Sunday, February 7, 2010

Character counts Part 1

There are many things to be said about a story's characters. All of the 'how to write' books, including the one I follow, The Novelist's Boot Camp, by Todd Stone, mention a few paragraphs on character development. In Stone's book, I like the application of a character outline. A small biography of the character so that the author can stay consistent, true and 'real' with the character. Granted, the author may not include every little factoid within the story and probably shouldn't else the story is too bogged down by unnecessary details. Also, I also subscribe to the KISS principle. (Keep It Simple Stupid).. There is always room to add later, but don't let minutiae of every minute of a character's life take you away from what's important-writing the story. Even before I read Boot Camp I did an outline for Mallory Petersen. Height, weight (and a couple of women told me I had to, uh, have her weigh more than I did), eye/hair/skin color, length of hair, favorite: food, color, movie, book, etc, parentage and family members. Plus a few more. I needed to know those things before I wrote the first draft of Alpha oh those many moons ago.

I've run across many wonderful characters in my years of reading and I'd like to discuss one in particular. Actually, she's a supporting character and when I say supporting, I mean not just in the secondary role, but a support and encouragement to the main protagonist.

Della Street is her name and I think of all the women characters I've read, Della, if one could have dinner with a fictional character, would be my dream date. Well, as long as I could pry her away from her pesky lawyer boss. And that does not exclude a date with Sarah Jane Smith, which is another story.

Della is, I think, a role model for women. She's strong, beautiful, intelligent, loyal, hard-working, independent, and, if I can risk offending the women of today's world (and I won't if you know the character and understand what I'm saying), she knows her place in the world.

I like her because as I'm reading one of the novels she's featured in, I've also been listening to some old radio shows, The Shadow, in which the supporting character was the lovely Margo Lane. I love those old Shadow stories, but every now and then Margo gets on my nerves. She only accompanied Cranston on hundreds of mysteries, but in nearly every one she's overly fretful when he wants to go face the bad guys. “No, Lamont, it's too dangerous.” “Oh, Lamont, I'm so scared, let's get out of here.” Oh please, enough already, stop whining and buck up a little.

Compare Margo with Della. Sure, Della worries whenever her Chief enters a potentially dangerous situation but she wants to be by his side and balks whenever she's ordered to wait or to call the police. But, she's always willing to take a witness into hiding, run down important errands, but especially on assessing clients. Sure, she razzes her boss about his lingering eye on the beautiful curvy women in his cases, but he relies on her to size up the clients or suspects before he sees them. She knows women, she knows when people are acting. She offers advice, some of which can spark a clue or the solution to a case.. (I wish sometimes, though, she would have told her boss, “Uh, the phone's right there, answer the darn thing yourself because we both know the caller wishes to speak to you.” But that goes back to her 'place' in the world. That's how things operated and there was nothing wrong with it. Those scenes just get my eyes rolling sometimes.)

Della enjoyed being pampered, being treated like a lady, enjoys fine food or a show. She knew when to be demure and when to speak her mind. Her boss and detective friend both respected her and enjoyed her company.

When the series starring Raymond Burr was being created, Gardner, upon seeing who was playing the lead role thought Burr fulfilled the vision he had of his main character. However, I think Barbara Hale was the only woman who fit the mold of Della Street.

If you haven't read any Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason stories, you have left a major slot empty in your mystery fan files. Check out Della Street and see if you don't agree with me that she was a woman a couple of notches above most women.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some of the female characters from the old movies often exhibit those traits that you find when reading an old Home Economics textbook. How to keep "your man" happy, and your home in sparkling condition. Anyone who attempted to teach that type of curriculum in this day and age would be wearing the book up the side of their head. It's funny how as times change, that the stories/lessons taught years ago become laughable as our society evolves. I enjoy reading your blog postings! Sandi Tucker-Stanbro