Be true to yourself . . . er . . . your character’s self.

When I was around ten years old, I had an accident. It wasn’t a big one; it didn’t involve a vehicle or a trip to the Emergency or stitches. It involved a bicycle, lots of blood and an old rag stained with paint.

On a warm summer’s day, I had raced after a friend’s bicycle as he sped away. We were testing our running speed, and as one of the fastest kids in the neighbourhood, I had to prove myself. The goal was to catch up to the bike and grab the banana seat bar. How this test was anywhere near accurate didn’t matter. The fact was that it made sense to us.

So I raced after my friend. He was two years older me, but that didn’t matter. I was almost as big as him and just as fast in some instances. As I neared the back of the bike, I felt my legs growing tired. But I wouldn’t give up. I was going to grab that banana seat.

And I did! I seized it and held tight for about three seconds. Then I tripped over a stone or a stick or a crack in the pavement and crashed. I felt a pain in my leg and looked down to find a sharp rock embedded in my knee. Blood was already weeping from the wound and trickling into my sock.

I wanted to pull out the rock but my brother and my friend stopped me. They were both trained Boy Scouts and said it was better to leave it in. So I did. They helped me to my feet, and I limped home.

On the way, I wondered what would happen. Would Dad rush me to the hospital to have the rock removed? Would I need stitches? Would I need crutches? I began to worry for another reason. I didn’t want to bother Dad. He was replacing the kitchen window while Mom was at work. He didn’t have time to take me to the hospital.

Walking into the driveway, I saw Dad up a ladder, doing something to the new window. I sucked in a brave breath and limped toward him. He saw me and climbed down the ladder to meet me.

That’s when I started to cry. Up until then, I hadn’t thought about it. My leg really hurt, but the thing that triggered the tears wasn’t there until I saw the concern on my father’s face.

That’s when he smiled. “It’s nothing to worry about.” He plucked the rock from my knee so quick, I didn’t know he’d done it until he wiped the blood away with a paint-stained rag he’d pulled from his pocket. Once the blood was mopped up, he took another rag, dabbed my tears with it then tied it around my leg as a bandage.

He stood and patted me on the head. “You’re fine now; go off and play. I’m here if you need me.”

“That’s it?” I stared up at the man. At six-foot-two, he’d always towered over me.

He nodded with a mischievous grin. “You’re tougher than that rock.”

I turned away, but glanced back to see him climbing the ladder and watching me. Hmph. I’m tougher than that rock? I had to be. My father had never lied to me. I smiled, gave a little wave then began to trot back to where my brothers and friends were testing their speed.

~ After reading this scene, how many believe the father’s actions weren’t true? Of course, it’s hard to judge him since you don’t know much about him, but I’m guessing a few readers might think the character should have been more concerned . . . unless he was an uncaring father. But he didn’t come across as a man who didn’t care for his child.

To know if his reaction to his daughter’s injury was accurate, we must stand in his shoes. If this scene was in the middle of a book, you’d already know the father had served overseas in Italy, Belgium and Holland during the Second World War. The injuries and human suffering he’d witnessed during his years on the front lines would put this minor injury into perspective. After all, what was a wee bit of blood when you’d witnessed soldiers being torn apart by shrapnel in the trenches beside you or fatally-wounded men staggering around, holding onto their entrails?

Diane Lynn Tibert
Stephen Ellsworth Tibert (left) and an army buddy, both of the West Nova Scotia Regiment.

Before you make your character react, think about their history. Even a ten-year-old girl has already been shaped by her experiences, her environment and those around her. Putting a scene into perspective from a character’s point of view will not only allow you to write true to character, it may take you in directions you’d never before thought of.

By the way, that was a true story. That was my dad, and I still have the scar from race day.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Be true to yourself . . . er . . . your character’s self.

  1. Interesting blog, Diane. Character development is always a challenge. One of the seminars I attended passed out forms to fill out for our characters. They included things like education, religion, job history, likes, dislikes, parents names and occupations and much, much more. This was done for lesser characters as well as the main characters. This was not anything that was going to go into the story, but it was important that you knew who you were writing about. As you said, it allows you to stay true to character.
    Again, good article.

    • Character sheets are great for some writers. The key is to get to know your characters and make them thicker than cardboard, so which ever method is used, if it accomplishes that, then it’s worth it.

      Thanks for dropping by, Art.

  2. Dear Diane
    I love the story, for I have a well developed mental picture of where, when, how, season and the expression on your face.

    That character is also spread through to the offspring. Not to the same degree of course but I too look at bumps, bruises and blood much like your father. I realize I don’t have his experiences but my father ripped a piece of glass from my butt cheek, glass from hand, nails in feet. Then sent me off to play..

    • Glass? Now where would you find that? 🙂

      I’m like you; the wound has to be pretty bad before I won’t joke about amputating.

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

  3. In a book I recently read this was one of my criticisms, the character’s actions didn’t feel real for me. It’s an important thing to keep in mind when writing. We can just make our character do certain things or say certain things without a good reason. We need to know more about what makes them tick.

    Just today I changed a scene in a WIP that I came to see as not realistic as I failed to give the reader enough back story to know just why a particular character in my story was behaving the way she was. Even though I knew why in my own mind, the reasons were not made clear to the reader. Something to be mindful of.

    Good post, Diane.

    • Laura, I think we’ve all made that mistake one time or another. We know why the character is acting a certain way, but readers are not privy to the information stored in our brains, so are confused.

      Thanks for commenting.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s