Thursday, June 4, 2009

Creating Characters: Making yours live a full life

My toughest editor, Panda
Writing fiction is a funny thing. It requires a fair amount of manipulation, while trying to be spontaneous at the same time. One worries about whether or not their characters are living full lives, express a range of emotions. So yes, we stress as we write, especially in the final 55,000 word $*(#$&*! draft.

I was thinking of this when I took a break and went surfing. I came across a dynamic man who was a novelist's dream. His name was Major Steve Hutchison. He re-enlisted in the Army after having been retired for 17 years. During this time he earned advanced degrees in psychology, became a university professor, met the love of his life and was by her side through her cancer (which she would die from), worked in corporate health care and then decided to re-join the Army. He was deployed to Iraq. Anyway, sad thing is that he died from the wounds of an IED. While the press gave him the distinction of being the oldest soldier killed at age 61, amid his peers they didn't think about his age, but loved him for his unfailing leadership coupled with pranks.
"He’d often strut to the shower in nothing more than tighty-whiteys, even with females around. When he passed younger soldiers on runs, he did so in non-regulation short-shorts, with pride. He never, ever secured his chin strap on his Kevlar helmet.

Once, he was so mad at the Army’s attention to uniform detail, he didn’t wear a T-shirt to a base ceremony.

"That was awesome," Nestor said. "Man, I laughed so much that day. He didn’t take any BS."

In one of his biggest capers, he adopted a dog. A stray crossed his path and from then on, Hutchison brought it scraps from breakfast, lunch and dinner. He wrote a memo authorizing the dog as a member of the unit and requesting it get shots from the base’s vet. He signed it himself.

Soon his boss, Col. Warren Perry, learned of the transgression. Hutchison merely did what so many soldiers do when caught breaking the rules: He lied.

He said he’d get rid of the dog, but he found the pooch a foster home. It didn’t work out. When he sneaked the dog — he’d named it Princess Leia — back on base, Perry was back on his case.

"I said, ‘They can only make you retire again, sir,’" Rieckmann said with a laugh."
So let's recount all the interesting things: the college professor, the love of his life, losing her, the tighty whiteys, the issuing of a memo, the lying to a superior, the dog named Princess Leia. The fact that a dog is added into the mix punches the reader in the gut. That it's all true, is simply inspiring.

In the final analysis you can say, "Gosh, I really like this guy. He's watchable. I wish I had known him." It's every writer's dream.
Princess Leia arrived from Basra on June 1. (She is now living in Michigan with his friends. Was transported by the Humane Society) Read: Loved Ones Meet Fallen Soldier's Dog | | Washington, DC |

Read the rest of the fine article at Stars and Stripes.
And check out Baghdad Pups, the program run by the SPCA International that helps to bring soldier's dogs back home. While the transport cost per adopted dog is around $4k, these dogs are often the touchstone for the soldiers who are in incredibly scary situations. If you can, send them a few bucks.