Friday, March 5, 2010

Every writer needs a Fat Head

We named him Fat Head. If you had ever seen him walking around you'd have understood. His head was like, more than twice the size of his hind quarters. He wasn't our cat. Fat Head wasn't anyone's cat. We was an unaltered male (that's what the vet called him and I like that phrase, I totally know guys like that ;)) and since we live in a country neighborhood, he had a path that he wandered. At first we saw him now and then. So we put food out and he came by to visit more often. Then one day he showed up and half his head was missing! (Turns out it was fur, the cat lady down the street had cleaned him up after a fight, and shaved his head!) After that we decided to tame him.
Slowly we brought him along, by this winter he began coming in our house to eat and often to sleep where it was warm. Every evening and morning we'd see his face in our door wanting to be fed. He said nothing. He really didn't do anything but his wants and personality were fully conveyed in that one moment when we saw him.

Every writer needs to try to create characters that do that for their readers. Characters that, when they pop up the reader knows them. Characters that people care about - I am telling you I have read plenty of books where if the character had shown up with half his or her head missing, I'd have thought - maybe THAT will make them more interesting.

How do you make Fat Headed characters? You make them memorable. Give them a need that the story/other characters/readers relate to. Give them a distinct characteristic. Give them a history, even if it's a mysterious history and a context(IOW don't give the impression they appeared out of nowhere and will go back to it or worse that they are operating in a vacuum, make them relate to the setting and action). These things give them a presence so distinct that even without a word you know they are on the scene. This makes them your Fat Head.

Fat Head showed up injured this week we decided he was our responsibility and took him to the vet. He had feline lukemia and the vet said he needed to be allowed to go peacefully. It's been a sad week but because of him I am actually ready to adopt another cat soon, I miss having a big lug around.
Fat Head had a great life at our house. We fed him bits of steak. We cared about him. We may have been the only humans who did and it breaks my heart we had to be the ones to decide that Tuesday was his last day on earth.

But I will always remember him. And next time I am not getting a character right, I'll ask myself, 'How can I turn this guy into a Fat Head?' and I will smile.