Sunday, March 29, 2015

Creating Character Depth

What is it that makes you fall in love with a character (or characters) in a story?

Do you like your leading men to be the strong alpha type? Should they have flaws? Should they be vulnerable? What about your leading women, should they be strong? Do you think it is okay for a female lead character to be aggressive?

I try to ask myself these questions when developing a character but mostly, the characters in my stories just kind of develop themselves, for the most part. I begin with a basic outline of what character traits my particular character may need to survive the hell I'm about to put them through. From there, they just kind of grow and become more real with each subsequent re-write of the story.

This is where I would like to ask for your advice, and yes, it does require a little reading. You see, I have this lead character that shares the role with my main character in this particular story. The story isn't that important now but a little background on the character in question is.

My character's name is Joseph Johnson. He has a military past and also did contract work for the military (you know, super secret stuff) but was forced to leave the service because of a family crisis. His mother was dying of cancer. Anyway, he now works at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama and moonlights as a recovery agent (bounty hunter.)

In this scene, Joe has just been laid off at his place of employment. He suffers from a mild case of PTSD. In this scene, he experiences a vivid memory that blurs the lines between past and present, nightmares and reality, but I don't want to reveal too much. Yes, I want you (the reader) to think he is just a little unstable, and dangerous. Most of all, I want to show his vulnerability and add depth to his character.

Below is an excerpt from the scene in question. Anyone care to read and provide me with your opinions? If you like this scene and would like to read more, may I present you now with the opportunity to be a beta-reader on some upcoming work of mine?

