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Sep
09

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

If you’ve been following Irving’s Journey, you’ve noticed that my first eight posts revolved around a fictional yarn authored by me. There’s a reason for that. People love stories. And I too gravitate toward human interest blogs. I read informational posts as well, but people’s day to day drama has always intrigued me. That’s why I write about it.

I wish I could tell you my personal life is full of exciting and perilous adventures. It once was. It isn’t now. My present journey is fairly stable and somewhat predictable. I’ve intentionally shaped it that way. This gives me space to investigate details and subtleties of the human mind, and comfortably dream the dreams that authors dream. Dramas constantly buzz in my head, and I collect others from what might be called “real life.” Then I reshape them, insert attitude, and present the stories to you. What a fun way to row through life!

Post #9 begins a new series. As before, it’s about love, sex, fears, desires, our ups, our downs, and the changing conditions of our times. For the next twelve posts I’ll be commenting more about writing tools and technique than theme and content. Of course you are free to address the plot and scenes and tell me what they mean to you. But since this scenario is more complex than story #1, I’m thinking that my second story’s implications will be more evident. Perhaps more universally agreed upon. Still, I invite all discussion about my character’s behavior and what they are trying to achieve.

One final note before we begin: Since I’m writing narratives, and you’re reading them, I am quite aware that spacing the sections apart by seven days interrupts the reading flow and decreases your engagement with the story. If you’re hooked, you want to keep “turning pages”. Waiting a week for a resolution is not satisfying and it’s easy to lose interest. I wish I could post more often, but if I do that I’ll run out of content. I’m writing ahead while maintaining a job, and I’m polishing and polishing, getting it as good as I can before publishing to this blog. I just can’t go any faster. That said, I do know that many of you continue to check in each week to follow the story and read my writing notes. I thank you all for coming to visit, and I do hope you’re getting what you want from this blog.

From time to time I’ll be publishing mid week about stuff that just comes up, AS it comes up, unrelated to the story series. So keep a look out for it.

 So here we go, story #2: “KINDNESS.”

 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – Just what is that?    [Part 1 of 12]

The bathroom mirror is steamed again, clouded from the hot spray of a half hour shower, warm and kind like a mother’s soothing song. And who is within it, inviting tranquil liquid jets to bounce off his face? It’s Mark Sidwell, and he’s thinking. He’s thinking about everything. Mark’s a thinker. And he keeps those thought inside. It wasn’t always this way. He used to talk more. Now he doesn’t.

 

*****

 

Roque lowers his spoon into a bowl of Lucky Charms as he scrutinizes the screen of his notebook computer. He doesn’t notice, nor does he care, that as cereal transfers from bowl back to mouth, sugary milk plops onto his keyboard, already crusted with crumbs from previous breakfasts. Yes, it’s another typical kitchen morning at Mark and Roque’s, roommates and best buddies since the forth grade. And like all mornings, Roque is lost in dating sites. Today being Thursday, it’s BuddyPic’s site, and the scanning of twenty-something female portraits with pseudo net names published to get rated one to ten. Hopefully, if their photo’s “hot” enough and north of eight, they’ll get IM’ed from some awesome cute dude who doesn’t lie, cheat or steal. Roque would not fit into that category. Sure, he’s nice, on occasion. And honest, most of the time. Even awesome, in a mental kind of way. But cute? By today’s standards – nada, unless your mom was a pudgy Panda. You see, Roque is wide, like two-airplane-seats wide. And Roque doesn’t understand that hair cuts help an appearance, as well as ironed shirts, clean socks and a shave at least once a week. Roque hasn’t figured any of that out, even with finishing four years of college in two and a half. What Roque has figured out, is software code. And he’s making six figures writing it at home at the ripe old age of twenty-three.

Roque whips his gaze to the doorway leading to the rest of their messy apartment. “Hey! Mark!” he shouts to the walls. “Get your showered ass in here!”

Moments pass. A young man meanders into the kitchen belting his pants. His brown hair, about two inches long, is still wet and uncombed. That look would drop Mark onto BuddyPic’s “cute” list, because he is, in a slim boyish way. And like his roommate, he’s twenty-three, but a “young” twenty-three.

