Thursday, December 15, 2011

Characters and Real People

My mom. Smart. Funny. Full of ornery. She would make a great character in a book. For those of you who know her, enough said.
For those of you who don’t, here’s a story: I baked banana bread and took her up two slices, one for her and one for my uncle who lives there with her. A freshly baked snack with afternoon coffee. That’s what I was thinking. Also, I was thinking a few other things.
1)    She told me they needed to cut calories. Now that winter is here, they’re sitting around instead of working outside and don’t want to gain weight. So I didn’t want to tempt them with a giant plate of goodies.
2)    After Thanksgiving she said, “Take the leftover cake. I don’t want it around. I’ll eat it.”
3)    Does she even like banana bread? I know she wouldn’t tell me if she didn’t like it. Another time I took her chocolate cookies for her birthday, and she made yummy noises when she took a bite. But a week later they lay uneaten on the counter. I asked her if she liked them. “Yeah, I like them.” On a scale of 1 to 10, Mom. (I could see the wheels turning behind the scrunched concentration.) “A four.” Seriously? A FOUR? “Well,” she said, “they’re not a zero.” 

So back to the banana bread. I handed her the cellophane-covered plate with the two slices of warm yumminess. She looked at the plate a bit too long and said, “Thank you. You’re so generous!”
I got it, and we started laughing. “But you said you wanted to cut calories!”
“I did, didn’t I?”
*Forehead slap*
So I explained the other reasons there were only two pieces and reminded her of the chocolate cookie incident. “Well, if I didn’t like the bread, I’d put it in the freezer for Christmas.” See? I knew you wouldn’t tell me if you didn’t like it!
Now, for this book, I’ve been thinking about a character who is always literal—that could be a lot of fun for characters who enjoy poking fun. I had a literal professor once who couldn’t get a joke. But maybe what we need is the antithesis of that. A character like Mom. I’ve tried to write some of her antics into stories before, but they haven’t worked—they always feel forced.
Maybe I’m too close to the subject. Maybe I need to look at specific traits as opposed to behaviors. I’m not sure what I need to do, but she is a gold mine just waiting to be struck, and I haven’t been able to find the right vein.
And if I do find a vein, will it be gold or something else? Maybe THAT’s why I can’t capture her character, because it’s…
…complex, that’s what it is. Nice enough not to tell me she doesn’t like something, but forward enough to tell me to my face that I’m being chincy.
Now I just have to figure out how to write “complex.” That’s gotta be pretty easy to do. Right?

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