The secret life of the alphabet.
December 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
I spend most days creating characters out of words—which is pretty abstract.
Even more abstract are the words themselves, figments of the collective imagination of a set of symbols called the alphabet.
Each letter is translated to sound in the mind, but a letter also exists in its own right as a shape on the page, a shape with an attitude, a personality.
Take A for instance. A is confrontational. Note the wide stance, the arms crossed on the chest. A is adamant, stubborn and tough. Being a writer who struggles with confrontations I’d diffuse A’s anger by bringing B into the scene.
B is that bosomy older woman who will hug the mad right out of anyone, even a hot head like A.
C shows up in my stories a lot. Open, receptive, a good listener. Having C in a story allows the writer to turn exposition into dialogue making critics less likely to ding them for loading up on exposition and backstory.
D is that dandy who thinks he’s all-that—note the straight back and the thrown out chest. Writing D I’d like to give him a secret fear, something to make him, if not likable at least more human, but I have a hard time getting past the smell of his cologne.
E is ambitious—darned determined about it too. See how those three lines run straight and parallel? But the superiority and drive of E would be a problem for a writer. E’s success would be a win for the odds-on favorite. Since fiction favors the underdog E makes a good antagonist.
F is better when searching for a protagonist. Determined, yes, reaching too, but balanced on that one skinny line? You know something is about to happen (we call that plot).
G offers refuge—perhaps G functions better as setting than character. G is the safe place a character retreats to.
Like A, H has a wide stance, but H is a fat and placid character. In the hands of a hack writer H is described as jolly and is often included only to provide comic relief. H would like to issue a challenge to all you so-called writers. H wants a turn at being the romantic lead—and please, no romantic comedies, that would be cheating.
I is the pencil-thin ingénue who will age into the brittle old woman who will fall and break a hip and, before pushing the Life Alert button, will wonder what the point of it all had been. This book will sell a scant few copies and be remaindered in three months.
J may resemble I, but that swizzle at the bottom makes all the difference. J doesn’t take itself seriously the way I does. J will grow old too, but with lots of memories, cats, and grandchildren.
K? Oh how I love K! K has both arms thrown up in the air. K is steppin’ out. K is a parade. K may not be the best main character, but if your protagonist needs a little lightening up, K is a great sidekick.
L is stretched up, looking around. When italicized L yearns. Like this: L. Feel it?
M is two characters, so paired they have become one, and their flight is upward—I see a happily ever after coming on folks.
N is half of M trying to go on after the death of the other half (after a long happy life together—“ever after” is a little boring for fiction). That extra line N has acquired is memory.
O is the great inscrutable. Everything held inside, the perimeter impenetrable. Unless, of course, you are the writer of O’s story. If you are you can lay siege to the inscrutable O by making O narrate the story in first person, or by going omniscient and walking into O’s head any time you please.
P is the character holding in the secret piece of information on which the story hinges. P is carrying it carefully, but you just know that sooner or later that secret will have to be set down—or dropped–usually very close to the words THE END.
Q is O with a drain. Usually reserved, Q will sometimes let it all out. This kind of withholding character is very appealing. We know that sooner or later he’ll spill and we relish the wait. Note to writers: just make sure the spill is worth that wait.
R is the stranger who rides into town. Mobile—check out that stride—and carrying what he needs to get by. R is canny and quiet, but when R shows up you know change is coming.
S is slick, untrustworthy. In real life we try to avoid this fast talker, but in fiction duplicitousness comes in handy. The plot that depends on misunderstandings, lies and deceit requires an S.
T is the long sufferer. Atlas holding the weight of the world on his shoulders, the Irish immigrant woman scrubbing floors so her kids can have a better life. Although the very nature of T negates the possibility this character will be the change agent in a story, T can be the ballast that holds the story upright.
U is like a dog on its back, feet in the air, sun warming its belly. U is the carefree character who provides color by wearing his shirt inside-out or jumping in the public fountain to fish out the pennies.
V is what U could be if he quit being so lazy and so gosh-darned enchanted with life. V has a job, a mission, V is an arrow! Too bad it’s headed down.
W, like M is two characters so paired they have become one, but the plot arc for these two is a whole different story. Because of their union they are going down, each the cause of the other’s impending tragedy.
X is the roadblock in the story. The character whose job it is to thwart. Without a thwarting character there would be no overcoming. And what would a story be without overcoming?
Y is the character who is barely tethered to day-to-day life. Y’s spirit is rising. Expect large, dense paragraphs in this character’s book and little action.
Z is the plot we all hope for. The reader knows for sure where it is going and is about to yawn and put the book down, when the plot zigs in a completely unexpected direction. Z will keep the reader up long past bedtime, even though tomorrow is Monday.