Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Writing: Characterization

In fiction, what makes for good characterization? There are as many answers to this question as there are readers. Let’s face it – we all have our personal preferences.

I write character-driven fiction. Meaning, the things that happen in the stories I write are determined in a large part by the characters themselves. Their quirks, their foibles, their dreams, their fears, their love, their loathing, their arrogance, their denials. I have to know the inner worlds of all of my characters in order to know how they will react to a given catalyst. The forks they choose determine the next stop along the road, which presents a new set of choices, then another, and another. Infinite possibilities.

Other authors will tell you they write plot-driven tales into which they drop a very carefully selected character. Neither method is better than the alternative. It all depends on what works for the author in question.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to remember one thing about the characters you are creating: in another world—their world, however fictional—they are real. Or they should be. They have lives that revolve around them, lives filled with people they like, people they love, and people who rub them the wrong way for oh-so-many-reasons. They have hopes for their future, dreams they have forgotten, and regrets that run too deep to be forgotten so easily. Early in her adult years, a woman might be in a maiden stage of her life, where love and the mating game rules her thoughts. The men she chooses to tarry with reflect back upon her, how she feels about herself and the way she fits into the world. Or perhaps she moves quickly into the mother stage, where nurturing and taking responsibility for those around her takes all of her time and energy. Is she married, and if so, what kind of man did she choose as her lifemate? Is he strong and protective, willing to risk life and limb and personal dreams in order to support his family? Or is he still stuck in a rut {pun intended, heh}, playing reindeer games best left to those without ties? What paths do they choose, together and separately? How do they relate to those around them, and why? Or perhaps your female lead is moving into the crone years. Her nest is empty of any children she’s raised, and her life might now be stretching before her. Is it filled with possibilities, or do her regrets swell to unbearable levels? Has her marriage stood the test of time, or is she alone, and how does she feel about it? Is she watching the world pass her by and wondering why she can’t fall into step, too? Or is she making her own way, taking time for herself, dreaming again the dreams she might have set aside?

So many possibilities.

As for me, the characters that whisper their tales in the night are why I am a writer. Their lives intrigue me enough to want to find out what happens next. Some characters are like best friends, others make me roll my eyes. The actions of a few make me cringe, while others make me want to shake my head and gnash my teeth. But always, their humanity is what I find most fascinating.

So, yeah. Paint mine in bright colors, please. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them rejoice. Make them regret. Make them happy, sad, reluctant, zealous, driven, alcoholic, workaholic, commitment-phobic, animal loving, meat-eating, nookie addicted, shopping frenzied, bill worried, what have you...

Just make ‘em real.

Love to all,

Mad {madly!}

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ghost Hunting: Mad's Quickie Guide to Hauntings

It has been my experience that many people who don't make a personal habit of investigating the paranormal on a formal or even an informal basis often tend to lump spirit activity under one all-encompassing heading: Hauntings. Actually, this activity can and should be broken down further into the following subheadings:

Poltergeist – The word poltergeist finds its roots in the German language, and essentially means "noisy ghost." And that's it, in a nutshell. Poltergeist activity can run the gamut from noises like knocks or bangs, scattered objects, broken objects. Furniture might move or shake, items might disappear only to reappear in another location, seemingly without human intervention. People who find such activity within their sphere have been poked, prodded, scratched, pushed, whispered to. Poltergeist energies might be short in duration, but others can endure for years; each case is different. What causes this type of activity is open to interpretation. Oftentimes the activity will be centered around one person in the family, possibly a teenager in the throes of hormonal upheaval, or another family member who is undergoing emotional trauma. At other times, the activity can actually be attributed to several entities who pool their energies together in order to manifest change in the environment . . . which means, this activity can overlap other categories. See below.

Residual Haunting – A residual haunting has oft been likened to a recording of energy from a past event, an impression that replays itself over and over again. This type of haunting is one of the most common – just think of all the reports of "grey ladies" and "crying" or "screaming" spirits from castles across Europe. Buildings and even the land itself can serve as a kind of battery or recording device for such energies over time. Any violent or traumatic act that generates extremely high levels of emotion has the potential to generate future residual hauntings. Another factor might be the sheer number/volume of energies that visit a given place – residual hauntings that do not derive from traumatic events seem to take place most often in places that receive a lot of "focused" human traffic – such as churches, schools, hospitals, hallways, staircases. This type of "haunting" is more akin to a movie scene that has been set to repeat, and often the energies recur at the same time of day or year. It is generally not considered a true haunting, because there is no interactivity of the energy with the human activity surrounding it. There have been theories about the interplay of dimensions and linear time and how we might occasionally perceive them, but that's another topic.

Intelligent or Interactive Haunting – Human – This is what most paranormal investigators will consider a "true" haunting situation – when a location or person or object has an attachment by an entity who has intelligence and free will and can interact with its situation and the humans inhabiting the location. The spirit can manifest in many ways: as an apparition {grey haze, sparkles, shimmering space, actual human representation}, as sounds, by movement, by affecting the electrical and/or mechanical equipment in the vicinity. Most importantly, though, they are aware of you, and can acknowledge your presence by trying to communicate with you. Like the humans within your personal sphere of consciousness, these spirits can be benevolent; they can be playful; some seem to be upset and might even act out, depending on their reasons for them being where they are. Most of the time, you will find that they were once human. Generally speaking, they are not confined to one location in a building/physical location, although you might find they have prefered spots to manifest. They seem best able to manifest between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. {the Witching hours, LOL...}. Few are strong enough to show themselves physically during the day, although they may make themselves known in other ways, especially with those who are sensitive/intuitive. Why are they there? There could be several reasons. Perhaps the home/ land/object once belonged to them, and they feel they belong to it. Pride of place/ownership can be very strong, perhaps especially so for people in years past, when ownership was not possible for so many. Perhaps they lost someone very important to them and remain in "wait" mode for that person to return to them. Perhaps they are confused and don't know they have passed over. Perhaps they fear fully crossing over due to their religious belief systems in life. Perhaps they suffer from extreme guilt and don't feel they deserve to let go of that. Perhaps they have "unfinished business" left over from their life experience. Some spirits may actually be random "fly-bys" who are attracted to the energy and spiritual openness of a resident of the home, possibly a child, without a doubt someone who is sensitive to energies or who has mediumistic abilities {whether they are aware of this ability or not}. The trick is in discovering the why behind the presence.

One thing to consider: we sometimes confuse contact from our own Spirit Guides as evidence of an intelligent haunting. :)

Intelligent or Interactive Haunting – Non-human – The most controversial category, anything that falls within this type of activity is without a doubt the most unnerving, amazing, and in some cases, frightening examples of spirit contact a person can experience. There are many different types of entities that might qualify under this heading: Shadows {both tall and small}, the Fae, Elementals/Earth Spirits. The Angels and demons of Christian theology. Some paranormal investigators don't believe in dark entities such as demons – they maintain that there is nothing inhuman about such entities, there are only flawed former humans intent upon wreaking malice and hatred upon the living, continuing the behavioral patterns of their former life. Others maintain that non-human entities, both dark and light, do exist. People do tend to believe absolutely only in those things they have personal experience with, and perhaps that is as it should be.

I hope this helps you to understand the main types of spirit activity that one can encounter. I think perhaps the most important thing to remember is to treat spirits with the same kind of respect and dignity that you would afford another human being. Just as with people, some are fun, some are harmless but annoying, and some just need to be given wide berth. :)

Love to all,

Mad {madly!}