Joseph Johnson slid the pocket door open and walked out of the tiny guard booth into the afternoon heat to meet the car as it squeaked to a stop at the gate. He knew the occupant sitting in the car, but asked for his identification anyway. The man inside the car pulled an identification card out of his shirt pocket and surrendered it to him. The man was Joseph's supervisor, Jeff Tucker, but he still compared the photo on the identification card to Mr. Tucker's face, he always followed proper protocol.
"Joseph, would you stop by my office after your shift this morning?" Mr. Tucker took his identification card back from Joe and slid it back into his shirt pocket.
"Yes, sir," Joseph answered, and added, "have a nice day, sir," as Mr. Tucker drove away. He gave a theatrical salute as he turned to see his shift partner, Ray, snickering from inside the guard shack.
"What was that all about?" Ray opened the door for Joseph as he stepped into the small shack. "You think it's the cutbacks people been talking about?"
"I don't know." Joseph said as he scooted in front of the small window air conditioning unit, the feeling of the cool air sending a chill through his sweat-soaked shirt. Although his skin felt cool, Joe felt heat rising in his core. He couldn't afford to lose his job. He'd just started working at the plant two years before, back when he was fresh out of the Army, and caring for his mother through her battle with cancer. He looked at Ray, but had nothing more to say.
"Well, what do think?" Ray finally said, apparently unable to handle the silence.
Joseph looked away for a moment, finally answering just to shut Ray up. "I think I'll find out at the end of my shift."
He spent the last few minutes of his shift looking out the window of the guard shack. Whatever it was about, he just wanted to get it over with. Joseph simply opened the door and squeezed his muscular frame out of the small shack when his replacement showed up.
"Good luck," Ray said, giving Joseph a mock salute as the door shut.
"Thanks," was all Joseph could think to say. He walked, as quickly as he could, through the parking lot, reaching the cool air of the employee break room within a few short seconds of leaving his post at the guard shack.
Joseph found his time card among the hundred or so others. Time cards were scattered sparsely throughout the large holder. Joseph took notice that, each day, one or two more cards disappeared from the holder. He methodically pushed his card into the slot on the front of the machine, waiting for it to jump, before pulling it back out and putting it back in its spot on the wall. He walked to the employee locker room to change out of his blue security guard uniform and into blue jeans, a tank tee shirt, and a loose-fitting guayabera before venturing up the stairs to his supervisor's office. He knocked on the door, and was told to enter. Mr. Tucker was sitting behind his desk as Joseph walked in the room.
"Have a seat, Mr. Johnson." Mr. Tucker leaned forward in his leather office chair, and shuffled papers nervously on his desk.
Joseph took the chair directly in front of the desk and crossed one leg over the other, trying to appear confident, unshaken by the sudden summons to his boss's office. He had a good idea why his boss called him in, and the thought made him wish he'd gone directly to his truck instead of the office.
"I don't how to say this, Joseph." Mr. Tucker stared at an open file on his desk as he spoke. "You know I personally think you've been doing a great job here, and—"
"Just tell me," Joseph blurted out. He didn't really want to hear it, but wanted to get it over with. He felt heat rising in his face. He could not decipher the mix of emotions coursing through his mind. He wasn't sure whether he was about to fall into a violent fit, or tear up and have a little emotional meltdown in front of his, soon to be, former boss.
Life was so much easier in combat.
He missed his life as a covert operator, and it was times like these that made him long for times when his only decisions were to run or shoot. Instead, he was faced with the emotional hell of remaining calm while some pencil-necked geek spat shallow compliments at him while firing him. Although his mind was moving at a hundred miles an hour, he simply sat motionless, staring at Mr. Tucker.
"Look," Mr. Tucker said. "I know you've got a perfect attendance record here. You're always on time, and willing to make suggestions to better our procedures, but I have to be fair ..." His boss drifted into silence, looking like he was trying to think of some other way to tell him the bad news.
"Just spill it," Joseph said. "Are you firing me or not?"
Joseph watched his boss's reaction. Mr. Tucker tensed noticeably, his lips nearly parting. He could not tell whether Mr. Tucker was just nervous or if he was genuinely scared, thinking Joseph might come over his desk at any moment and strangle him. Joseph maintained his cool front, but on the inside, he was giving serious consideration to actually jumping over the boss's desk.
"We're not firing you, Joseph," Mr. Tucker finally admitted. "We're just laying you off until we can afford to hire you back."
"Either way, I'm not getting a paycheck." Joseph stood and turned to leave.
"Wait, Joseph," Mr. Tucker yelled. "I didn't want to do this."
Joseph didn't stop, or even turn to look back, but his boss continued talking anyway.
"You know we've had to cut our workforce down to two shifts. We just can't support the security staff. We'll bring you back as soon ..."
Joe could still hear his former boss yelling as the office door shut behind him, trying to convince him he wasn't being fired.
