Minor Character–Milo Grinnel

Today I saw another blog post on character development.  There are whole books on how to make realistic characters out of thin air.  As authors we spend hours, days, even months on building character histories, physical descriptions, motivations, and value systems, just to make the people jump from the page and seem more “real.”

But, sometimes, a little gem of a character pops onto the page, fully formed and becomes someone fun to write about and play with.  This is how I feel about several of my “minor” characters.  Take, for example, Milo Grinnel.

Milo came about because I needed a second reason for Daisy to go to her writing group leader’s home in Faith on the Rocks.  If you haven’t read Faith, this is a little bit of a spoiler alert, but doesn’t mess up any major plot lines.

Daisy thinks she’s going to Sandra’s to be asked to leave the writing group.  There’s plenty of reason for her to buy into that thought, and she comes with trepidation.  When she arrives, however, there’s another surprise for her–a date!  And, because I have a silly sense of humor, I wanted this date to be completely inappropriate.

That’s when Milo popped into my head.  I can see him so clearly that sometimes I think I’ve seen an actor who reminds me of him.  Here’s what I said in the book:

“A man as tall as Phillip (an ex-football player), but a quarter of his weight stepped forward.  He was about my age with grey hair receding past his ears and a smile no horse would own.  Teeth splayed themselves in all directions, the only commonality between the chompers being their exceeding length and yellowness.”

Now, I’m not quite sure exactly how Milo came about beyond that he was a delightfully fun solution to my problem of a reason for Daisy to go to Sandra’s.  But here’s a little more about Milo.

I had Milo new from Texas because I wanted him to have the politeness yet assertion of that area of the country.  I lived in Dallas for a while, and Milo was someone who would have fit right in there.  I made him an accountant because I like accountants, and the stereotypical occupation clashes with Daisy’s growing life as an amateur sleuth.

Milo’s teeth came from me.  I had horrid teeth while growing up and throughout my young adulthood (who knew that giving up soda pop would help so much?).   I had no idea how bad my situation was until I became the first in my family to experience braces. I also had a daughter with large, protruding teeth.  To this day, I love a huge smile–on other people.

Then the devil in me took over.  Of course Milo’s nickname would be “Grins.”  What else could it be? I recall spending some time trying to figure out a name where I could play off Milo’s smile. Milo Fang?  Milo Chompers? Milo Grinninbearit? Hmm. Grins. Grinninbearit. Grinnel. Easy enough to create a nickname from that last one.

And of course, Milo would be unaware of the reason people called him that, other than the shortened last name.

And Milo’s skinniness?  Can you remember Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show? I’ve watched some of those reruns on Netflix this summer. I’ve also met a few skinny guys in my life, and suffered the nickname Scrawny-Brawny in high school. Skinny’s not so bad.

I love Milo.  Wouldn’t want him for a boyfriend, mind you.  But he’s wonderful, with a lovely sense of irony about him.  A lot of his personality emerged unbidden in writing the chapter that he plays a significant role in.  The clues he drops about the real killer really endeared him to me more–some of which were truly unexpected until I was jotting things down in the text.  Plus, I giggled right through every passage with Milo in it.

I hope I can bring Milo back into another Daisy Arthur story sometime.  Am grinning thinking of this already.

What minor characters light up your life or writing?  I hope you have a playful week with them.

Collecting Characters From Life

I’m really excited. This weekend I am going to a dental conference! No, really. I am excited. I’m going to go see who’s who and what’s what with dentistry.  Now, why should I be all aflutter about this?  In a word–collecting.

Woman In Paddington

What does this chic woman have on her mind? There’s a story here.

People collect all sorts of things, from rocks to rock band ticket stubs, or stamps to stickers.  I like to “collect” people.  Sometimes someone pauses in an interesting pose, dressed to stand out in a crowd. Photo op. Other times people will share a life story with me. Journal time.

I don’t manage to snap all the photos I’d like, nor do I write down every story I hear, but in writing I feel that people are my business as much as any word strings.  The human story is played out in the everyday world around us. Artists collect, sketch and paint the everyday continuously too.  Florals, still life, landscape. These are classics that never go out of style. In writing, who wants to read about rocks unless there is a rock collector to go with them?

People flit about in my life, like birds on a spring morning.  They may be in their own, to them unexciting routines, but when they touch my life there is something new going on for me, and I love experiencing it.

Man In Paddington

Buying flowers at a train station? Making up or saying good-bye? What would you write?

What do I take note of?  That’s easy. Whatever’s interesting.  A scrap of trivia from an expert in an interview expands my own knowledge (which I am all too eager to share), and when I hear a personal story, I’m right there with the teller.  This is part of why I cry easily.  I hear someone’s pain, and I feel it myself.  But I also have a wicked sense of the ironic, and I can visualize someone’s personal foibles extended out so that I must laugh.

Did I tell you that the vet has started to call me, just to see “how Prophet is doing?”  I think they spell my dog’s name differently, and apply it to their practice.  Could you imagine a vet who called his or her “regulars” just to plant the seed of paranoia? “Hello, Ms. Jones. How’s little Phoebe today? Did you know that a lot of cats are suffering from ringworm this time of year? Just thought you should know. Please look for these symptoms on Phoebe and let me know how she’s doing…” Oh the wicked fun I could have with that one!

Now, in all honesty, I’m not as great at collecting people as I intend to become.  I started my collections notebook a couple of years ago, and it’s still pretty blank.  This is because I haven’t made enough time to be faithful to the journal.  And when I think of someone I want to write about, I’ve often misplaced the darn thing, so I don’t write anything down.  Hmm. Not good for someone who likes to write stories.

Walk A Mile In Another's Shoes

Walk A Mile In Another’s Shoes – then write their story.

One solution is to start keeping my Collections work on my iPad.  I really enjoy using that tool for jotting down scraps and starts.  And I’ve learned how to group documents so that I can actually find them again. What a novel idea. I think one day a short story on the genius who lost all his or her files into a black hole of messed up computer files might be fun. He or she keeps drilling down into the folders but can’t find any work done to date.  And each drill may have a sound go off in our protagonist’s head. A sound like . . . a dentist drill!

Ooh! I can’t wait for this weekend.

Hope you have a wonderful week.