In Knowing Myself, I Know My Characters #WWBC

“I try to build a full personality for each of our cartoon characters—to make them personalities.”—Walt Disney

Happy Wednesday and welcome to the Weekly Writing Blog Challenge! A huge thank you to our host Long and Short Reviews. Be sure to go by and visit them HERE for a list of this week’s participants and info on how you can jump in and participate, too, if you’re so inclined. And have a look around while you’re visiting. There’s a lot going on at LASR!

This week’s challenge topic had me a bit stumped at first because I’ve never really run across a character who reminded much of myself. So, always the color outside the lines type of writer, I decided to put a spin on the initial question. I’m sure anyone who follows regularly realizes this is nothing new for me. Lines? What lines?

While I may not have found a character to date who reminds me much of myself, I do have the tendency to gift my characters pieces of myself. Anyone who knows me sees it. Anyone who doesn’t won’t realize how much of myself I actually give away. I believe I’m not far off base when I say most writers do lend a lot of themselves to their characters. After all we’re the people we know the best. Right?

I’m not sure I subscribe to a genre box at all. In fact, I had the hardest time branding myself for the longest time because I don’t fit in any of the pigeon holes set up by mainstream genre definitions. (You may have noticed my decorator has been by and I have a new look this week.) Technically, I’m a romance writer. Not so technically, I’m a little bit women’s fiction, a dash of suspense/thriller, a pinch of contemporary, a drop or two of military fiction, and a heaping dose of romance tossed in. And honestly, some have questioned whether my definition of what constitutes the romance matches what the mainstreamers constitute the definition as being. I am a firm believer that romance is in the eye of the beholder and is a subjective topic. What romance is to one may not be to another. I think there’s room for all the interpretations, but I digress.

All that being said, the most common thread tying all those things describing my writing together is that normally at least one of the characters in my books has some affiliation to the military in some capacity. About the only exception is my The Delaneys of Delaware trilogy, and that was born of a nod and wink to my husband’s birth place, southern Delaware. It’s no surprise really that I lean toward my characters having some ties to the military. I’m the wife of a Marine who served faithfully for thirty years. He’s only recently retired and we’re still in transition mode, but the ties are still strong and the pull is still there. You can take the Marine Corps family out of the Corps, but you can’t take the Corps out of the Marine Corps family. This is what gives me the unique ability to write anything having to do with that world quite realistically. I have the inside information! Now, that’s not to say I’m the only military wife out there writing and using her unique experiences as fodder. I’m not. We can all draw off the military experience, but the difference between all of us is our own unique quirks, ways of dealing with things, and our perspective. In those things, we find our unique voices.

Now, I’ll share a piece of myself that more than one of my female characters has inherited over the years. I’m notorious for keeping an obsessively clean house. And I do mean obsessively. Living on base meant that you were in a “borrowed” house and at some point, about every three years, you had to check out of it and move on. The house had to be in as good a shape, if not better, than when you moved in. I learned early on, the cleaner you were day to day the easier this process was on the way out. At one point, the final inspections were so stringent the inspector would take a dental mirror and examine the under-side rim of the toilet for any mold residue. Yes, they were that picky. Another thing that tends to happen when you live in community with thousands of others in the same boat as you, you have drop in guests, frequently. I’ve had what I like to call back-door neighbors feel so comfortable with our friendship they’d just come to the back door and walk right on in. Then there were the deployment years. It was my greatest fear during the deployments something bad would happen and the “team” would come to the door and find me in squalor. That was completely unacceptable particularly if the casserole crew began to make the rounds. If your house was dirty, they’d start picking up for you then talk about you over morning coffee the next day.

All those things combined led me to be obsessive when it came to a clean house. If people couldn’t smell bleach and disinfectant and lemon oil when they came through my front, or back, door, I was having a very bad day and shame on me.

That latter reason, the deployment years, that’s one of the things that’s considered off-limits talk among many of the spouses. Rarely have I found another who’d discuss deployment issues and fears quite like I do. I’ve never been one to hide all the dirty little secrets and forbidden fears, or how not friendly the community can be at times. My characters? They face all that and more because although I write fiction that fictitious world must be realistic enough my reader buys into it and feels as thought they’re along for the ride.

