Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pungent Characters

Shrek: For your information there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Donkey: Example.
Shrek: Example? Okay, um…ogres are like onions.
Donkey: (Sniffs) They stink?
Shrek: Yes. No.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.
Shrek: No!
Donkey: Oh, you leave them out in the sun and they get all brown and start sprouting little white hairs.
Shrek: NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it. We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers, oh. (Sniffs) You know not everybody likes onions. Cake! Everybody loves cake. Cakes have layers.
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone likes. Ogres are not like cakes.

If you’ve ever cut into an onion, you’ll know what Shrek and Donkey are talking about.

If you’re an author and you haven’t cut an onion, get off your lazy butt and do it. It will help improve your understanding of characters in general.

Let's dissect an onion or two:

The white onion had one core at its very center. The layers fattened by mere degrees from the center outward. The flesh of each layer was white, almost translucent. The spray smelled pungent and sweet. It stung my eyes and I cried. The white papery skin crumbled as the knife passed through it.

The purple onion had two cores, both off center and close to one another. They were rimmed in green. The layers increased in size as the other onion’s did, but were always smaller on side the cores were closest to and thicker on the side farthest from the cores. A purple hue painted the flesh on the outer edges of each layer and faded to a dirty white on the inner edges. The spray smelled the same as the white’s and I cried again. The deep purple, papery skin crumbled just as the other onion did.

To get the whole experience I even tasted a bit of each. The white held a sweetness the red didn’t but I would go eating either of them like apples. And I know next time I see an onion I am NOT going to eat it raw. The stench of onion lived in my skin for hours. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it out.

Like onions, every character has a core. Some are duplicitous and off balance like the red onion, but most have that one central element that makes them human—yes, even our preternatural species and alien life forms are human at their core, dogs and cats aren’t writing our stories, humans are.

We create from what we know.

Need. Desire. Sorrow. Fear. Love.

Reliability is what makes us root for our heroes and heroines.

You have a character that’s built of superficial papery skin and no flesh or core, you have a character no one will care about.

Because the thin papery skin a well rounded character is wrapped in, is always the first thing to go.
That skin is called Safety. We plunge our characters into life altering scenarios, and expect them to slough of several layers of flesh before they find themselves.

Our characters must try and fail, until they are nothing but pulp stinking under a hot sun leaving their core unprotected.



It is then that they find themselves.

Sometimes the reader cries.  

The character’s failure leaves a taste that scares a reader’s memory, and holds their attention long after they've finished the novel.

A character’s success brings the reader home. It lets them breath.

The journey often leads the reader to an understanding of themselves.

One that might have been buried too deep beneath the layers they’ve wrapped around themselves.

You want successful stories, you need characters who are onions.

Sure cake is sweet, layered with frosting, but does it mark your skin and leave an aftertaste on your tongue. Have you ever cut a cake that stung your eyes and made you cry (wedding cake does not count here.)?

I don’t know about you, but I want my characters to burrow into the memories of my readers like the scent of an onion. I want a reader left thinking about my heroes/heroines long after they close the book.

They can eat cake afterward.

Happy Reading. Happier Writing—pungent characters.



Melissa said...

This post was amazing! Seriously. I want my characters to be pungent too.

And what dedication actually trying a bit of each!!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Very interesting analogy. You're right we should all try this.

Just to let you know I didn't make the quarter finals in ABNA. I did have good reviews, but the sexual inferences turned then off. At least they liked my writing.