Humans & Hedgehogs

humans hedgehogs pinI am now the bemused owner of a hedgehog.

He belonged to my manager and was the “clinic hedgehog.” But the veterinarian life didn’t suit him well, so he was replaced with two guinea pigs.

His name is Quigley. Cup your hands together and the little ball of prickles fits in there quite well.

Most of the time, he throws a fit when you pet him. He’ll spaz, jerking and making a spluttering hiss — “I’m a dangerous hedgy. Hear me roar.” — hilarious, but not very intimidating.

After five to fifteen minutes of being out of his cage and being handled, he’ll uncurl and start sniffing. Exploring. Let you pet him without exploding into a mammalian version of a puffer fish.

He’ll leave his fuzzy, spine-free legs, face, and underbelly exposed.

Over the short span of time I’ve had Quigley at my house, I’ve realized something: a lot of people are a lot like hedgehogs (and no, I refuse to digress into how John Watson is like a hedgehog and Sherlock Holmes is like an otter. Thanks for those amusing comparisons, Sherlockians.).

Many of us are–or can be–prickly. Not necessarily mean, or on the offense, but we curl inside of ourselves, protecting our soft underbellies and tender hearts with hisses and jerks whenever anyone touches us and tries to get through our defenses.

The same thing is true for book people, because characters—good characters—are mirrors of humanity, encompassing on paper the wants, dreams, failings, victories, and et cetera of real flesh-and-blood people.

I can think of multiple examples from the fiction world of characters who display characteristics of hedgehogs. Lady Mary in the BBC television series, Downton Abbey. Dustfinger from the Inkworld trilogy. Rosa Hubermann from The Book Thief. Frankenstein from the novel Frankenstein. While each of these characters plays a different role, ranging from a grouchy foster mother to an antiheroic ally, they each have something in common: they hide.

Don’t get me wrong—most of us do hide something-or-other.

However, these characters take it to the next level. They pull into their spiny, prickly outsides and hide aspects of their beautifully broken humanness.

What do they hide behind?

Well, what do we hide behind?

Harsh words. Acts of small and large villainy. Sarcasm and stiff aloofness. Pretending to not care, when in fact, concern, worry, and even love exist very strongly inside.

Why? Well, why do we hide? Is it fear of something happening? Personal insecurities? Relationship issues? Simple personality? All are valid reasons, and if you give your character a hedgehog streak, tucking his nice or fearful side beneath a layer of burr-like spikes, please do your readers a favor and find out exactly why.
With that said…

Go pet a hedgehog. It’s a very enlightening experience.

Of Sandpaper And Stories

“Details. Pay attention to details.”

Of Sandpaper And Stories

Patching drywall and smoothly patching drywall are two completely different animals.

I think I created a hybrid creature when I taught myself how to patch the lovely hole an unwieldy piece of furniture created in my wall. You can tell it’s patched if you pay attention, but unless you look closely it looks all right.

My first attempt at patching didn’t go so well. The layers were too thick, I hadn’t spent enough time sanding, and, well, it looked awful. Definitely an amateur job. So I grabbed the sandpaper, tub of mud, and went back to work.

While sanding and then smoothing on another layer of drywall mud, the thought struck me just how similar patching a wall is to patching a story.

A lousy fix is glaringly noticeable in both forms, just like a careful, well-done patching job blends into the wall or the text like part of the original design.

I had a wall to patch. I also have a novel. It’s needed a lot of “patching” – scenes cut, scenes added, more layers of depth smoothed into the main plot, the characters, and all the tiny little threads woven throughout the story. If I mess with one, I might as well have messed with them all.

It’s so easy to toss something in or pull something out, whether it be a phrase or an entire chapter, and then be done with it. Just like it would have been easy for me to leave the nasty patch on my wall and forget it (except I’m a perfectionist, so it would have bugged me daily).

But simplicity usually doesn’t equal quality.

How does one go about smoothly patching a story?

