Objects Can Be Characters Too

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I remember the movies, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I remember the television series, My Mother, the Car. And of course there’s the TARDIS from the long-running British show, Dr. Who. Objects have been used as characters in these stories to great effect, often having their overlapping status create a built-in twist of some sort or another, difficult or impossible to pull off with mortal humans.

There are at least two things to think of here: one is the bridge between species of a sort (I guess we can include, Mr. Ed then) and two, there are the characteristics, the details that are necessary to bring the inanimate to life and other animals to human language and cognition.

Always, there are disagreements about how much detail is too much or not enough, but to bring a level of interaction bridging the divide takes a bit more detail, rather than less.

Lord of the Rings, an all-time favorite of mine, bestows many objects with special significance, each in their own way, whether it be its history of a sword’s deeds or the evil that the Ring speaks to its wearer.

Thinking about this today, I realize there are some objects we could take into the world of interaction and special detail in the second book of our series. Book One is nearly complete… in ‘final’ revisions, and we’re researching the best self-publisher for our needs as well as the launch date. Then we can more thoroughly attend to the threads we will want to pull through into the next book of the series. It’s an exciting time, and we’ll see what will happen.

If you should happen to have experiences with writing objects as sentient beings OR a great experience self-publishing and want to share, that would be lovely. Please leave a comment below.

 

 

Justification

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When I think about characterization, I develop arcs based, in part, upon the philosophies each character holds in his, her, or its heart. I want to know this about the characters, even if that information never overtly appears in the pages of the book.

 

A spectrum I like to use is whether the character values ends or means more… and whether they move from one position at the start of the story and end somewhere else.

 

One of my favorite books is ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. I love this book as I have from my early teens. While it is in no way thoroughly representative of my interests as a reader, I find it an excellent glass through which to perceive various philosophical, existential, and organizational questions about life and writing.

 

First up, these two statements:

 

“The ends justify the means.”

-OR-

“The means justify the ends.”

 

An interesting exercise is to take some favorite characters of your own, or for this example, from Tolkien, and see where they would appear on this spectrum.

 

I’ll mention Gandalf ™ and Gollum™ because of the many people acquainted with these characters from either the volume(s) or the Peter Jackson movies which take the books as their source material.

 

It strikes me that Gandalf considers the means the more important aspect on which to hang his wizard’s hat most of the time. Means are the ‘now,’ the moment within his control, to the extent that he has any . If he takes an action, he thinks about it in advance, constantly revising, if need be, and relying on intuition as well as his other senses to know whether it is right. If something he does runs afoul of his personal integrity or wisdom, he knows that he is likely to see this wrinkle exaggerated in the end results.

 

He values the importance of each step he takes, and lets the end take care of itself thereby, quite possibly in the direction he’d like to see.

 

On the other hand, there’s Gollum, and all he wants is the Ring of Power ™. He will do anything, take any means to get it, even though we get a split sense of dimension what with the two sides of his personality occasionally bickering, cajoling, manipulating. As long as Gollum gets the ring in the end (don’t worry, no spoilers here), he is happy, for the most part, with whatever means he has taken.

 

Not surprisingly, it would seem that Gandalf and Gollum think about one another or at the least, figure into each other’s vision of the future and/or past:

 

Responding to Frodo who expresses outrage that Gollum was allowed to live after Gandalf’s last meeting with him, the latter speaks one of my favorite quotes (of many) from the book:

 

SPOILER WARNING:

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least. In any case we did not kill him: he is very old and very wretched. The Wood-elves have him in prison, but they treat him with such kindness as they can find in their wise hearts.”

OKAY – safe again

 

Admitting that one cannot see all ends may be the elixir that bestows a healthy dose of respect for means.

 ~*~

This is one axis to look at in the characters and the story, and it can be a fun one. If I cross this axis with a second, things can really heat up, debate-wise. This is why, for example, I mentioned ‘personal integrity’ rather than societal or relativistic. More on this later…

 

-Does this method of drawing out characters resonate with any that you love, hate, or both – that you’ve read, seen, or written?

 

-In this example, Gandalf is considered ‘good’ though he, like all wizards, is ‘subtle and quick to anger’ when meddled with, while Gollum is something quite different. Are there examples in stories that spring to mind where those polarities are reversed for protagonist and antagonist?

 

We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

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Breadcrumbs and Echoes

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Once, a couple of months back, we wrote down the title of this blog post, not knowing then what it might turn into when we used it. We wrote no content, just the title. The time is now,  so we are talking about what breadcrumbs and echoes mean to each of us.

~*~

 {Leslie –>}  Breadcrumbs make me think of two things simultaneously: my grandmother’s cooking and fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel. Of course, Grandma couldn’t be further from the antagonist in Hansel and Gretel if she tried.

 

However they both lead to the same place. Hansel left breadcrumbs so he could find his way home… and I have my own set of memories and food that bring me back to when Grandma was still with us. Home. Those ways of communicating with past and future are vital in life, and they are also something we consider when we’re writing.