A blast of hot humid air washed over him, like the exhaust from a jet engine as he left the building and walked across the vast blacktop parking lot to his truck. The sudden wave of heat sent his mind to another time and place. As he opened the door and sat on the searing vinyl seat, he was suddenly strapping himself into the seat of a Chinook helicopter. Wind and heat was replaced with deafening turbine whine as he pulled the thick webbed strap across his waist with one hand while gripping his weapon in the other.  Other members of his team were strapping in as well. Kenyon sat down across from him, giving the thumbs up. They were all secure. All eight members of the team made it out of the small compound but an angry enemy was not far behind. One of the helicopter’s crew handed him a headset. Chatter from the crew  cut through the whining of the powerful helicopter engines as Joe slipped the headphones over his ears.
“Ready rear?” One of the pilots called over the intercom.
The crew member in the back of the helicopter looked at Joe, raising his dark visor as he gave the thumbs up. Joe scanned his team one last time before returning the thumbs up to the crew member.
“Ready rear,” the crew member responded.
“We’re on the go,” Joe heard through his earphones as the big helicopter started to move.
The team were all smiling at each other, giving their own thumbs up as dust filled the cabin and the helicopter lifted off the ground. Looking out the small porthole window, Joe saw a small group of enemy soldiers shielding themselves from the blowing dust as the helicopter moved into clean air. One of the soldiers raised something onto his shoulder. Joe immediately recognized the object as a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He reached for the button that would allow him to speak through his headphones but one of the members of the helicopter crew yelled out, cutting his own actions short.
“Break right, BREAK RIGHT!” Without response from the pilots, the helicopter lurched into a steep bank, slamming Joe into the metal-framed wall from the force. His view out the window turned to blue sky with flashes of brilliant light as the pilots dispersed countermeasure flares in an attempt to throw off the incoming missile. Nearly at the same time, the right rear corner of the helicopter opened up and a ball of flames raced forward through the cabin. Joe turned away and raised an arm to shield his head from the flames. A cacophony of chatter assaulted his burning ears as the pilots made their mayday call. The helicopter banked hard left, nearly pushing Joe out of his seat before hitting hard into something He hoped was the ground. The cabin filled with dust and, though he heard the engines winding down, Joe still heard pops and loud reports that were either shots being fired into the helicopter or the helicopter itself coming apart. As the passing shadows from the spinning rotors slowed, one of the crew members ran toward the back of the aircraft, grabbing his M16 along the way.
“Go, go, go.” The crew member yelled, motioning with his arms as he disappeared into a thick blanket of dust at the rear of the helicopter.
Dazed, Joe stared for a moment at the crew member, not sure if his legs would support him. Then, his training took over, and he was unbuckled and running through the shattered hull at the back of the helicopter, taking up a defensive position. Other members of his team soon joined him until they formed a semi-circle outside the crash site, weapons pointed in the general direction they’d been attacked from. A thick cloud of dust still hovered over the area but he heard the distinct rattle of an Apache helicopter cannon, no doubt taking out whoever fired the rocket at them.
A sudden screech and hiss caught his attention, pulling him from the memory that, moments ago, felt as real as the day it happened. A semi-truck turned into the fenced receiving area beyond the parking lot. Joe swiped a hand across his face, wiping the sweat from his brow, his thoughts still clouded between realities of the past and the nightmare of the present. He turned the ignition key, bringing the truck to life, immediately cranking the air conditioning up until cool air blasted from the vents, making the hairs on his arms dance. As the air in the truck cooled, he reached under his seat and retrieved a Glock 26. A thin smile grew across his face as he inserted the magazine into the grip and pulled the receiver back, chambering a round. He liked the weight of it, and the grip fit nicely in his hand. It was a light, convenient handgun he often used as a backup on missions when he was employed by the government. He pulled a concealment holster from under his seat, slipped it into the back of his pants, and pushed the small pistol securely into it. He pulled his shirt over it before driving his truck through the maze of cars in the parking lot, out the gate.
The sun was falling toward the horizon by the time Joseph pulled up in front of the bail bond office. It was that time in the early evening when things were still quiet. There was little activity at the police station across the street, but that would change by the end of the night. As soon as the door closed behind him, Jake Ballinger, the owner of JB bonds, motioned him to come around the front counter. Joseph followed Jake to the smaller space in the corner he claimed as his office.
"Got a new skip for you, Joe." Jake stood up and moved around his desk, waving a file folder at Joseph as he positioned himself on the other side of the counter.
I know one cannot tell from this scene, but this is part of a paranormal romantic suspense (for lack of any other distinction) story that I am in the process of rewriting. A few of you may recognize this character but, believe me, if you've already read the previous story, you will scarcely recognize the new rewrite.

