Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What do I want (my character) to be?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a preschooler, I wanted to be a singer. I stood on the family toy box, hairbrush in hand, imagining myself wearing a formal gown and standing in the spotlight on a huge stage. I’d march along to the music in my mind and belt out, “I’m the Girl Scout of the Americas . . .” I'm not sure why I combined the Miss America Beauty Pageant with the Girl Scouts in my young mind. Hey, I was a preschooler, so please cut me a little slack.

Since I can’t carry a tune even if my life depended on it, I changed my career goal in elementary school to acting. I practiced dying. A lot. Ever seen The Princess Bride? “Only mostly dead” had nothing on me. Alas, my father encouraged me to take up typing . . . just in case.

I’ve always loved books, and by high school, I wanted to be an editor because I needed to earn a living and didn’t believe I could be an author. But my friends’ jeers, “Why on earth would you want to read all day?” and adults’ advice, “You’re good at math and science. You should go into computers; it’s the future,” made me doubt myself. In college, I majored in computer science, followed by speech therapy, and then education. Next, I chose majors in the college of journalism: advertising, magazine journalism, and public relations. After three universities and half-dozen majors, I no longer cared. I just wanted to graduate.

A fun perk about fiction writing is that you can explore many different careers. If you’re interested in learning about something new, or if you think your readers would like to delve into an unusual career, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to “grow up” and become someone else, at least for a little while.

Though David Morrell grew up to become a professor and the author of First Blood, which introduced the world to Rambo, it's possible Morrell writes fiction so that he can try-out the careers he once dreamed of. Morrell is noted for thorough research. His website says he’s “been trained in firearms, hostage negotiation, assuming identities, executive protection, and anti-terrorist driving, among numerous other action skills that he describes in his novels.

I’m not quite as intrepid as Mr. Morrell. If I have a character parachute from an airplane, I may depend on secondary research. I am fortunate three of my college-age children jumped last summer, so I’ll rely on their experience leaving the terra firma. I'm not that adventurous in my primary research. Still, as I zipped along on the back of a motorcycle this spring, I imagined a new character venturing out of her narrow, middle-aged world.

Meanwhile, I’ve started a notebook about careers of the people I know. On a recent trip, I met a physician’s assistant, a realtor, a financial advisor, a missionary, an attorney specializing in cases of imminent domain, a psychologist, an English pub owner, and a glass artist. I can’t wait to interview the artist because I’ve been developing a character who expresses herself through an unusual art form.

What interesting careers have crossed your path lately?

~Roxanne Sherwood


Scoti Domeij, Director, Springs Writers said...

Great post! Your comments about practicing dying and parachuting made me laugh out loud. That picture is adorable. When I was little I dreamed up stories in my mind, even acting them out alone in my room. When I became I teenager I was afraid the voices I heard in my head meant I was crazy. So I made the voices go away. If I'd only known that I was a budding fiction writer!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Take it from me, it's never too late to let those voices go free, Scoti! Come on over to the Dark Side ... they have cookies ...so says the t-shirt slogan.

Great post, Roxanne!