10 Ways to Avoid “Beige Characters” : #amwriting

character_rotation_by_edmidt

Some characters are meant to take the air from the room and some are meant to be furniture. It is the way of the narrative. The furniture-type I call “beige characters<‘ though there is probably an academic term for them. (Literary zombies?)

“Beige characters” forward the action, appear and recede, help things along, teach something about the main character. As a reader, their names confuse me because they are so “beige,” I can’t remember. I suspected better writers are better at “beige characters.”

However, I feel I’ve missed opportunities to say something about humankind, make the book richer with detail, or just plain entertain when I create those beige characters. I’ve been lazy; I’ve neglected them. I feel terrible.

I started to study “beige characters” in a cross-section of books to see how other authors handled the challenge. I have a whole new respect for “other authors”:

1. Hint the character has a secret. You can eventually give away the secret to the reader if you choose. The simple EXISTENCE of a secret makes a character more interesting and the reader moving forward with you.

2. “Beige characters” can be made attractive to the book by having an unattractive trait. Annoying flat laughter, hairy moles, an odor, a tendency to use adjectives, anything.

3. Create a cognitive dissonance around your ‘beige characters’ – an old guy that sucks on fireballs, a girl who loves heavy metal and knits kleenex box covers – one weird image that will stick every time you have to bring in that character for a little help.

4. Add one detail about clothing that is unforgettable: a orange bra strap, prison pants with penguins on boxers, peds with a hole in the toe

5. Accents are difficult. But if you think you can give your beige character an accent different from other characters, do it. Problem solved.

6. Give a beige character a strange fear: bees, mold, spacecraft abduction, the neighbor takes their hedges while they sleep. Only you know the strange fear you need.

7. A beige character can make an interesting entrance into the narrative that the reader will remember when the beige-ness resumes.

8. A “Beige Character” can be your voice of reason in counterbalance to an unbalanced character. If you choice this route, keep your beige character fairy beige. Think Gatsby and Tom.

9. Beige Characters are often introduced early in thrillers and horror so that they may be killed in different, interesting ways. My research tells me that their introduction often hints at how they will die: example: Mary picked up the knife and said, “I’ll make the salad.”

10. Beige Characters are a lot more important than I ever thought.

MARILYN MONROE READING

images-1                                      By Beth Wareham

(With thanks to feminist biographer Oline Ealon for the title.)

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I have a thing for Arthur Miller. Yup, “Attention must be paid!” Arthur Miller, Mr. Death of a Salesman himself. I can’t explain this crush; his glasses were too large. He was from Harlem, seemed like he knew gangsters, talked like a tough guy, WAS a tough guy and wrote great plays. His creative leap between Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee and the Salem Witch trials in The Crucible was breathtaking. His appearance in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee more so.

His wife, Marilyn Monroe, was by his side as he testified. I never really did see what he saw in her. Not really. All pouty wet lips and whispers. Seemed to me that Arthur would like somebody who pushed back, somebody hyper-real.

Marilyn was all pink bubbles to me, impossible to visualize as the wife of a man like Miller, until, that is, I read about the 430 books catalogued in her library at her death. (Thanks, Booktryst.com)

Holy moly.

I’M IN LOVE WITH THE NERDY MARILYN MONROE.

The list is long and strange and exciting. Zola, Proust and Moliere lived with Harold Robbins (The Carpetbaggers, one of my favorites.) The poetry section was huge, as were books of prayer and spirituality. Goodness Has Nothing to Do with It by Mae West sat by Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story by Quentin Reynolds. She read many plays as well as the ancients: Lucretius, Plato, Aristotle. I list below the books that Marilyn owned and read that I owned and read and loved. And if you don’t love her for her taste in literature, you’ll love her for another title in her library: Pet Turtles by Julien Bronson.

That Marilyn, she had it all.

(Click on title to buy book.)

1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Lady Brett Ashley, love triangles, and the running of the bulls in between the great wars in Europe.

2. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Four books, written between 1957 and 1960, exploring modern love in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.

3. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
You know of this beautifully written book about the sad man with all the money: it’s America.

4. From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
There was good reason James Bond went to film. You’ll find out why here.

5. The Fall by Albert Camus
Jean Paul Sartre’s great frenemy leaves us guessing with The Fall, his most challenging, mysterious work. Camus was in the Resistance against the Nazis, Sartre was not. Rancor ruled.

6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Here are the joys, secrets and strangeness of a small American town in the hands of a master.

7. The Little Engine That Could by Platt and Monk
Who couldn’t use a little “I think I can” everyday of their life. Her copy had a childlike MM scrawled on it and no doubt took the 36-year journey through life with her.

8. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Willa Cather’s cornflower blue eyes saw it all, including this story of one kind of love turning into another.

9. The Collected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
From the woman who said, “what fresh hell is this?” Dorothy Parker’s sharp tongue and command of language never cease to amaze.

10. The New Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer*
A huge all-purpose cookbook, this is America at the supper table with Irma at the head, issuing orders in her no-nonsense voice. Marilyn used the 1952 edition, no doubt.

*This was long before I edited an edition of this book. Marilyn clipped recipes, wrote notes in the margins of cookbooks and cooked. I wish she’d marked her favorites.

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4 Reasons Why “New Adult” Won’t Do: Ebooks

http://bit.ly/1sulljV

The post above from Publisher’s Weekly gave me pause. Could you really parse writing into yet a smaller sub-category? Does something allude publishing that demographics are a part of understanding your market, but do not have to do with story? Only POV?

Were publishers using the great unwashed “self-published” authors – authors they sneered at so frequently — as their test market? Instead of the internet itself? I fear the answers to both questions.

There are 4 simple reasons “New Adult” won’t work:

1. This Side of Paradise
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Tender is the Night
4. The Beautiful and the Damned

He was laying those works down in his 20s. He was writing them in his head at Princeton. He was a NEW ADULT.

Baloney. “New Adult” is a demographic, not a genre. It is a limiting label that will only attract other humans of exactly the same moist confused age of “New Adulthood.” Who would want to go back to the moment where you have a diploma but don’t know how to pay a utility bill?

Don’t make little warm pools of writers so it is easier to market. Don’t label books unnecessarily. The internet is made up of all kinds of data that really does work to sell books. You put it in the secret places, not on the book jacket. It leads your audience to your book rather than keeping readers away.

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