What say you?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring has Sprung

Well, the first day of Spring has come and gone. I may have missed it completely if not for the radio.

Funny thing about Spring. Things just seem to sit dormant all winter, and then suddenly one day, bam, all things are alive and taking over. I so quickly became overwhelmed with everything having to be done at once, that my yard now appears with its usual "Sanford & Son" look. Oh well, soon Summer will be here to scorch my property to the very edge of its existence.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days.
They all blend together in a hot flashing haze.
Force me to rise and see what new torture the sunrise brings.
The angry forceful advance of new life, in this season we call, Spring.

In other news, I'm still working on rewriting and adding to the same scene in the same story that I've been working on all Winter long. In this story, Joseph Johnson, one of my main characters is former military and member of a special operations unit. I'm attempting to add depth to his personality by showing his struggle with PTSD. I'm doing this through the addition of short scenes throughout the story of situations he's found himself in.

My attempt is to add these scenes in places where something has happened to him or he must make some decision. So far I've started the first addition that involves a flashback to a time he was being ex-filled from a daytime mission in the Middle East. In this scene, the helicopter he boards is shot down shortly after takeoff. I don't want to cover too much of this, instead only showing the action itself.

Anyway, for those that may be interested, This story will be ready for beta-readers soon. Send me an email if you might be interested in this and I'll send you what I have for your evaluation. Keep in mind that this story is a rewriting of something written under a pen name. Certainly though, those of you who read the other story will find in this rewriting, much has changed.

In old typewriter collecting news, I've posted a video on youtube of my favorite collectible typewriter: The Remington Remette. You might remember my previous post about that machine on this blog, Remette, the Family Typewriter-April 2014 but for those of you who are more visually stimulated, here's the video:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Duckling Dilemna

We recently purchased two ducklings from our local Tractor Supply Company store.They were oh so cute, and still are but, I must say, they grow extremely fast.

We brought these ducklings home about a week after bringing home six chicks. At first, they were so small, we were afraid the chicks would bully them-that changed quickly. They are now about twice the size as the chicks although they are not yet feathered. In contrast the chicks are nearly completely feathered.

Last night was their first time out in the wild (a chicken wire enclosure in the back yard) and they did not use the new duck home I'm building for them. Instead, the chicks piled in while the two ducklings huddled together near the big tub of water I've set out for them. I was afraid they would suffer from exposure as the overnight temperature dropped into the low sixties. I mean, hey, they don't even have a feather coat to wear, although that did not seem to bother them.

Today, I'll be working on their future home and preparing the chicken coop for the integration of the new chicks to the flock. When I first built the coop, I made it in such a way that it can be expanded. I will simply remove a wall and expand the coop area into a previous storage area. Of course, this means I will have to find a new location to store the chicken's food and snacks. I will also build a new roost that will be more accessible to the chicks. Don't really have to worry about helping the new arrivals find the nesting boxes for at least another four months.

Anyway, I'll be sure to post pictures of the ducks' house when it is all finished and painted.

Oh, and in case you haven't already seen this, I've posted an update of the ducklings on my youtube channel.

Made a video about it, like to see it? Here it goes:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

News from the Nether

Wow, it's been an exciting few months. Well, actually, five months. I've been working on me-rebuilding the me you know I suppose.  As most of you know, I've written some, ah, ehm, adult urban fantasy and other stories under a pen name. I've since taken the two novel-length works and performed some heavy editing/rewriting in order to make them more palatable to the masses. The second story, which will now be the first, did not need much in the way of  rewriting but the first, now the second, needed much work to try and remove some of the more "adult" situations. It is difficult to say the least. I mean, just how do you explain the life of a demon succubus without some adult interpretation? Anyway, that's coming along fine and I'm formulating outlines for book three and four as I write this.

On the suburban homesteading front, I've relocated my entire aquaponics garden operation and am now waiting for the new larger system to stabilize. Although the chemical makeup of the water and PH is all off  right now, it's still producing vegetables and the fish seem happy. I think this speaks volumes from a guy who grew up with a lone superpower to kill every living plant he touched.

I've been posting new videos on youtube about my aquaponics gardening efforts. Stay tuned because I will soon post videos (to go along with planned blog posts) featuring some book reviews, my old typewriter collection, and interviews of interesting people. Well, okay, people I find interesting.

I'm hoping that this short post will represent the beginning of a more regular blogging schedule from me, although I make no promises.