Thief number one describes himself

This is something I read somewhere. If you’re hung up on some plot detail, or not sure what one of your characters would do, have them describe themselves.

What they say may not be the way you, or the rest of the world sees them, but it gives you insight into how their mind works.

This is a character I’m building for a short story.
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I’m a thief, a burglar to be precise. I do what I do, because it’s what I do. The shadows, open windows, and cheap locks are my friends.

I’ve never held an honest job in my life. I don’t have a bank account. My work is cash and carry, no credit, no payment plans, just cash for what I carry. I do have a social security number, but only because the hospital insisted.

As far as family goes, mommy dearest was some drugged out working girl, and daddy dearest was some guy who had an extra c-note in his pocket. And when my dear sweet mamma bailed on both me, and the hospital bill, the hospital was only worried about the bill.

Growing up, I bounced from foster home to foster home, then at a very young age, I ran away. I was what they call a “troubled youth,” and honestly, I’m not certain anyone ever looked for me.

As far as appearance goes, I’m so “average,” unless I make eye contact, people don’t notice when I walk by.

But before you feel sorry for me, life provided a more practical education than any MBA program in the country.
I speak three languages and can puzzle out a couple more.
I’ve never owned a calculator because the math I need, I do in my head. –When you’re figuring your take, you learn about percentages in a hurry.
When it comes to business, I know what my cut should be, and I know what my business associates ROI should be. –It helps if you know how badly they’re trying to screw you.
And finally, because I grew up on the streets, I can survive pretty much anywhere. –Like a cockroach.

And no, I don’t dress in black, they only do that in the movies. Out of habit, and because of my trade, I tend to dress to suit the neighborhood I’m working, usually in muted colors.

Because I don’t have any close friends, I don’t stay in one place very long, and because I’m mostly out after dark, the word on the street is that I might be an assassin.

You know how gossip works, the more I deny it, the more folks believe it. –The truth be told, I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never fired a gun, and the only time I have a knife in my hand is when I’m cooking. But, if people want to believe gossip, who am I to discourage them? It gives me street cred and keeps the real bad guys polite.

On Writing Language and Colloquialisms

When you write a character from anywhere except the place you are familiar with it helps if you know what language he/she speaks.

You also need to remember that every language in every location has it’s colloquialisms.

As an example, here’s George Jones, The Corvette Song

  • Oh, She was hotter than a two-dollar pistol
  • She was the fastest thing around
  • Long and lean, every young man’s dream
  • She turned every head in town
  • She was built and fun to handle,
  • son I’m glad that you dropped in
    She reminds me of the one I loved back then

The man thought the old guy was talking about the car, but he was talking about the woman sitting in the vette.
“Hotter than a two dollar pistol:” An Americanism, A two dollar pistol is undoubtedly stolen, therefore hot. A woman or car is hot, meaning a turn-on. If a car is fast, it’s speedy, but if a woman is fast, she’s easy, etc.

This can make it difficult for a non-American to understand at first glance.

This is also true in other parts of the world.
For instance, in some areas, a Mexican doesn’t “wait for a miracle,” he goes “to dance to Chalma” –“se va a bailar a Chalma”.

Instead of saying “chica and chico” in parts of Mexico, they often say “chavo and chava”.

In Barcelona, people often prefer to speak Catalan, and sometimes resent being lumped in with the Spaniards.

So you hear things like “Bon dia,” which means good morning and “Bon Nit” which means good night.
“Gràcies” means thank you but it sounds different that the Spanish “Gracias.”
And so-on.

Adapt your character’s speech to the area they are from. Keep in mind that even though people speak your language they often fall back on the phrases they grew up with.

(This entire blog is basically “notes to self,” so if I sound like I’m lecturing, I am; I’m lecturing myself.)

Character Inspiration

When you’re starting a story and you need to flesh it out with minor characters, or location, there are several sites that provide free photos for inspiration.

Pixabay, 123rf – both paid and free, Albumarium even has a section dedicated to redheads, and Jay Mantri has a bunch of random photos, mostly architecture or scenic, that are free to use for whatever.

Cityscape
Coming in for a landing, over a sprawling city. By Jay Mantri.

Guatemala -pixabay
For instance, this photo has been released under creative commons. I don’t know who he is, all I know is that the photo was taken in Guatemala, but the face provides a great basis for a new character.

Aerial silks dancer from pixabay
This aerial silks dancer I found on Pixabay.com

Any of these will give you a great start, but I think the old farmer/rancher will find a place soon, if only as an important secondary character.

Right now I have several photos on a scrivener cork board and a completely random story line, but the photos keep me coming back to the original concept for each character.

Learning to Write Online

I’ve been looking for some free online writing courses. With the emphasis on “free.”

This list has a bunch, most of which wind up costing you money.
50 free online writing courses

On the other hand, Open Learn is offered by the Open University with many free classes to choose from. I registered and so far it seems to be quite good, if basic.

The Crafty Writer offers a lot of free advice, with the goal of getting you to sign up for her course.

I stumbled across this is site, with a list 70 jobs, most of which don’t pay very well. But they will give you experience and get your name out there for other jobs.

But while I was searching it occurred to me that most of my reading and searching has been a great way to convince myself that I was getting someplace without actually doing anything.

Heck, I even bought a book of Chekhov’s short works, Hemingway’s the Green Hills of Africa, and some Tobias Wolff. All of which I already have, probably in a box someplace, but I do have them. So why would I possibly want duplicate copies?

Once again, the cold blooded truth is that potentially useful as they are, all these things are a stall, and the only thing that’s going to teach me to write better is to write.

Writing a Good Guy

Someone tried to help me by suggesting I write an extremely good guy, literally, a knight in shining armor. They also suggested that I plot the main storyline and character attributes on paper.

Well, folks, I’ve plotted out two chapters of the story along with all the attributes of the main character. I’ve finally gotten the second draft of the first chapter down on paper.

I carefully followed my plot outline detail by detail, and at the end of the day, I hope this guy dies. He’s boring, nothing about him surprises me, the events that have happened so far are so predictable that you’d have thought I was using Cliff’s Notes to write the story.

On top of that, everything about him makes me want to punch him in the nose. He’s not a hypocrite, he’s just too damn self-righteously pious.

On the other hand, my second chapter was a breeze. –It’s a picture of a dragon picking his teeth with a lance.

It’s just the way my mind works. Heck, if I wrote Mary Poppins, she’d either be a cat burglar or an assassin. –Think about it, she can fly whenever the wind blows, making reaching that penthouse balcony and getting away a snap and to top it off. Would you want to be the cop that put out an APB on a flying nanny?