery mugs… singletons, each chosen as a memento of a special place. This one came from Israel as a gift from my hubby when he visited there many years ago.

The bits of wood are from two very different locales. The one piece riddled by gribbles and shipworms with a small seagull feather caught in it, came from the ocean’s shore on Vancouver Island. The other, barely two inches long and with minuscule bits of almost-petrified leaves, came from the tundra of the northern Yukon. I probably should have left the latter where I found it, but….



Rocks are something else. It’s not their geological aspects that catch my attention, but interesting shapes, designs and textures. One of my young granddaughters is attracted to rocks — she had one in her pocket to take home on the airplane yesterday — and my BFF’s husband used to regularly pick up a rock on his daily runs. Their front garden displayed an impressive collection!

DSC00861I’ve taken to using a felt pen to print the source of many of mine on their undersides. It’s impossible to recall where all of them originated so you might wonder why I bother to keep them. I may not remember the exact occasions, but I know I would have been enjoying a stroll along a rocky shore, or wandering a wooded trail, visiting a special holiday location or perhaps marvelling at an awesome view when I stooped to gather the stones. Their existence is a pleasant reminder of my past and in an obscure kind of way they make me happy just by having them to admire.

In one of my novels a character dries and presses flowers to create a collection that preserves her memories of a place that was special during her childhood. Collections are distinctive and represent a person’s interests. They tell us something about that person without the need for a narrative description. (I admit to not wanting to know what my collections say about me!)

Are any of your characters collectors? Are you?

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Making appropriate use of quirkiness in our characters


Recently Jeanette Levellie had us sharing our pet peeves and Jessica Patch talked about our quirks. They were referring to those things that either annoy us or seem peculiar. The thing is, neither is unusual. Don’t we all have them?

I admit to some idiosyncrasies (only the unkind would say they border on OCD). When doors and drawers are meant to be shut, I like them closed all the way. Sliding closet doors that are left slightly ajar force me into corrective action, even when I’m already in bed. Honestly, do you expect me to sleep with that gaping void staring at me all night? Bifold doors and open drawers that snag me as I walk by, beg to be slammed shut. Cushions askew on the couch, and towels crooked on the rod? Need I say more?

If normal people have quirks (hey! I’m normal… at least in most areas), isn’t it logical that our characters not only might, but should, too?

There is a danger in creating stereotypes – for instance, looking at physical features and bronzing the hero’s brawny chest while scarring the antagonist’s cheek. A lot is written about using character flaws to make our protagonists real, but to accomplish realism takes more than simply portraying random weaknesses and strengths.

Personalities are complex – just ask anyone who has examined the results of a Myers-Briggs test. If we are to develop credible characters we need them to display the kind of strengths and weaknesses that we would find in real people but also have a few quirks to make them memorable. Not too many. Just a few, such as we all have.  (I hear you objecting, but I’m almost positive I’m not alone with mine.)

The Myers-Briggs test divides us into four main personality types that can be combined in multiple ways to create sixteen:

  1. Extrovert (E) versus introvert (I),
  2. Sensitive (S) versus intuitive (N),
  3. Thinking (T) versus feeling (F), and
  4. Judgmental (J) versus perceptive (P).

We can’t just pull quirks out of the proverbial hat and assign them to our characters. The quirks or idiosyncrasies need to be reasonably in line with the characters’ personalities.

Who’d have guessed that making our characters appear real could be so much of a challenge?

In your current w.i.p., what quirks does your main character have? Do they fit his/her personality? Are they ones you possess or have you borrowed them from people you know?


Take one character and call me in the morning…

Are you a writer who creates a cast of characters, or do characters evolve from your stories, appearing one at a time on that old ‘need to know’ basis?

Twelve years ago (can it really be that long?) I was hired as a consultant for the filming of Best In Show, a CastleRock “mock-umentary” about the world of dog shows. Co-writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy created a group of eccentric dog owners with a passion for winning. While there is a plot, the story is definitely driven by its characters… not one ordinary personality among them.

Movie set for dog show judging scenes in 'Best In Show.'

On the movie’s official Warner Bros./CastleRock website I am quoted:
     In considering some of the rather extraordinary characters featured as stars of the film, Garvin says, “The fact is that we [dog show professionals] sometimes laugh at ourselves, too. The competitiveness of dog shows attracts a very diverse group of people. There are definitely some eccentrics among them, but they are in the minority. This film focuses on that minority, but the film also portrays some of the really honest hard-working people that are in the dog show business, too.” 

There is disparity in the cast but unity in their goals. It is their single-mindedness that puts them in conflict with each other.

Cast and crew on day the Hound Group scenes were filmed (and yes, I'm in there). Photographer: Doane Gregory

Carefully set against the credible backdrop of a quality dog show, these characters keep us engaged in their incredible lives as each one struggles toward the ultimate Best In Show award.

We care about them, and that’s the hope of all writers… that their characters will resonate… that what happens to them will matter to readers.

I’ve mentioned before that my story ideas usually originate with the mental image of one character. From that image I am driven to explore the who, what, why, where and when that reveals plot. So, in answer to my original question, I do begin with just one character.

Those who write ‘by the seat of their pants’ may well accumulate characters as they are needed to forward the plot, while plotters and planners will have a fair idea of their cast before they begin writing.

Since the monologue and dialogue lines in Best In Show were all improvised, however, the writers had to have a clear understanding of personalities that were to be portrayed before they introduced the actors to the script. It is the diverse nature of those personalities that interacts to give cohesion to the story as a whole.

Does this suggest all writers, whether pantsers or plotters, need to know who all their characters will be right from the start, even if they let the story unfold without constraint? What’s your answer to the opening question in this post?


 Best In Show Trailer