Thursday, March 18, 2010

Peeling Away the Layers

We're still getting into things here at our rental. I know a lot of the comments left on Monday said the apartment was "cute" or "cozy." Appearances aren't always the same as reality. While we're going to do fine here, I thought I'd use these temporary quarters as an example of how first impressions might not be the same as what happens when you deal with making things work. (and on the slim chance that the property owners read this, we really like the place! I'm just tying it in to writing.)

In writing, characters should be like artichokes. You don't get to the heart until you do some serious work peeling away the layers. What the reader sees, as well as what other characters see when they meet a character, be it protagonist or a secondary character, will be superficial at first. Perhaps the character was too good to be true, and as time goes on, faults are revealed. Or maybe it's the other way around. An unlikeable character turns out to be golden inside.

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This apartment was where the owners' son and his wife lived after getting married. My guess is that they hadn't accumulated a lot of "stuff" yet, and with parents living upstairs, sharing meals, borrowing essentials, etc. probably was part of their lifestyle. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, but after two days of trying to squeeze our possessions (and we brought with us only what we thought we'd need before finding a house and getting the bulk of our belongings out of storage), I can't help but try to imagine what the previous tenants were like.

One guess: They were tall. I'm 5-4, which isn't THAT short, but almost everything is up too high for me to reach. Cabinets and closet shelves are deep, which makes getting into them that much harder. Had to buy a stepstool.

Another difference I've noticed as we continue to discover more about this place: the artist owner probably wanted to make the place attractive, which it is. However, there's more "d├ęcor" than "storage" and we've already given her back some extras that serve no function for us. When I was buying furniture for our home, especially when the kids were growing up, everything had to have hidden storage in order to make the cut. Coffee tables, night tables, end tables all had drawers and shelves. Since flat surfaces attract clutter, I preferred having hideaways for accumulations of stuff. Perhaps she should have thought "boat".


The bathroom is beautiful. Small, but efficient. However, the single sink is set into a counter, with no vanity beneath. Coming from a master bath with two sinks with cabinets under each one and six drawers (which I didn't even have to share, given the 3 baths in our former house), it's a jolt not having everything easily accessible. There are shelves above the little LG washer/dryer, and that's where most of the stuff goes. The box I'd packed my bathroom "stuff" in sits on a shelf, and I move the whole thing to and from the counter when it's time to deal with hair and makeup.

We're still finding better ways to arrange things for maximum access, but it's pretty much understood that if you need something, odds are you'll have to move something else to get at it. And it's forcing us to put things away right after we use them. For the "before" version of the following photo, check Monday's post.

How do you reveal characters to your readers? Do you show them the whole picture, or peel away the layers. Readers – how much do you like to know about characters when you first meet them?

Tomorrow, it's another Friday Field Trip. I can't decide whether to share more pictures my son took in the Everglades, or the ones my daughter sent of Wales, since it was St. Patrick's Day yesterday, and Wales is closer to Ireland.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think I do a little of both with my readers. Some info I give straight-up, and some I reveal later on (in a way that makes the reader feel intuitive.)

I know what you mean about surfaces attracting clutter! I have to make a clutter-destroying run through the house a couple of times a day.


Terry Odell said...

I agree, Elizabeth on all counts. If you did everything the same way, I think it would 1) get boring and 2) seem artificial. After all, real life isn't neat and tidy!

Debra St. John said...

I love the artichoke analogy! I find that as I write I get to know my characters better as we go along. Many times I'll need to rewrite things I wrote first, once they really become "people".

I'd have to say I probably reveal a little at a time, so the reader comes to know the character in a gradual way as the story unfolds.

Jess said...

I know all about cabinets being too tall. I have a step-stool in the kitchen but still just climb the counter-tops like I did when I was a kid. :)

Mason Canyon said...

I enjoy books where the characters are revealed to you in layers. That way you get to know them pretty much the same way you get to know real people, a little at a time.

In my opinion, there is never enough cabinet space.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've had fun revealing bits and pieces of my characters as the situation dictates. Both have secrets in their past that affect their personalities and choices. It's been fun finding the right place to reveal the background.

I'm around 5'1" so I feel your pain :)

Clover Autrey said...

I definitely like this, adding depth. I do think that certain things, like their goals and why they can't have them should be revealed up front though and everything else layered in.

Terry Odell said...

Debra, isn't it fun the way characters reveal themselves to authors the same way!

Jess - but your husband is TALL.

Mason, totally agree

Jemi - so true; you have to choose your reveals carefully

Clover - yes, knowing what a character wants helps the reader empathize.

Patricia Stoltey said...

As a reader, I like learning about characters a little bit at a time, and I love it when a character grows or changes during the course of a novel.

With living space, I'm moving the other way. All is revealed, and it's way too much. I'm beginning to clear out closets and empty cupboards. It feels good.

Terry said...

I like to reveal most of them a bit at a time, like that artichoke.

The apartment is cute, but I understand the storage situation and the clutter.

And, like Jemi, I'm only 5'1". So I know that feeling of always climbing to get things. My husband's tall, though, so that helps.

Terry Odell said...

Pat, Terry - thanks for stopping by. We were out house-hunting this morning. The top pick of what we looked at today is on the small side, so we'll have to continue what we're learning to do here. Our book collection will be the biggest problem.