Friday, September 11, 2015

Creating Quirky Characters by Robert and Darrin McGraw



            Quirky characters add spice to a story and can also be used as a source of tension.             

In Animal Future, Darrin and I began with the premise that in the near future, an unexplained phenomenon has caused some species to become intellectually elevated to the point that they are classified “provisional humans” and can hold down human jobs. Although our book is a humorous action-thriller, there is an important sub-text that asks: if the “Elevation” actually occurred, how could two very different populations learn to get along with each other?

            We start with a chimpanzee character.  But there immediately we have a problem: chimpanzees wearing clothes are a cliché. We counter that by taking it a step farther and making our chimp, Mr. Brian, even more “clothed” than a human would be. He’s a “bespoke” (custom) gentleman’s tailor with a deep knowledge of the fashion industry. Naturally, a high-end clothier like Brian wears high-quality suits, French cuff shirts , and silver cuff links.  He speaks impeccable English  and is unfailingly polite. We then put pressure on those traits when Brian and two humans, Autumn and Mack, go on the run from terrorists trying to kill them. Having to sleep in a zoo, go without showering, and sweat profusely while battling to stay alive will strain anybody’s fastidiousness and courtesy. Sometimes it’s Autumn and Brian in conflict with Mack; at other times it’s Brian and Mack in conflict with Autumn.

            Brian also has to learn to appreciate the quirkiness of humans. Mack, a rough-edged but pragmatic spy with a wisecrack for every situation, thinks in divergent ways that don’t match Brian’s honest and conservative nature. Brian begins to learn to solve problems, though, by changing his thinking.

            Autumn, the Vietnamese-American policewoman who is fleeing with them, has her own quirks, among them an interest bordering on reverence for the cultural history of Vietnam (unlike the rest of her Westernized family, ironically). Brian, however, is an entrepreneur who looks very much to the future. As an “elevated” Provie, he has little sense of the history of his species, and therefore can’t understand or appreciate Autumn’s dedication to the past. We put pressure on this trait by having him switch identities with a chimp employee at the zoo, where Brian begins to see that it can be helpful to know how things worked in the past. 

            Brian has stupendous latent physical strength and aggression, but ironically, he has to be encouraged by humans to get in touch with his ape side in order to eventually become a hero.

            In short, in this example we build up the quirkiness of the character by:

-          Making traits more extreme
-          Giving them conflicting traits
-          Giving them traits that go against expectation
-          Placing them in situations and with characters who test or strain those traits

         The next time you deal with someone whose quirkiness is irritating or downright maddening, just remind yourself, “Hey, I can use this in my next book!”
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KINDLE


KOBO
https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/animal-future

NOOK

iBOOKS
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/animal-future/id945456314?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4%2522
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Animal Future
(Book 1)

In this quirky, thoughtful, action-filled novel, a female cop, a well-dressed chimpanzee, and a spy are on the run from shadowy assassins armed with machine guns, drones, missiles, and two-inch fangs.

Since the mysterious Elevation of animal intelligence, San Diego has been flooded with immigrant animals and society has changed. Officer Autumn Winn wants to leave the Tactical Assault squad and become an expert on her Vietnamese heritage. But first she has to prove she’s not guilty of murdering her partner. To do that, she has to rescue the kidnapped wife of the chimpanzee tailor Mr. Brian.

In the process she is forced to cooperate with Mack Davis, a good-looking but smart-mouthed operative trying to stay alive long enough to retrieve his digital wristband with its vital data, and also discover the secret of a jade figurine he just transported from Singapore.

As they race to find Brian's wife, the trio must navigate a colorful landscape of characters including a comical pair of ferrets; a wealthy human socialite; a chimpanzee paramilitary commander; and Urizen, the deranged king of underground intelligence in Southern California.

(Watch for Animal Future  (Book 2) to be published in November.)


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Author BIOs:  Robert McGraw and Darrin McGraw

Robert McGraw has had several professions, but his most difficult job is convincing his wife he's actually working even when he's just staring out the window. He is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles, as well as three books. Two of his television scripts won awards from the International Television Association.

A former professional symphony musician who spent several years playing for the Cape Town Symphony in South Africa, Robert has a Master's degree in Education and completed the work (all but dissertation) for a Ph.D. in music. He also studied art at The Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town and creates visual art in a variety of styles. His works are represented in the collection of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Darrin McGraw grew up more or less in a succession of libraries. He is pleased to note that the New York Public Library has a McGraw Rotunda, though he cannot actually take credit for this. He graduated from Stanford University and earned a Ph.D. in English from UCLA. After working in online software development he served for eight years as the writing director of the Culture, Art and Technology program at UC San Diego.

Besides writing and reading he has many other interests including early music, alternative architecture, and woodworking. When scientists have finished cloning the woolly mammoth he has a few other extinct species to suggest, including Cleopatra and Dr. Samuel Johnson.

 

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