Characters that have inherited my penchant for a clean house over the years include Julie from a work no longer available and which I will never re-publish, Ray from For His Country, which I hope to get back up this year, and Calliope from Bridge of Lies, which I also hope to get back up this year. Calliope doesn’t stand a chance when she marries a Marine, an old friend from high school, and moves into her first base house. It’s within the first few hours of living there, the seasoned wives of the neighborhood descend on her and teach her the tricks of the trade in keeping an obsessively clean house. Julie, however, takes the cake. She takes the obsessive tidy notion to a whole level unto itself. Let me share a bit from her story where Mason, the man courting her, figures out Julie’s little secret.

While she’d been clearing the mess away and filling the dishwasher, he’d taken another look at her book shelves. It only took a few minutes to realize he still couldn’t figure out how she had them arranged. There was a clear pattern, but none of the obvious markers made sense. They weren’t alphabetical by title. Was it dates? He couldn’t say without taking some of them down and he knew he’d disrupted her habits enough for one day. In fact, he was treading a fine line between being a friend and an unethical doctor practicing outside the established parameters of mental health. He should probably refer her to one of his colleagues for evaluation and therapy, but he wouldn’t betray her that way. In the last few hours he’d begun to question if there was a line he wouldn’t cross for her.

As he stood studying the books shelves, Julie came from the kitchen and stood beside him. After a few minutes of silence, she explained how it worked. They were separated by the color of binding then alphabetized by author and then by size. Once she pointed it out, he could see it clearly. One colorful mismatched yet perfectly organized wave.

Just before they left, he checked her bathroom cabinet. Although she’d straightened all the bottles and packages into neat rows with all the labels facing the same direction, she hadn’t re-alphabetized them.

Yep, Julie is pretty hard-core extreme with the obsessive tidy thing, but then again, she didn’t take it from no stranger, as my grandma would say.

Thank you for coming by and spending a few minutes with me today! Have you ever found come across a character in your reading who reminded you of yourself? Tell me about it in the comments.

 

18 thoughts on “In Knowing Myself, I Know My Characters #WWBC

    1. Hi Lydia! Thank you. And that would totally be me…never coloring inside the lines with the genre definitions. 🙂 Why do we have to fit neatly inside a box according to industry standards?

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  1. Wonderful post, Dixie! Your post made me reflect on a conversation with my editor years ago. I tend to put pieces of myself into a few of my characters. As an introvert, I do speak more to myself than the outside world, so when my editor kept getting frustrated with my character’s constant “speaking within her mind” attitude, I had to explain the reasoning. Eventually, she did understand after reading the entire story. 🙂

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    1. Writing is such a solo world to begin with, then toss in being an introvert and of course we find ourselves talking to our inner self a lot. We’ve only been living in our new town a short while now and I’ve yet to find my person or a tribe. I totally get what you’re saying! Thanks for stopping by today, Mary.

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  2. We used to joke with my mom about how obsessive she was in regards to cleaning. I’m clean, but nowhere near as clean as she always was.

    Also, I think that genres and subgenres have really merged over the years. It gives us so many more new things to read because of it.

    Quite a well thought out post today!

    My post

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    1. I agree that genres and subgenres have merged quite a lot, but I’m finding that submissions and acquisitions editors aren’t as welcoming of that reality as the readers are. Unfortunate really, and their loss for not being able to see beyond the pigeon-hole door. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Aymee!

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    1. Hi, Tena! Indie publishing has really led the charge on the genre blurring and I think readers are delighted with the results. The only drawback is that it’s a bit harder to define your brand when there isn’t a box to easily fit into. I’m okay with that reality, though! 🙂

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  3. You are certainly not far off when saying many writers use a little of themselves in their characters. Certainly in early books. I still heavily mine my emotions and share those feelings with my characters. It creates authenticity.
    Thanks so much for sharing your military spouse experience. As one myself, I found it fascinating.

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