Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Unexpected Character

Unexpected characters have taken important roles in stories. Characters like Winnie the Pooh, Aslan, Wilbur, Charlotte, elves, trees, clouds, wind, the list could go on for pages. These of course use personification.

The unexpected character I want to refer to today is the treasured individual who has a mental handicap. This person is a challenge to portray accurately in a starring role of any sort, especially when given the pov of a chapter.

The writer must encapsulate him or herself into the character with an intensity that demonstrates the best understanding possible. A tremendous amount of experiential research would be necessary to adequately and genuinely give this person a voice truly believable.

I have a dear sister-in-law who is the favorite aunt to many children in my in-law's family. I have know her for over thirty years and love her. I am so close I could easily tell you how she would respond in a situation because of my experience. This sweetheart is a twelve-year-old living in a fifty-one-year old body. 

For my reading challenge book last week I happened to choose an Amish book,The Captive Heart by Dale Cramer. Sorry gang. I really don't get into Amish stories...BUT...this book yanked my heart and soul when the author let the older sister, Ada, who was much like my sister-in-law, have a few chapters. It so surprised me. 

I stepped into the chapters with my guard in place. Would this author portray Ada correctly? Would she do things not true to real life? I will let you have a sample to see what you think.

Ada is in Mexico with her Amish family. She is on an errand in the mountains with her sister, brother, and baby nephew. Bandits come, stab her older brother and threaten her sister. She is scared. She impulsively scoops up the baby and runs into the wilderness. That is the set up. The next chapters address Ada's side of her escape. She survives the day and night and then wakes...

Quote used with permission from the author.

"Ada awoke with a chill. Pitch-black. Clouds covered the moon and she couldn't see her own hands. Something had awakened her, but she didn't know what it was. At night the fog came in a dark red tide, creeping in from the edges of her eyes and bringing the hum with it. She wrapped her arms around herself and started to rock. Something was not right. Her memory worked well enough, or so it seemed. Spurred by throbbing knees and a hundred dire pains from torn feet to skinned elbows, her plight showed itself to her right away. She knew she was lost, and she remembered why. But something else was wrong, and it refused to be coaxed to the front of her mind.

"...The unknown surrounded her. She began to rock harder until a little squeak of a sound came to her, faint and distant.

"She stopped rocking and listened. There it was again, like a baby crying, far away. It was then that she realized her arms were wrapped tight about her and there was no child in them..."

Thrilling. Realistic. I wish I could share the whole fabulous chapter. Nothing other than what this character would actually see, hear, feel, smell, think, and remember. So fine tuned is this writing, no reader would doubt the validity of Ada's choices.

In my previous writing classes, instructors taught: go to the place where real people like your characters hang out. If we have a child character, go to schools, Sunday Schools, clubs, etc. If older, go where they are. Saturate ourselves in their world. Listen to their words, watch their responses, etc.  

The teaching is the same here for the unexpected character. Could you write a chapter given from an alcoholic's pov? What about an amputee? Taking the risk, delving into the feelings of the unexpected character is a big step. One that will draw many new readers to your work. It probably wouldn't work for your current WIP, but maybe you could consider it for your next book.

What do you think? Have you read a book that so accurately depicted an unusual character you found yourself captivated? Have you written a story with an unexpected character like we are talking about today?


This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes contemporary Christian fiction with a focus on the homeless population and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website
Step into Someone Else's World

Ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids http://www.mim


Sherrinda said...

Wow...what an interesting post, Mary. I cannot even think of a book I've read when I got into the POV of an unusual character like that. I'm going to have to wrack my brain and see if I remember anything! (I certainly cannot imagine writing something like that!!!)

Mary Vee said...

I agree it would be difficult, but would it be the most satisfying challenge? Outside the box. Above the stars, etc.

Pepper said...

Thanks for this, Mary. For 2 years I've been slowly gathering courage and resources to write from the POV of an Aspie - person with Asperger Syndrome. I also have a character in one of my books who will be recovering from a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Needless to say, taking on this perspective for an entire book is going to exhausting because my two characters are the heroes in the books.
But I also have a secondary character in a book with mild CP. I'm still trying to figure out if I have the skills to write a character who stutters (because there are A LOT of underlying emotions and such with that disorder).

Okay...sorry for the long response. Writing 'unexpected' characters is a BIG interest of mine, but probably because I work in a world of unexpected characters (heroes and heroines :-)all of the time.

Mary Vee said...

I think those who love and know individuals who struggle with these issues will applaud and appreciate this void being filled. Also, to me this would be the ultimate in fresh approach to a story.
But you are right. This is not for the uninspired to attack.

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

Love that.
Go to their world. Hang out...
Great info, Mary.

(Hi Pepper!)

Mary Vee said...

You said it all in a nutshell. Thanks for joining us today.

Jeanne T said...

Mary--I'm joining the party late, but I love your post. You bring up good things to consider. I read a book by an author that did have some POV scenes with a character who had autism. It was intriguing to hear the story (I "read" it as an audiobook).

My book has an alcoholic in it, as a secondary character. Honestly, I'm not sure I'm portraying him accurately. You brought up a good point--I'll need to probably have someone who has walked that road or walked alongside someone struggling with it to see if I've got the character accurate.

Thanks so much for sharing this. You're broadening my writing horizons. Again. :)

Anonymous said...

So glad this helped. I think it would be a great idea to have someone who has walked the road or someone who has walked along side them check those scenes. It will add assurance or raise the quality.

Mary Vee said...

Just for the record, my computer decided I would be renamed anonymous in that last comment. How sweet. NOT