Analyze This

                                                        … Character
                                                          By Jeff Salter

            Some of my favorite things to discuss are characters and poetry, so it’s logical that I’d want to combine the two — since our topic this week is a ‘free space’.

 Vivid Pictures
            As writers of fiction, we are tasked to create vivid ‘pictures’ of our characters.  The better we do so, the more engrossed our readers can become.  Whether readers ‘like’ our characters is less important than making those characters compelling and appropriately motivated.
            In this poem, written nearly 20 years ago, I present a female character who was ‘inspired’ by a composite of at least three different people.  It was never my intention to write her into a novel, but it occurred to me (today) that the characters we create often begin with relatively few lines … or just a short scene.  Or maybe a few snippets strung together … as in this poem.
            In fiction, the reader would have a lot more exposure (than 25 lines) with which to form opinions.  But bear with me for a few moments and let’s ANALYZE this character:

          By Jeffrey L. Salter

 Once he was proud oak,
strong and limber.
        But she needed a shillelagh,
and picked him
to be trimmed, shaped
            … cured.

 She used him only when needed:
(often merely as context
but frequently as an ornament).
        Sometimes he was her cudgel
for defense or for
one day he’d probably
        have to kill. 

Habitually, she trained her gaze
        beyond him
to keep lookout
for a likely replacement —
Blackthorn, if she could find it.

 Over time he became brittle:
               his remaining life
spent in her trunk
… with expired flares,
a deflated spare
        and the jack she could not work. 

Published in:  Sunday at Four — Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall 1994). 

            Now, I don’t expect readers of this blog to actually respond to each of these questions.  My point is:  as writers, we should exercise our analysis ‘muscles’ when we create our characters.  We should ponder how our readers will perceive these characters.
            So, consider these questions … and please respond to any ONE (or more) that you wish

She / Her
* Is ‘she’ the villain?  Or could she be the heroine (after she gets through her ‘GMC’)?
            What is her Goal?
* How ‘aware’ do you suppose she is of her own behavior?
* What in her background may have shaped her behavior / attitude … toward men?
* Why did she feel she needed a shillelagh as a mate? 

He / Him
* What’s your take on this guy’s personality?
* What is his Goal?
* Could he actually be her ‘cudgel’ … but also her doormat?
* Why does he think he may one day have to kill for her?
* What in his background may have shaped his action / reaction … toward such a woman?
* How does he likely feel, knowing that she’s constantly looking for his replacement? 

General questions
            Could you see these two characters in a novel?
                        Would you WANT to read more about them?
            What would be the best GENRE for this ‘couple’?
            If these two characters were in a novel that you had to write … what would your title be?
            What other questions come to your mind about these two characters?


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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22 Responses to Analyze This

  1. Tonya Kappes says:

    GMC is one of the things that I can not stand to figure out when I begin a novel. I just like to panst half of it and let my characters talk to me before I can figure them out. Once that happens, I can knock out the GMC in seconds.


    • jeff salter says:

      Tonya, that’s about how it is with me. After the character has ‘hung-around’ for a while, she (or he) lets down their guard and allows me to learn about their GMC.
      So, that’s definitely Pants-ster writing.


  2. jbrayweber says:

    What a great poem. Very interesting, tugging my imagination. I love how you described these two people without ever “describing” them. And, of course, I am saddened for him.


    • jeff salter says:

      Thanks, Jenn. I had not read this poem in a few years. When I picked it back, it spoke to me on several levels. Made me wonder how ‘aware’ such a person might be to exhibit such callous behavior.
      But it wasn’t until I wove this poem into my post for today that I wondered what might happen in a person’s development … to create such a cold individual.


  3. Chris Bailey says:

    She sounds awful! I see him as a studly hero, but she’s has no physical characteristics. She’s just a user, and you gotta wonder why he would hang around long enough to become a forgotten item in her trunk. With wily Jack, who couldn’t be used.


    • jeff salter says:

      She definitely does seem awful. That’s why I began wondering if this character could ever be transformed into a person that readers might engage with. I guess it depends on how transformed she was, by what conflict she was transformed, and whether she had the right motivation. Ha.
      Also, I think it could depend heavily on whether readers would ‘accept’ her back-story … as to why she was such a b*tch in the scene snippets of the poem.
      Thanks for your perspective, Chris.


  4. Great poem, Jeff. I loved it.
    I think she may be awful, but I also see her as a warrior of some sort.

    Maybe this is a dystopian story and the end is at hand. She needs to be tough, and ready to fight. She will shape him into a warrior too and maybe they will change each other and protect the colony of survivors.

    Maybe it’s a paranormal or a fantasy and she is a mythical creature who is again fighting some evil greater than she. Her man will be her tool, but also her savior.

    Or maybe she’s just plain evil and this could be a suspense in which the man who loves her will have to find his backbone and stop her evil ways.

    Lots of ways to go with it. Have fun.


  5. Laurie Ryan says:

    He’s her solid, silent protector. I like him. Reminds me of a character in one of my favorite Laura Kinsale stories, The Shadow and the Star. Her, I don’t like so much, although her needed growth arc would make for a good heroine. I do love how I started out feeling I was historically placed, but ended up in the trunk of a car. 🙂 Well done!


    • jeff salter says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Glad the male character interested you.
      As I was writing the poem — at least, as best I can recall from 20 yrs ago — I hadn’t formed much of an impression about the male. His imagery was needed mainly to explain some of the characteristics of the female.
      Now, with y’all’s assistance, I can see some possibilities for developing him.


  6. I see it as a metaphor for marriage.


  7. Jillian says:

    Lots to mull over here. I’m coming back to read in more detail when I leave work and can do more than a drive by!


  8. Oh, Jeff, you opened up something that I have seen too often; I could go on forever.
    She is a villian, bent on self-preservation.Does she realize all that she does?Yes.Does she care?No, something in her is lacking…and yes, probably something or some things happened in her past to make her this way…probably a combination of being coddled by most and then one person, probably a man,rejected her, and she is never going to let it happen again, hence the ‘looking out’ for a replacement. Is she conflicted? Yes, because she has the man take charge, sort of, but she really has to be in control;(the ‘shillelagh’:she wields, he hits).
    Him? Well, she’s attractive; she’s charming.She’s giving him anything he wants,(because she can divorce herself from her feelings), including power over her, to be able to actually use him for her needs….but he’s not stupid.He knows how shallow the feelings run from her and that makes him brittle.He found it easy to stay with her because, well, it’s easier than hunting,and maybe his hunting wasn’t so great… and he felt powerful, at least, for a while and after enough years, sometimes the past is all you have. If he is weak enough inside, he would do anything not to have to get out there on his own, after all he may have been Oak, but he wasn’t Blackthorn; he’s OK, but mybe never sought after.
    I think I’ve said enough.


  9. Wow, Jeff, that’s definitely a poem of many layers! The first thing I wonder is what got them to this place, and that’s the point from which I build my story. As for where they come out in the end, well, that’s up to them. ;c) My characters tend to take over and write their own fates, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!


    • jeff salter says:

      Many layers. Yes, Sarah, I think that’s my feel for it also.
      On one ‘layer’ there is a relationship which apparently had some early excitement to it … but it lost that luster rather soon and ultimately degenerated into a non-relationship.
      On other layers, there is the back-story: where/what did they come from and how did they come together?
      And, of course, many other layers to investigate.
      Thanks for your insights.


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