Monday, April 13, 2009

Insane Poetry, and a Quest for Quirky Characters

Another bit of poetry for National Poetry Month, but this one was written on the fly for a goofy response to an editorial discussion over at Fear and Trembling magazine. (Editor Scott Sandridge has instituted a points--ahem, bones--system, in which we rate the submissions from 0 bones, for something horrendous or improperly formatted, to 10 bones for something that blows our skulls wide open.) Nothing literary or sweet or even truly poetic about this bit, just some macabre silliness, verbatim:

(conjuring the image of the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk:"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.")

Bones, bones, tasty bones
Fresh bones, blood-sticky, flesh-spongy bones
Arm bones and thigh bones and tiny, skinny finger bones
Puzzle-cut spine bones and knobby-ended wrist bones
Not-so-round skull bones
Shovel-scooped collar bones, wing-like shoulder bones
Bones, bones, lovely bones
White-boiled angels floating in my stew

(It ain't great, but I laughed a time or two typing it.)

Okay, enough of that. Now for something more serious.

I've been considering my characters, and studying what other writers do to make theirs memorable. Anyone who's been to a writers conference knows about psychological profiles / questionnaires, intended to help us know our characters from the insides out, or about character sheets, where we list all sorts of things, from physical traits and flaws to childhood trauma to favorite styles of footwear. But what makes a character linger in the reader's mind for not only days but years?

I met Philip Martin a few years ago when he was speaking at an Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. conference in Oklahoma City, and when I, feeling a little like a teenage groupie, asked him to sign my copy of his book, The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragons Lair to Hero Quest. Through a variety of circumstances -- a group lunch, a discussion session, and more -- we struck up an acquaintance. Though communication has been sporadic over the last couple of years, I do check in on his blog from time to time, and the latest entry addresses the matter of memorable -- or quirky -- characters: "The Wonderfully Eccentric Characters of Charles Dickens".

He includes a link to his newsletter, too, in which there is an article entitled "In Praise of Eccentricity":

The core of the writer's challenge is to tell a fresh story. As William M. Thackeray (Victorian novelist, author of Vanity Fair), summed it up: “The two most engaging powers of a good author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

But how? How do you put a fresh spin on old and common themes?

One secret: eccentricity!

That's the opening; here's the closing:

Find the character that is a bit odd (or a lot so), and you've got a core element of a story that can make the reader sit up and pay attention. By offering something fresh and exotic, you create real value, something we can’t get at the corner convenience store of the imagination. Remember the rule: eccentricity is your friend.

Now, head on over and check out all the stuff in between!


The Texican said...

Sounds like a busy weather month near the Fort. Hope you are managing to avoid the Nadies. Gruesome poetry. Have a great week, Pappy

Alexander Field said...

I like that Keanan (both the poem and the tip about eccentricity). I just heard a writer interviewed talking about a similar concept: And this isn't news but read through your book, story etc. and where there isn't some conflict happening, add in a crazy uncle or a teen pregnancy or whatever - add in MORE conflict, whatever your story. So I really think there's something to this! I may have to try it too!

Keanan Brand said...

Pap - More storms headed our way. Yippee. Spring in the South.

Alex - As a kid, I used books as an escape from the conflict in my real life; when I wrote, I wanted only good things to happen to my characters (who, of course, won every fight, and they always did the right thing, and they were downright insufferable, too). After all this time, I still have a problem injecting enough conflict to keep the story interesting. Dang it!