You have to watch out for characters, both real and fictitious.
Just when you think you’ve painted their portrait, they grab the brush, slap on a moustache or some other undesirable addition and ruin all your hard work. Change the picture.
No matter how careful you are, there are no guarantees. They could still develop a life of their own and escape from your clutches.
Moreover, if you’re writing about your dog, don’t be surprised if that darn dog doesn’t run off with your precious paintbrush and play fetch with it…even if they’ve never chased a stick before.
It can happen to the best of us.
Indeed, this morning it happened to me and I even have photographic proof.
My dog Bilbo, who has found fame but not fortune on my blog, is renowned for being afraid of the water. Yet, this morning he went for a swim at the beach and totally messed up his character sketch.
I was absolutely flabbergasted!!
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
While parents might discuss their human children, dog parents hold nothing back. Indeed, they discuss the foibles of their “offspring” in embarrassingly personal detail, even comparing notes about their intimate mental health issues. Indeed, they name and shame their dogs, even posting photos of their most extreme mental health moments, without any shame at all. No sense of betrayal. That just because they’re talking about a dog, that it doesn’t mean it’s heartless gossip…even bullying!
How awful is that? Being bullied by your own Mum or Dad?!!
Well, I must confess that even I’m a bit guilty. I could have mentioned Bilbo’s water phobia. I might even have posted photographs of the same sorry mutt staring helplessly as his ball drifts out to sea because he’s too chicken to fetch it. I might have even called him a “scaredy dog” behind close doors or implied it on previous posts.
So, even I have probably said more than I should about my dog’s “quirks” but there’s no mistaking how much I love my dog! Besides, I should also point out that he’s also jumped on my blog a few times and spilled my beans as well!
All that aside, just because Bilbo has issues, it doesn’t mean he can’t change. That just because he’s a dog with very strong inbred character traits, that he can’t grow. Extend himself. Or, indeed, be an old dog showing off his new tricks.
Indeed, he did.
This morning, Bilbo went swimming at Dog Beach. He actually not only got his paws wet but ventured in and actually SWAM!!!
HOWZAT! (This is Australian cricket slang for “How’s that? Meaning: “It’s out!”)
Of course, now that the dog’s actually gone swimming, I’m not quite back to the drawing board but I’m definitely back in my philosopher’s chair and asking: “Why is it so?”
Professor Julius Sumner Miller famously coined that phrase in his children’s science show. However, I doubt he ever looked at how or why animals and people suddenly change their stripes like that. Or, at least, act out of character now and then. He was more of a physics man famous for being able to get a boiled egg inside a glass milk bottle.
Bilbo’s swim was, in effect, the reverse process… taking a dog who was set in his ways and setting him free from the confines of his self-imposed glass bottle…just like letting a genie out!
Unfortunately, I’m no expert in dog behaviour and indeed, this mutt has been testing all my philosophical and psychological powers lately what with him fretting with the kids being away. Let’s just say he’s been in a bit of trouble.
Anyhow, like any good detective, we return to the crime scene and examine the evidence. Investigate what actually happened. Move over Sherlock Holmes! Here I come.
On the morning of Friday 29th January, 2016 at approximately 9.30 AM Bilbo, a nine-year old Border Collie was running along Dog Beach with his sister, Lady, a three year old Border Collie x Cavalier and Mum, a They met up with a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Boxer who were energetically jumping and chasing each other through the surf. Bilbo immediately started barking at the other dogs, we believe, warning them to get out of the water…the canine equivalent of “Danger Will Robinson”. Having too much fun, the other dogs didn’t respond, ignoring him completely. They kept playing.
Meanwhile, Lady being more cavalier, joins the dogs in the surf. After all, it’s so hot, that you could fry an egg in the sand. It’s the perfect day for a swim, except you could potentially boil in the water! That is, unless you’re wearing jeans and a few too many Christmas chocolates around the middle.
The next thing I know, Bilbo’s gone from barking on the beach to wading into the water and even swimming, while still barking occasionally. Bilbo is swimming! I suspect he’s actually herding, rounding up his mates more than actually swimming but he’s still in the surf.
“My goodness!” a friend exclaims, totally stunned. “That one NEVER goes in”.
I have a group of dog walkers I usually meet up with in the mornings. I don’t know whether we’ve oversimplified their characters or whether dogs are just more straight-forward than people. However, somehow the dogs have all been categorized…ball chaser, stick chaser, swimmer, non-swimmer, introvert, extrovert, problem dog…unconsciously, of course. Then, there’s Lady who I’m now pretty sure pretends to be daft to do her own thing. She dabbles in a bit of everything but seems to love stick her head down sniffing the sand and running along. and wandering I’m pretty sure she’s hunting. She used to live on a farm but as the saying goes “we’re not in Kansas anymore”! No more rabbits.
Anyway, I doubt Bilbo’s suddenly developed a love of swimming. Rather, I suspect that he’s just trying to be the Good Samaritan, attempting to herd his crazy mates out of the water and back onto dry land. Who knows? Perhaps, while he was out there, he found out that he wasn’t going to die and that he even liked it? Was having fun? The other dogs sure were and who hasn’t experienced the thrill of the moment when someone else’s fun is so infectious that it carries you right outside yourself and all your pre-conceived ideas and sets you free? All of a sudden you realise, that you’re standing somewhere you never thought you’d be and you don’t even know how you got there!
That’s what happened to me yesterday when I was driving my daughter to school. It was a 45-60 minute drive in the rain and I wasn’t even nervous. I felt calm, capable and in control. Indeed, I was standing, or in this case, sitting where I never thought I’d be and I was fine.
My inner fortitude was further tested this afternoon when yet another nasty storm hit right before picking up our son locally. The heavens were falling down and of course, there was lightening, thunder but fortunately no hail. I looked out there, at what almost looked like the end of the world. As much as I wanted to stay at home, I braced myself and figured the sooner I left, the better the car space. I threw on my raincoat, grabbed my golf umbrella and drove off, arriving in one piece, albeit through floodwaters about 20 cm deep in parts. It’s very flat where we live.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
Of course, driving through all of this, I’ve become Captain Courageous. Not quite Captain Invincible but I’m working on it.
So, as we write our characters, both real and fictitious, while also getting to know ourselves, we should always leave that gap. Room for doubt. Space for growth. No one is set in concrete. They can still wriggle free. Take on a life of their own.
Just ask my dog!
You can ask ME!
xx Super Ro!
PS If you are interested in character development or are a bit of a people person, you could well find the Proust Character Questionnaire useful:Proust Character Questionnaire It’s been used by writers, actors etc for character development and I’ve been going through it for the Book Project…albeit very slowly.