Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do You REALLY Know Them?


Today being Veteran's Day, I wanted thank all the members of the armed forces, from the United States or otherwise, who risk their lives. That said, I won't get into my personal politics, but my father is a veteran, and so are many other men in my family.

It got me thinking about how little I know about my dad's two tours of Vietnam, his time in Korea and Honduras, and his part in Operation Just Cause in Panama. All I knew when I was a kid was that my dad was in the army-- just like most of the other kids I knew. I thought of my dad as a man of superhuman strength and skill. He could fix almost anything, and beat us all at Trivial Pursuit. I knew that when he wasn't around, he was "in the field" or overseas. I knew he jumped out of helicopters and planes with a parachute or sometimes rappelled. But I didn't really KNOW...

Now that I'm an adult, I have a greater understanding of the things my father had to do "in the field". Especially now that his knees and shoulders are shot. And though he never really talks about when he was in Vietnam and Panama, I know what happened there shaped him into who he really is.

The point of this post?

Looking at my dad now, 62, a grandfather, with his Central Mississippi accent, shiny shoes and his creased Dockers he looks a bit like a dandy. I've had room mates make fun of the messages he'd leave on the answering machine:

"Ter-EE-sa, this is your FA-ther. Call me SOON, love." (The printed word cannot do his accent justice.)

"No, my dad is not gay!" I'd have to reassure my two gay room mates. "He fought in wars and had to kill people."

He had to KILL people.

I will never really know this part of my father, and I'm not sure I want to. But I understand, and I feel sympathy that so much of his life revolved around violence. No wonder my mother was the spanker, not him.

There are parts of my father I will never truly know, because frankly, they scare me.

But if my dad was a character in one of my novels, I'd know exactly what happened to him, exactly what he did in those wars. Because those are the actions and situations that shaped him into the man he is today.

A man you'd get a casserole recipe out of before a war story. But he still keeps his shoes shined and wakes up at 0'dark thirty.
Happy Veteran's Day, Daddy.

So...

Do you REALLY know your characters?

15 comments:

Susan R. Mills said...

Touching post. Great analogy to knowing our characters too.

Lisa and Laura said...

Great post! Happy Veteran's Day to your dad!

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks, Susan. I'd been planning a post like this for a while now, it just didn't click into context until this morning.

Lisa, and Laura, my dad would love to hear that, thanks! I need to write myself a note to call him tonight...

ElanaJ said...

Happy Veterans Day to your dad and everyone who's served this country. Great story, I wish I could hear the accent!

Suzyhayze said...

This is BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!

Wonderful post. My middle girl is Teresa. We call her Tess.

I love the simplicity. "He killed people." It is a simple statement made complex by the fact that you said it. Just amazing.

Oh.. and to answer your question... Too well. I know them all TOOOOO well. They scratch out from under my eyelids.

Abby Annis said...

Great tribute to your dad! Happy Veteran's Day, Tere's dad. :)

I think the fact that I still don't REALLY know my characters is part of what's been holding me back in my WIP. I'm working on character interviews right now. It's been interesting.

Tere Kirkland said...

Elana, Suzanne, thanks. I thought this would be a tougher post to write, but it just felt so appropriate today and flowed right out of me. Suzy, I know what you mean... my WiP heroine keeps telling me it's not too soon to open her rough draft, but I keep having to tell her no. :D

Tere Kirkland said...

Abby, you almost did this to me yesterday, posting while I was typing, lol!

Good luck with the character interviews. I have a method I use that sort of goes in reverse.

First you figure out what role the character will play in your story, and what sort of hard decisions they will have to make. Nothing necessarily concrete, mind you, although that does help. Once you know what they are capable of doing, or deciding, you make their personality match.

Maybe you know someone is going to double-cross, and someone else is going to get over their fear of heights. Knowing how they fit into the story makes it easier for me to study archetypes, and then change those archetypes to suit my unique characters.

Yes, this is plotting. But it helps me to think about WHY a character is introduced before I "get to know" them.

Tess said...

a great tribute to your FA-ther ;) love it.

and, sometimes I know my characters better than other times. I tend to skirt the dark ones, but am working on getting better in that part of my craft.

Liana Brooks said...

A wonderful tribute. Thank you, from the wives and soldiers and brats who are still listening to Daddy leave at o'dark thirty. :o)

Abby Annis said...

I'm a ninja in my other life. ;D

Thanks for the tips.

Tamika: said...

Lovely post!

It makes me wonder if I know my characters well enough. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

Krispy said...

Hope you and your dad had a wonderful Veteran's Day! This was such a good post, I had to comment. :)

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks, y'all! Hope you hugged a veteran yesterday. ;)

Stephanie Jenkins said...

Great post, Tere. I have so much respect for veterans and active military. :) Hope your dad had a great Veteran's day and tell him thanks for me!