Within My Teaching Box

This month I’m celebrating my new book. It won’t be launched for a few days and from that moment it’ll be able to be ordered in more places than on the publisher’s website, but until then, admire the cover here:  http://www.shootingstar.pub/product/mountains-of-the-mind/ The introduction is by Sherwood Smith and the cover by Kathleen Jennings and it’s the cover that’s particularly relevant today. Kathleen is a friend and knows the strangeness of my brain and she swirled it across in the cover. Not just my interests, but the way everything is part of a whole.

This is one of the things I teach writers. I wish I could teach the art side, but what I teach is the character side. How do you create a character that has depth? I tend to bring things together that suggest one thing and are actually another. I tweeted a picture to Jackie French using two of the objects I use for such teaching and a cuddly toy.

It looks like a wombat with wombat droppings. For anyone who hasn’t seen wombat droppings, they’re instantly peculiar because of the shape. In any story the writer needs something that says “Look, we are here” and those droppings not only say “Australia” but they also say “At night, things are different.” Using a toy in this way says that the character has a particular sense of humour and gives the character… character.

Look at the ‘droppings’ more closely. They not from any known wombat. In fact, they’re Devil’s Dice. Equally Australian, but not from anything living. They’re rocks. Not carved not created. Just as natural as wombat droppings.

This small cheating of the eye gives the character even more character. Jokes about jokes, and all Australian. A child wanted to pick up the cuddly toy but would (and did) take a step back and saw ‘ew’ when he saw the droppings. I picked one up and explained it and the wombat was forgotten entirely.

Most of this doesn’t show when something is mentioned in passing. This is the sort of material that is carefully laid down early in the story, and that appears again and maybe a third and fourth time. Each time it comes into a tale, it gains in significance for the story. The first time we meet it and after that, we associate it with a person and their life. Using objects in a way that shows how the character’s mind works when it’s at rest is a way of building more complex characterisation without too much effort.

Using a joke I created for someone else, I’ve turned myself (temporarily) into a character. I really don’t know what this picture says about me.

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