 

Foreshadowing and flashbacks are breadcrumbs.

 

One more word about fairy tales from my ‘don’t want to stand on a soap box:’ To me, they are the DNA of storytelling. ‘Just the facts, Ma’am’ kind of thing. They are the skeletons to which we add specific settings, characteristics, and developed themes, each in our own individual voice.

 

They are so familiar to all of us that we recognize them even where they’re embedded in more complex tales: the three brothers, the helpful person along the wooden path, the animal side of human nature, like the wolf in Grandmother’s clothing. Echo and Narcissus – a beloved tale from childhood.

 

Echoes make me think of whales– communication between their families and friends over the miles. Animals in general as well – for a girl whose dearest thought was once to grow up and be a veterinarian in the Sydney Zoo since age seven.

 

Now I’m left joining those two concepts in a meaningful way. Let me give it a shot.

 

Grandma told me stories all my life. They were a combination of folk stories from her native country where she was born and many everyday and miraculous stories from her own life. Ah, what a life. They are part of mine now. These gave the children, myself included, breadcrumbs back to other lands and our own ancestral tales and people.

 

Here’s what it boils down to: everything is story and therefore communication. It can be drawn from past, present, future, and other species.

~*~

{Andrea –>}   I really had no idea what I was originally thinking when I saw the title. I only knew that it meant something to me. What comes to mind are the steps I’m taking and the intuition I’m following.

 

Breadcrumbs someone left for me to follow and the echoes in my mind guiding me where to go next.

 

It has been quite the journey writing this book with Leslie and following the steps along the way.

 

Sometimes the breadcrumbs weren’t there, and I had to stop and look around. They disappeared for days at a time, but then the echo came in and told me where to pick up the trail.

 

They aren’t leading me to a candy cottage but they are leading me to something very sweet. I appreciate the breadcrumbs and echoes. I continue to keep my eyes and ears open for them on a daily basis.

 

Hmmm, what’s my next step? “Oh there you are. Thank you. So happy to see you again.”

Northern Gods and Human Mythology

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All my life I have been interested in mythology… there’s so much to learn about human nature and story in these varied tales, interwoven in time and space.

 

As Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and others have repeatedly said after their far flung travels, these types of stories have appeared with new names and different costumes and clothing all over the world… most often without any contact between the different cultures. They are a step or three up in complexity from the basic skeletons of folk/fairy tales, yet closely related to them.

 

One of my favorite myths in Norse Mythology is the myth of Baldr, beloved of all the gods. He is the youngest son of Frigg (goddess of the earth, marriage, childbirth, and motherhood) and Odin (king of the gods). His oldest of many brothers is Thor.

 

As a young man, Baldr began having prophetic dreams of his own death in the near future. His mother started having similar dreams soon after. Baldr understood his destiny and that his death would be instrumental in bringing about Ragnorak, the last war between good and evil. After that the world could be healed and rebuilt, so he was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

 

Sounding quite similar to many other mythologies at this point…. Baldr was to come back, in elevated form from the dead after a certain period of time.

 

Frigg, unable to accept her son’s intended sacrifice, sets about securing promises from the elements, the environment, diseases, animals, plants, and stones, “requesting immunity for Baldr from all kinds of danger.” Once she is successful with all but one plant named mistletoe she deems ‘too young’ to ask, word was sent to everyone to convene.

 

Although Baldr and Frigg have no knowledge of when or how his death will occur, Mom is feeling pretty secure with her strategy for his protection at this point.

 

The gods get together and decide to have a new game by “making sport of Baldr’s newfound invincibility in that ‘shot or struck, Baldr remains unharmed.’” They take turns with all manner of material to throw or propel at him, but each falls to the earth harmlessly in its turn.

 

Mischievous Loki, jealous of Baldr as ever, finds out about the mistletoe. He fashions an arrow from it, and then gives it to Baldr’s blind brother, Hoor, encouraging him to join in the game.

 

Baldr dies, pierced by his brother’s arrow, and falls into his mother’s arms.

 

I see this myth at play in my sorrow at the too-early deaths of so many strong young men, sacrificed to the side effects of their art or someone else’s war. After all these years, it’s worked its way into my psyche to the point that I grieve as if some of them were known to me, personally. I think culturally, too, it is in force…. as James Dean, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, and so many others with great potential…. all the soldiers at war as well – are elevated to a mutual grief. I’m prone to it, I think…. due to my early imbibing of that story.

 

Youth, Beauty, Potential, and Belovedness… gone in an instant, yet the effects of their sacrifice still to come.

 

We also notice this myth at work when we write and determine the fates of all of our characters. It is a difficult thing to perhaps wound and/or kill off  developed and beloved characters, but oftentimes someone has to do it. The harder it is to do it, the more profound an impact it may have on the story. It is a sacrifice, not only for the character(s), but the author themselves.

 

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