Milk dribbles from Roque’s lips. His spoon wipes it away as he throws a glance back to Mark. “I think you broke your record, dude. That was thirty seven minutes. What else were ya washin’ in there?”

That remark is ignored, a general rule in this house when it comes to answering Roque. “Leave me anything?” Mark asks, tucking his shirt into tan chinos.

Roque grabs the cereal box. Shakes it. No sound from inside. “Guess not.”

No surprise. Mark opens the fridge, finds a carton of juice and drinks what’s left out of the box. It’s every man for himself. And in this apartment the arrangement works.

Roque extends a cell phone in his direction. “Take my picture.”

“Can’t. I’m late.”

“Hey! Buddy! You promised! I need an update. Like now!”

“You don’t look any different than last week.”

“I’m minus four pounds. C’mon!”

Mark impatiently grabs the phone and sets it to camera mode. Roque poses, looking about as sexy as a hammocked walrus. Mark frames the image. Click. Done. He hands back the phone. Roque won’t take it.

“Another one.”

“Roque, I’m gonna be late!”

“It’s for Hot or Not!”

Mark sighs, aims the camera again, snaps photo number two.

“One more,” Roque demands.

“But it came out fine!”

“One more for Face the Jury.”

“Can’t you use the same picture?”

“No! I have different names.”

“But you look the same.”

“Take the friggin’ picture!”

Marks takes the friggin’ picture, and drops the phone on the table.

“Dude…” Roque continues, his attention returning to the girls on his screen. “Why don’t you join? You’d score.”

Mark lifts his knapsack from the chair and heads for the door.

“Hey! Are you ever gonna try to hook up?”

Again, no answer. Mark left.

 

*****

 

Mark Sidwell climbs into his ’06 Nisson Altima and backs out of his apartment garage. His car’s beat up. But it gets him to work.

A few minutes later he’s driving down streets of Burbank. Something ahead catches his eyes. It’s a woman standing next to her car in the road. He decelerates. She’s not moving. Just looking down, hands on hips, at what appears to be a flattened rear tire.

Mark slowly cruises by, passing long red hair lifting in the breeze and the slender shape of a woman dressed in a short skirt and tight lacy blouse. This is reason enough to stop, but he can’t. It’s a work day, and someone else will help her. So he drives on, with quick glances to his rear view mirror.

A half block away, she still hasn’t moved. Her arms drop to her side. She looks helpless. She is helpless. Mark pulls to the curb and stops, continuing his surveillance. After a minute of yes-no, go back-can’t, Mark puts his car in gear and makes a U-turn. Seconds later he’s walking toward the problem. She turns, and for the first time, Mark sees a face. And wow! What a face! An older face. But not too old. A Jennifer Aniston type old, like the sexy girl next door.

“Oh! Thank you for stopping!” she exclaims. “I’ve got a flat, and I need to get to the vet right away!”

Something moves in the car. Mark darts a glance to the driver’s side. A little black dog bounces behind the wheel, smudging dog snot against the glass in vertical gooey streaks. His eyes return to the lady. “Can’t ya call the auto club?” He steps closer to the flat, inspects it.

She sighs. “I never joined. Didn’t think I’d need it.”

“Oh…” That’s all he says, because now he’s expected to change a tire on a super heavy Lincoln Town Car, with no time to do it. He checks his watch. She knows what that means.

“Please help me,” she begs. “No one else stopped and my dog’s really sick!”

Mark looks back into the car. Bouncy Beast seems happy as heck.

“It’s not Bijou,” she explains. “It’s Val. He’s on the back seat. He’s not walking anymore! See?” She points to rear window, moisture seeping from her eyes.

“Ya can’t call a cab?”

“It’ll take too long. They’re waiting for him now! Will you drive us? I’ll pay you!” She opens her car. Bijou leaps over her purse into the street. “Bijou! NO!” she hollers. Doggie hightails it straight for an open garage two houses away. “Bijou! No visiting! Get back in the car!”

