Friday, September 9, 2011

Character Study

I am so excited about the online writer's workshop I've joined for the next few weeks. It's labelled as a class, but since it's not graded and there's a lot of peer critiquing and it was FREE...I'm thinking of it more as a workshop.

Well, our first assignment was posted on Wednesday and I got started. Write about myself from the viewpoint of a fictional person in less than 500 words. Check!

I went to town.  I got it down and then had to whittle most of it away. I used a character I made up on the spot, living in our time and place...a new "neighbor" so to speak.

I let it sit, as recommended. I went back and tweaked. I fussed. I fidgeted with phrasing and language, would go over 500 words and have to start cutting again.

Then, after it had sat like bread rising in a pan, I posted it and went to go see what everyone else in the class had done.

Oh, wait...what? They had their characters from their books and WIP walking around grousing about how god-like that author was, or how the dang author/puppeteer was messing with their life. On character even asked if any other authors would be willing to adopt her.

I scrambled back to the instruction page, found further instructions and realized my awesome description from my "new neighbor" was totally NOT going to work. But by then, it was nearly midnight and I had not had any chance to work on my story during the evening. I know, "Cry me a River."

So, I checked my posting and breathed a sigh of relief that nobody had read it but me. Nobody knew what I had done. Phew!

So I rushed over and opened up a new document and wrote...and deleted it...and wrote...and deleted it...and wrote.

Wow! Those characters that I have developed for my novel are so firmly rooted to the land I wrote them into, they were not coming out to do a little bio on me, no way. Finally, I stopped trying to force my main characters to do this and turned to the chatty little sweetheart that I made to be a new best friend and  surrogate little sister for my main female character.

She was perfect! Finally after wrestling with a few ways of presenting it, I made myself a visitor to the kitchen where three of my characters work. Bets still was too rooted to her place in my book to come where there are cars and blenders and electric ovens. So I put myself there. My pen name in the workshop is Verdebois, so that is who I am in the piece, Mistress Verdebois.

I tweaked it a bit and checked for spelling and posted it as an edited version of the first one, which I deleted first. These 500 words don't tell loads about me, that's true. You won't find my favorite color or zodiac sign. But there are clues to who I am scattered throughout.

Though, now, I'm starting to have second thoughts. Was I too subtle? You tell me...

Why, hello there! Come in! Mistress Verdebois likes to come visit us here in the kitchen of the Green Goose Inn, and ye’re welcome too.

I’m Bets, by the by, the scullery maid and fetcher of all things needed. I’m looking for a higher position when next one comes available, though.

That’s Anna over at the table, kneading bread. I know she doesn’t look like much, all raggedy and such. But she’s more than what she seems. She’s Quality.

Cook’s over there in the corner, but don’t let her fool ye. Anything happens in her kitchen, she knows. She won’t bother us though, as long as we keep working. Do ye want to help scrub a pot or chop some parsnips?

Ye don’t? Well, Mistress Verdebois helps out every time she comes and she’s got her own kitchen to work in and her own family to feed, so grab a pot and start scraping.

The Mistress wasn’t used to this, neither. But she wanted to hear our stories so much, she’d sit here for hours scrubbing or chopping, just so she could get to know us. And it was she who taught Anna how to make bread. Mistress helped her get real good so she could get a job here and survive the winter. They’ll stand there, kneading that dough until Mistress can tease her story out. I watch how her forehead smoothes out when Anna tells of her hard journey over the mountains or how she’s all flustered about her sweetheart.

Anna’s the one she talks to the most, but Mistress told me that I reminded her of herself as a girl. She said we’re both bright-eyed and curly-haired and looking for the next ray of sunshine. She said Anna needed someone cheerful like me to help her through her tough times. I know about tough times. I’ve seen some that would make a tanner’s yard smell like a spring meadow.

But Mistress comforts me with tales of the kindest lad in all the land how she snatched him up and married him. I said her life sounded like heaven. She just grinned and said their boys give them a little taste of hell now and then. ‘Course, ye couldn’t tell that from looking at them stringing out behind her like a line of ducklings. She swore it was true, though I guess if ye have five of them, it’s got to turn your house into something resembling the first fall market day.

That’s probably why Mistress comes knocking on our door so often. Maybe she wants to escape all that racket. Or maybe remind herself how good her life is back home. All I know is, when Mistress is in the kitchen, and the stories are flowing like thick soup from a ladle, it seems anyone can find their own sweet lad and an armful of friends and find a happily ever after.

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