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Getting Inside a Character’s Head

Getting inside a character’s head is one of the easiest or most difficult things to accomplish when you’re writing a story.   It takes imagination and constant observation of the human race around you.   In the book “The Diamond Thieves” of the Extra Innings trilogy there are multiple characters of various ages, backgrounds, morals and maturities. I am going to write about 3 principle characters in this story: The McGee twins, their friend T.J. and their mother Ellen.
The story is centered around thirteen-year-old identical twins Jimmy and Billy McGee.  Creating the personalities of the McGee twins required a great deal of research .  
I interviewed multiple identical twin males before and during the writing process.  I needed to get into their heads to understand how they viewed one another and themselves in relationship to the world around them.  These interviews helped me to solidify much of the competition theme came from Book 2 and where Jimmy’s emotional journey and struggles came from in Book 3.  Of course, one set of twins could answer my questions completely different from another set of twins.  I discovered this was based on how close of a relationship existed within each set of twins I interviewed.  Did they consider their twin their best friend throughout life or did they find themselves growing apart in their teenage years?  Note: I plan to write future blogs about these specific interviews as I found them fascinating.

Another critical character in the story was T.J.  This is a young black boy growing up in the South in the late 1940’s-early 50’s. Most of T.J.’s development came from movies I had watched in my life of the societal difficulties blacks faced during this period in history.  Also, my best friend growing up was black and he and I had conversations about how different and how very much alike we both were – despite our racial difference.  
Creating an interesting character in T.J. was a huge goal of mine.  I not only wanted T.J. to be strong, I needed him to be.  Yet, I had to be realistic and ask myself how strong would a young black male have been at this period in time? Most 13-year-olds face a mountain of fears and curiosities and are simply not the least bit mature.  But again, there are some whom have had to endure adult-like circumstances and therefore had no choice but to develop a strength just to survive.  This is who I believe T.J. is and I like the way he interacted with the boys in the story as well as showing a vulnerable side by always making a quick exit anytime “the mob” appeared.

Also, I want to talk about the twins’ mother Ellen.  Writing Ellen was a fun challenge. I had no current observations to base any of her moves, reactions or behaviors on.  I found myself having to ask older women, who would have been little girls at this time in history, to look back on their mothers for nearly ever move Ellen made throughout all three of the books.  I also had to locate women who were raised in the South as most of the women I know are not Southerners (whom hold a very different mentality and demeanor than “Yankee” women. I like that I was able to give her a heroic role in Book 1.   My mission as a writer is to  connect and inspire and, for me, Ellen was the character that stood out in Book 1 as an inspiration.  I hope that readers will feel inspired by her and how she stood up against an entire community for what was right.

I’m sure I will have more to write about this as character development is critical to storytelling but for now these were the top three examples I wanted to start with.


What Inspires Your Imagination?

Imagination is the forming of ideas, images or concepts of objects external to our tangible senses.   A good  writer can use words to bring an image to life.  For example, if the reader is being told about a bouquets of flowers displayed at a wedding, a good writer can stimulate the reader’s senses to the point where the reader’s imagination allows them to actually smell those flowers describe in the story.

Real life true stores are what inspire me.  My job is to stitch them among into events experienced by a fictional character.  I have been fortunate enough to have heard a handful of very entertaining tales about my family.  These tales were expressed throughout the Extra Innings trilogy and helped to bring the personalities of its major players to life.

For example, in Chapter 1 of The Diamond Thieves, I spent some time explaining how the story’s main characters: identical twins Jimmy and Billy McGee, had very different personalities.  To express examples of Billy’s wild-side (compared to his more rationally behaved twin) I used two stories from my dad’s childhood.  The first was a story of my dad thinking he could fly like Superman and tying a tablecloth around his neck and leaping into mid-air from the garage roof.  Yikes!  The second was when my dad, Wes Gibson, set fire to his older sister Rose’s bedroom curtains and the neighbor Mrs. McCrosky saw the flames from across the way.  I always loved these stories growing up and felt privileged to incorporate them into the life one of two of the book’s main characters.