Mark lets out a quite “Oh boy…” knowing he’s caught in a time consuming drama.

Bijou skids to a stop, sniffing busted water gutters, shriveled bushes and oil leak stains in the crackled driveway. This house needs work.

“Back in the car!” she commands, holding back panic.

In a dog’s world, ‘Back in the car!’ means nothing until you’ve peed on everything you’ve sniffed. So having finished her business, little Bihou scampers back to the car and hops in. Behind her, lying limp on the back seat, looking sick as a dog, is a sick dog. And below his dangling paws, lies a puddle of dog vomit. This big old retriever, with soulful brown eyes raised to Mark, silently asks, “Mr. New Person, can you help me?”

Our lad turns to the lady in peril. She’s writing a check. “You don’t have to pay me.” he says. “Where’s your vet?”

To be continued…09/16/2011

 

Let’s talk about character development. How does a writer create fictitious personalities that seem real in the reader’s mind? How do writers make a character sympathetic and engaging? Authors do this by emulating the same character traits we respect in our day to day lives. What are they? SACRIFICE is a big one. A character who puts someone else’s needs before his own is generally respected. GENEROSITY, COMPASSION, KINDNESS, ACCEPTANCE OF OTHERS, PATIENCE, CONTROL OF ANGER, HUMILITY, HONESTY  and HUMOR – all of these qualities attract us to people in the real world; and that same criteria works for making a connection with our heroes on the page.

Another tool of engagement is IDENTIFICATION. How closely does a character feel like someone you know, or even yourself? If your scribed behavior is believable because the motivations are in place, your reader will trust your truth and follow the story. But remember, your characters have to be real and consistent to maintain the suspension of belief. Your character’s attitudes will shift through her arc, but her thinking has to be grounded within her core logic. Contradictions within a core personality will destroy the credibility of your protagonist. You really have to do your homework in this regard. You have to KNOW your characters, and you have to take the time to realistically build them from the inside, out.

Okay. What about Mark, Roque and Bridget, the three main characters of KINDNESS? We’ll start with Mark. How was he put together? He starts out with a mystery. Why is he introverted? Its a dramatic question. We then see that he accepts his roommate’s egocentric behavior like a loving brother. Mark is non-confrontational, maybe even non-judgmental. And he’s generous with his time. He sacrifices it to take Roque’s pictures. And later he again makes a sacrifice to take a sick dog to a veterinarian. How many people go out of their way to help strangers? Not enough. And when we see examples of this, it makes us believe the world has compassion. We yearn to see more of it. We want kindness to exist. So create that in your stories and people will read them.

About Roque: He’s a lovable slob. As the story progresses you will read how Roque is constantly inquiring about Mark’s life, again as a brother would. Roque CARES about Mark, and he is also generous, which will be described in coming segments. Most of all though, Roque is the clown of the story; the Jerry Lewis to Mark’s Dean Martin. And beyond that, Roque is shockingly honest about everything, including his craving for Froot Loops and porn flicks.

Bridget is a much more complex and conflicted character as you will discover. We don’t know much about her in this first scene accept that she is willing to pay for Mark’s time and effort. Her character is also built upon other positive attributes like responsibility, caring, empathy and loving dogs. Her fears should mirror some of yours and mine.

So here’s the question every author asks: Even at this point, do you care enough about these character’s to take their journey?

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5 comments

  1. Edwin Tucker says:

    I would use the word “interested”. I care about the characters in the sense that I am interested in them. The narrative draws me in immediately. I am anxious for the next episode. In the notes it is stated that contradictions can destroy the credibility of a character. I suppose that this may be so, if one means that the character acts in a way that is out of tune with the person that has been presented. But that does not mean that we cannot have a character that has contradictions within himself . Look at Mark, he is “kind”, and he feels a compulsion to stop and help the woman with the disabled car, but he hopes to be able to avoid it, he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t want to make himself late for work. Once he stops to help he realizes that this will not be a simple over and done with action, and it is obvious that his heart is sinking – but then now he is committed. Conflicting drives are at work within him. We identify with that, the description of what is going on within him, and how the stopping to help now embroils him into more than just changing a tire. We have all been there, and the narrative calls those experienced emotions back to life. Now we are eagar to read of his response, to see what happens.
    On another note, I find it very enjoyable to have to receive just sections of the story at a time. One gets to experience the joy of anticipation, and one is compelled to really live with the story. The last story has stayed with me in a way that it might not have had I read it in just one sitting. Think of all the great novels that were issued as installments in magazines!
    So, I am really interested in the characters (except for the women as I know little about her – well she likes dogs but all women these days are nuts about dogs) and am waiting for the next episode with great anticipation.