Details. Pay attention to details. I find the highlighting function of my word processor very handy for this kind of editing. Highlight the main thing you want to cut, add, or somehow change. Then go through the surrounding section and highlight any collateral damage “edges” that will need fixed after the main change. Make the changes, smoothing those edges and then make a note of certain things you need to keep an eye out for further along in the story, the offhand bit of dialogue referencing that scene you just cut out, or a good spot to add a reference to that shocking revelation you just added. Even one misplaced or wrongly-left sentence dealing with a plot thread that no longer exists, or nonexistent references that should be there about a new thread, count.

Just like my wall patch. Every bit of mudding (adding or removing text), sanding (smoothing away the roughness), and painting (the polish of pretty prose) counts. Homeowners notice poorly done repair. Readers do too.

Unspoken: How detailed Are Your Characters?

 When it comes to characterization, sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

By Hannah Mills

As did many others, I made the trek to the movie theatre to see Les Misrables. And, as many others are, I am a Downton Abbey fangirl.

 

 

I could go on and on about the music in Les Mis, about the amazing screenwriting that makes Downton what it is, the actors, many things.

 

 

Today, however, I want to focus on some things that are more in the background.

 

After watching Les Mis, I noticed something. The costuming was incredibly well-thought out.

 

 

The Thenardiers, viciously money-minded people with no morals and a dramatic flair, had costumes that perfectly fit their chameleon-like personalities. The colors were bright, almost verging on gaudy. Their teased hair and heavy makeup accented their bawdy outbursts and licentious lifestyle.

 

 

Eponine, Thenariers’ daughter, dressed very differently. The costume designer stuck to earth tones, and gave Eponine’s dresses a tomboyish/trampish look. She didn’t agree with the lifestyle of her parents, and practically lived on the streets. Sweet and savvy, her personality and clothing style spoke of the clashes between what she wanted in life and what her parents strove for.

 

 

Cosette, as a young woman, was styled in soft colors and feminine cuts; touches of lace, a ruffle or ribbon here and there, very genteel and quiet. This, too, fit the persona of her role. A peace-loving person, the sort you would find curled up with a book and a kitten.

 

 

Throw these four characters into the same scene and their differences are multiplied tenfold simply by how their costumes play off each other. Without words, the swaths of fabric on the actor’s bodies are giving backstory. Showing, rather than telling, and translating the concepts of gentleness or mercenary-minded into visible images.

 

[Read more…]

Mental Tourists

How inviting is your story world? Make your book a place readers want to sit down in and stay awhile.

 

Originally published in Sep/Oct issue. Vol.2Issue.5

By Hannah Mills

 

Pendleton Indiana.  It has a small downtown reminiscent of the idealistic Small Town U.S.A., antique shops, old houses, a handful of churches, a few restaurants, and Gathering Grounds Coffee. While I don’t live here, I frequent this town a lot. The coffee shop is one of my favorite hangouts. My little corner of the world.

You wouldn’t think that this town is much to talk about. But on one of the coffee shop’s old brick walls is hanging a map of the world, and scattered over the map are a bunch of straight pins. The pins mark where out-of-towners are visiting from. There are two pins marking Australia, one in South Africa, several throughout Europe, and one or more in almost every state in America, to name a few.

So many people pass through this town, people from everywhere around the world. It strikes me as strange, this little coffee bar in this little town being a stopping point for people all over the globe. Indiana isn’t a notable state, our main claim to fame being the Indianapolis 500. Yet people still come here, and not just to Indianapolis or our other cities, but our farmlands and small towns.

All these people, experiencing my little corner of the world.

In writing, the same thing happens. You have your mind, your story-world, and when you allow other people to read your writing, it’s like travelers visiting a foreign place. It doesn’t have to be the next Narnia to attract visitors, just like Pendleton doesn’t have to be a junior Chicago.

[Read more…]

Forget And Not Slow Down

No, this isn’t an article about Reliant K’s song by the same name. Borrowing from their title, however, forget and don’t slow down.

How does this apply to writing?

Well, it falls under something I’ve been learning about recently: acceptance.

In my current novel, my main character is an artist. She wants to go to art school. That is her dream. I thought her price to accomplish the story-goal would be losing her hearing, but kept getting this feeling that going deaf wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t enough of a price, because going deaf wouldn’t change the outcome of her dream.

[Read more…]