Birthday: In Which Emmie Becomes a Characterization Guinea Pig

I was thinking today about characterization, and I thought that because it is my birthday, what better way to talk about characterization than by utilizing petite moi?

No really, petite moi.

18 November, 1985: The Day That Created My Insatiable Taste for Cake

Every character has to have a goal, but we’ll focus on protagonists right now — or as the lovely Nila E. White said in her blog today, protags. I like the sound of that. I think I’ll use that as a name for a Viking someday: Protag the Conqueror. And since today’s blog is using me, we’ll go ahead and rename that little one-year-old Emmie. Behold, Protag the Cake Devouring Conqueror.

I’m digressing already. Protag always needs a goal, because she is the most important character in the story. If Protag has no goal, she’ll probably get into something you don’t want her getting into, and then she’ll end up mixing up every variety of grain you bought to make bread with while you’re on the phone until you have a massive amount of wheat berry soup and have to get creative and make muffins with it. Better to just have a goal for Protag. She’s a feisty one if you don’t give her some direction. Give her a goal, and under that umbrella, give her a bunch of little goals. These will help you make scenes!

What if she wants to put her green sparkly ballerina tiara on the cat, but she can’t find the tiara? Then she finds it, but the cat runs away. Disaster! New goal. Ride the dog to chase the cat? Protag needs goals.

God-like Strengths

Protag also should really have some awesome skills and strengths like Napoleon Dynamite. As you can see, baby Protag is seriously awesome at playing that guitar. You can tell by the expression on her face; she knows what she’s doing. Groovy.

So Protag has some goals, and Protag needs strengths to reach those goals, regardless of how many times the cat runs away. If Protag just gives up and starts pulling every book off your bookshelf one by one sitting just out of reach of the phone cord, your book won’t go anywhere either. Remember, Protag exists in a time when phones still had cords. Ah, the good ole days. The book trick wouldn’t work anymore. Protag always knows her context.

This smile makes you weak at the knees. Or it just makes you cringe.

No matter how many riffs Protag can play on her guitar, she always will have some weaknesses. For instance, the propensity to scrunch up her entire face creating multiple chins and call it a smile. Imagine the chagrin of Protag’s mother when a seven-year-old Protag imitated the above smile (complete with missing front teeth) for school pictures that year. Now imagine sending those to the fam.

Protag sure isn’t perfect — she’ll have her moments when you want to just yell at her that the tiara shouldn’t even GO on the cat. But on occasion, those little weaknesses may become endearing, like when you actually see the grouchy snow white cat wearing a sparkly green tiara and think maybe Protag is a genius after all. Regardless, if Protag is going to be well-rounded, she needs strengths and weaknesses working in tandem (and sometimes against each other).

Such a unique little snowflake.

Finally, Protag needs her quirks. She needs those little things that may be a little strange (like pairing a rainbow bathing suit with roller skates in Alaska while the big galumphy giant dog looks on) but that make readers relate to her, even if they don’t one hundred percent like her. It’s how anti-heroes are possible. Without those things, our little Protag would be like a sheer cliff face. Her quirks, strengths, and weaknesses are like handholds you carve out of the rock so that your readers can get to the top. Without them, they’ll just slide back down.

And Protag will never get her cake.

***In case you were wondering, every little anecdote in this blog post is something I actually got up to as a child. It’s a wonder my mother didn’t ship me off to an asylum. If you couldn’t tell, I hated her being on the phone — beyond the books and grain-soup (that actually did turn into some pretty tasty multigrain muffins), once I was all bundled up to go out into the Alaskan cold and sled, and she got on the phone. She took too long, so I stood there, looked her in the eye, and peed. I have a feeling my future children will repay me for that one.***


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on November 18, 2011, in writing process and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Happy birthday!!!

    Ah, I remember my own silly shit. Like sticking a macaroni noodle up my nose because…well, I guess because I thought it was cool. Or eating a handful of redbud seeds because my “best friend” said it was ok, even though she didn’t eat them herself…hmm, that should have clued me in that I had a date with some ipecac syrup and a toilet in the very near future. Or when I wanted to be Joan Jett and took Mom’s sewing shears and lopped of HALF of the hair on my head (I guess I hadn’t really looked that Joan Jett album cover over very carefully), and ended up wearing a hat for the first part of the year in kindergarten. That was, I must say, my year of being the ringleader of the school “circus”–I got to wear a top hat and epaulets, and it was all good. That was the year I also wrote my first book, about the sad little kitty…in space. Perhaps I should cut off all my hair again; it seems to be a spark of creativity? Hmm. Hubby would be mad, though. He likes me with long hair, and my too-round face would look weird with short hair. Perhaps I should cut it metaphorically.

    Anyway, your life experiences, hilarious and odd and everything in between, make you YOU, and we love YOU. Thanks for sharing, you made me giggle and reminisce. My own birthday is in less than a month (December 15th), the big 3-5. Sigh.

    • Thanks, Jessie!

      I definitely did the hair thing too…my best friend and I cut each other bangs and buried the hair under the bathroom rug so no one would find it. Ah, the logic of a six-year-old.

  2. So Owl wrote… and this is what he wrote:
    Pooh looked on admiringly.
    “I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday’,” said Owl carelessly.
    “It’s a nice long one,” said Pooh, very much impressed by it.
    “Well, actually, of course, I’m saying ‘A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh.’ Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like that.”

    So… hipy papy bthuthdth thuthda bthutdy to Emmie! 🙂

  3. Happy Birthday, Emmie. The photos are great. I loved the handhold and carved rock idea – made an excellent image – especially with a protag in a bathing suit and roller states. 😉

    And thanks for the shout out.

  4. Great post, Petite Tu. I am happy so many people saw it! I shared your blog site on my fb page tonight. Just one question: How did you get hold of pics your mama doesn’t have, eh?

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