    1. Irving H. Podolsky says:

      In response to your comment, the main thrust of this blog is about understanding people so one can write credible characters. So yes, one can present a character with contradictions, as you said. Mark however, does not have contradictions within his motivations. He does have choices to make. And those choices are contradicting what he wants to do.

      So lets talk about a character IN contradiction. The Mayor of the last story was honorable in his political life but dishonorable in his personal life. As a liberal politician, he defended his causes and refused to sell out or lie about them. Yet as a husband and father, he cheated on his wife and neglected his son. Good boy – bad boy all in the same package – a contradiction. Now if you asked the Mayor about this, he would tell you one thing had nothing to do with the other. And in his mind, this is correct. He has compartmentalized his two worlds and rationalized his contradiction in values.

      However, if you dig a little deeper you will see than these seemingly contradictory behaviors are generated by the same deep need for renewed validation. Helping others gains respect. Being desired by multiple women makes him feel he matters. It’ all about feeling good about himself. This is his core motivation and this inner drive cannot be superficially altered without explanation and a realistic catalysis for change. It would take some huge event to make that happen, like having his entire career and reputation squashed, as I wrote in the last scene of last story.

      Now a CONFLICTED character is somewhat easier to figure out, at least for me. A conflicted character may have a fear of heights, but is faced with a situation where she must climb a tree to save a child. She becomes conflicted: should she climb the tree, or not climb the tree? She climbs the tree, overriding her fear. Another example: A man falls in love with a married woman. His conscience tells him she is off limits but the woman wants to have an affair. The man is conflicted. Should he override his conscience and love her in secret? Or stay away from her and maintain his moral rules? He does not break his rules.

      I wrote Bridget as a conflicted character, which will be slowly revealed segment by segment. So stay tuned in.

  2. Edwin Tucker says:

    Who at some time does not break their own rules?
    Daniel Boone , a man with one foot in the world of the Indians and one in the world of the whites, a man whose “rules” were to reconcile and avoid violence, allowed himself
    to be swayed to participate in a punitive expedition against the Shawnee because his detractors accused him of cowardice ( a most absurd accusation!). The raid was a dissastor for the whites (who also ignored Boone’s tactical advice) and resulted in the death of one of Boone’s sons. He carried regret and remorse for his having given in for the rest of his life. My point being that even a man of such stature may at some time violate their own code.
    In the story of the Mayor, I would say that he does not come accross as a great leader for liberal causes, but rather as a political opportunist.
    Who is he who is hews to morality at all times and in all aspects of life.
    A great failing of the Mayor was maybe his inabilty to effictively compartmentalize his life.
    He could not contain his addiction and allowed it to overwhelm him.ET

  3. Jerry's cousin says:

    I like these characters. They are people that we run into weekly. They all have different backgrounds that make them the people they are. However, you as the author, can change them at the stroke of a pen. So we shall wait and watch to see how you form them. Will Roque, lose wt and become the “cute” guy that all the girls like? Will it make him happy or sad, for whatever reason, you decide? Will Mark reveal why he is so introverted? Will Bridget be the girl that turns him around and causes him to open up? Will Bridget introduce him to the lady of his dreams? Or will Bridget meet Roque and think he is the answer to all her dreams? Will they become a 3-some, like “Three’s Company” or become sexual wildcats? It’s all up to you, Irving.
    Until the next installment – I’ll be waiting – – –

    1. Irving H. Podolsky says:

      Yep! All of the above.

      Well… Almost all…

      Get ready for a wild ride.

      Irv

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