My Aunt Rose is famous for using the term: “in all honesty” as is Jimmy and Billy’s older sister Rose throughout the trilogy.  Their older friend Skip Jones is a character who the boys all look up to as my dad and his brother Denny looked up to their older brother Skip Gibson.

My grandma Mary Gibson was famous for her chocolate meringue pies – as is Jimmy and Billy’s Grama Purdy.   I know when I was proofreading this detail of the book my mouth was watering from the imagery.

In book 2 (Race of the Gemini), I incorporated a story my Uncle Jim had told me about collecting RC Cola cans for cash when  he was a kid.   Also, the story of Billy spinning the car tires in a mud puddle that splashed up into his dad’s face actually happened to my Aunt Patty when my Grandpa Charles Gibson was trying to teach her how to drive and became so frustrated that he had to stick his head out the window to curse – another great story!  The book’s hot dog eating explosion came from my Uncle Denny and the story about Skip pulling Stuart through a car window came from my dad and his late teen years.

One of my favorite chapters is when all the boys sneak out to drink at Ol’ Man Hendersman’s barn.  As the boys are sitting around they reminisce a few hilarious tales that my dad had told me from his childhood (read book 2 for these stories).

Billy’s girlfriend Amy Lee Chansey has a brown collie shepherd family dog named Tanker – just like my Aunt Rose & Uncle Jim’s dog while I was growing up.

The description of the twins’ High School prom was an exact description of my mom, Marilyn Gibson’s gymnasium was decorated for her prom.

There are a few small details depicted in the book that really bring a particular room in a house or section of town to life.  My favorite is the mention of a paper mache ghost candy dish that is the centerpiece of the McGee family dining room table in the Halloween chapter.   My entire life growing up I remember that same ghost candy dish on our dining room table throughout October.  My mom had made it with her friend Joan.  I now have this candy dish and I place it out every October.  I believe these small details are critical to effective storytelling.

In book 3 (A Hero Among Thieves), I was privileged to be able to interview the head baseball coach and dean from Ol’ Miss who shared with me some important facts about the campus and its students during the early 1950’s.  This information really helped to enhance the authenticity of this portion of Jimmy’s.  I think anyone who’s attending college and lived on campus will be transported back to their experience in the dorms and campus life.  One particular college dorm room scene in this book was taken directly from my experience at UMASS Amherst.

Lastly, some of Billy’s journal entries were told to me while I was interviewing veterans from the Korean War.  These stores really helped to bring Billy’s experience in Korea to life and I will be giving mention to these brave and fascinating individuals in the credits of Book 3.

When Jimmy meets Maria Regalo, the  supper she feeds him that night at her house is a plate of homemade salami, pepperoni and cheeses that she cut from her supply hanging in her basement – just like my Grama Gibson.

There are many more examples but these are the ones that come to the forefront of my mind.  I hope all who read this trilogy will at some point feel themselves traveling back to a moment of their teen years or childhood and recall the sights, sounds and smells of some good memories and MOST OF ALL … THANK YOU for all those who inspired my imagination with their real life true stories.


Detailing Characters & Settings: Is More Less Better Than More?

In the collection of conversations I’ve had around the topic of character & setting details in a literary work, I have heard an overwhelming response of folks in favor of authors who provide vast amounts of detail when describing a character’s physical description. And the same goes for a setting if its a key location (such as the town or street where a character lives, a room where important pieces of the story take place, etc).  For example, chapters 1 -3 of The Diamond Thieves well-depicts the main characters physical description and personalities. This is especially important since they are identical twins yet extremely different personality-wise. I have only heard of readers preferring that a character be more left up to that reader’s imagination for minor more utility role characters & places in a book.  The beginning chapters also provide an abundance of visual imagery to describe the small, fictional, Southern town of Eugene, Mississippi.