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The Cosmic Task

 “If a child is allowed to unfold, it will be drawn

 by a process of allurement towards its cosmic task,

 its life’s purpose.” Dr. Maria Montessori.

 Maria Montessori, a renowned educationalist, pointed out that every living creature on the face of the earth has an innate, inner imperative that compels it to perform certain tasks during its lifetime.

The primary tasks that all species carry out, are to work, to eat, to procreate and to be of use to the species. The second function, which Montessori labeled the ‘Cosmic task’, are tasks that every creature performs, invariably unconsciously, that ultimately benefit not only itself but also the planet, its ecosystems, and its inhabitants.

The bumblebee is a classic example of this phenomena. The primary imperatives of a bee’s life is to work, eat, procreate and help look after the hive. To do this the bee travels miles every day, seeking out the nectar that it brings back to the hive to support the colony. But the bee’s ‘Cosmic task’, the higher purpose of its life, is to cross-pollinate the various flowers and shrubs it enters in search of nectar.

If you look closely at a bumblebee you will see that its body is covered in hair, hair designed to pick up pollen as the bee pushes its way into each flower to gain access to the nectar. And, when you take a closer look at the flower, you will see that the flower has evolved in such a way that it attracts the bee by its color, its shape, and its odor. There is a clearly marked landing strip at the entrance to flowers that guide the bee directly to the nectar via an avenue lined with upright pillars covered in pollen. As it leaves one flower to visit others it transfers male and female pollen to all the other flowers, cross pollinating everything it enters, renewing the life cycle of every flower that it touches. The bees need the flowers; the flowers need the bees. They are designed to complement, not just each other, but everything else in their own, particular, Fields-of-being.

If you wish to observe the fulfillment of the bee’s cosmic task, a symbiotic relationship that has flourished for millions of years, then visit a field of flowers in spring. Move among the blossoms, breathe in the fragrance. The beauty is overwhelming, it moves our hearts and souls, for ultimately every expression of the cosmic task adds something of value back to the planet and its people.

Recent events in China have highlighted the vital importance of the humble bee. When apple and pear crops began to decline sharply a few years ago in south-west China, the farmers were baffled. Trees that had produced bountiful crops for years simply stopped bearing fruit. After much research, they realized that the pesticides they were using had poisoned the environment, causing the bees to die off in their billions, leaving the flowers, shrubs, and trees un-pollinated and bare of fruit.

The farmers were forced to pollinate their trees by hand, carrying buckets of pollen and paintbrushes with which to individually pollinate every flower, using small children to reach the highest blossoms.

Here we have a striking example of the chaos and destruction that can be caused by preventing a single, tiny species, from fulfilling its purpose in life, its own, unique, cosmic task.

The sea mollusk is another example. Living on the ocean floor it leads a simple existence, seeking out food and procreating whilst enlarging its shell to protect its growing body. The mollusks cosmic task is to clean the excess calcium from the ocean and, as it filters out the minerals needed to enlarge its shell, it is playing a vital role in reducing the calcium density of the sea water. Without the mollusk and other shelled creatures like them, the oceans of the world would be uninhabitable for ninety-five percent of the creatures now living in them. These mollusks live and work and have their being in their own peculiar ‘Fields-of-being. Unconsciously fulfilling the role assigned to them by the Ground-of-being.

You may look at any animal, plant or species. Whether it be the lions of Africa, the grizzly bears of the North American continent, or the tiny field mice in the hedgerows of Ireland. From the highest to the lowest, every single creature has a meaning and a purpose to its existence, only the children of men have lost their way.

We are the only species on the face of the earth that has abandoned its cosmic task, and in doing so we have become the single greatest threat to the survival of the planet and its inhabitants. We have become humans thinking, humans doing, humans working and, in succumbing to this insidious malaise, the vast majority of us may have forfeited our rights as Humans Being.

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Suicide

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Suicide
Poems from a Rehab
February 16 – Books by Brian O’Raleigh | Edit

Winter
Chapter 28
Suicide
“I could not look on death, which, being known, men led me to him blindfolded and alone.”
Rudyard Kipling
The rumours began early that weekend, sweeping through the rehab like a bushfire. Monday morning they were confirmed. Camilla had thrown herself over the Gap, casting her life down onto the rocks two hundred feet below. They’d found her shattered body at the foot of the cliffs close by the entrance to Sydney Harbour.
A week after her death the group decided to discuss suicide. It was a heavy session and during the afternoon break, Megan and myself escaped out into the garden for a coffee.
“So what do you thinks on the other side then?” she was blowing smoke rings up towards a pale, grey, winter’s sky. “Will we be acceptable in heaven if we kill ourselves, or will we get more shit up there too?”
“More shit, I’d imagine, if there is another side.”
“You don’t believe in anything?’’ she was staring across at me.
“I believe in lots of things. Gods, demons, assholes, saints, wankers, mystics. I just don’t know which is which anymore.”
“But you do believe in something?”
“I don’t know what I believe in, Megan. I was an atheist for most of my life and then I got sober. I don’t know what I believe in now. If there is a God, maybe he just gets pissed off with some of us sometimes.”
We went quiet for a while and I lit another cigarette for her. The bell was ringing for the last group of the day.
“Fuck the group,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “fuck the group,”
We sat there for a long time not talking and then she looked across at me again. “How were you planning to kill your self?”
“A gun,” I said
“You have a gun?”
“I had a rifle in Noosa,”
“Were you serious?” she was frowning.
“I don’t know, I thought I was. There weren’t any bullets in it.”
She burst out laughing so suddenly that she almost fell off the bench.
“You can’t have been too bloody serious! What were you going to do, beat your self to death with it?”
We both fell about laughing then, it all seemed so bloody ridiculous.
“Maybe we should make up a kit for people who want to neck themselves,” I said, “we’d make a fortune. We could call it ‘The Ultimate Relaxation Kit,’ or ‘The Do it Yourself Guide to Suicide.”
“I like the second one,” she said, “it rhymes!”
“I’m serious,” I said, “we could include something for everyone. We’ll have a gun, with bullets! Two, in case you miss the first time! There’d be a dagger for the more dramatic types and a bottle of whisky laced with arsenic for those who might feel like a drink on the way out!”
We were still giggling when one of the staff appeared.
“Come on you two, you know the rules. You should be in group.”
* * *
Jim Maclean gave us the evil eye as we slipped back into the Rehabs lecture room,
“Nice of you to join us, Brian, Megan. Try to be a little more punctual in future would you?” He studied us both as we settled back into our seats. He was always on the lookout for the rehab romance syndrome but there was nothing like that between Megan and me…
We were just two lost souls with a similar intent
Adrift on an ocean of fear
Castaways clinging to refuse at sea
Treading dark waters, unable to be
Seeking oblivion, praying for sleep
Creatures without rudders alone on the deep
Spirits dissolving as memories unfold
Flash backs and images swamping our souls
Lost in a time warp between new and old
Pressed between pages from a story long told
Group sessions and lectures flying over our heads
Memories and nightmares and hospital beds
Histories and stories and pasts drained away
Professional smiles set the course of each day
Twisting and turning away from the known
Hiding in terror from lives we’d disowned
Remembering lost childhoods we once knew as ours
Sifting through darkness, looking for stars
Grasping and hoping for words that might heal
The hurt and the terror and a pain that’s so real
Torn from the known world that holds others in place
Trailing dark secrets before some therapist’s face
Mixing with dead people, sitting around
Advice without meaning pulling us down
Drowning in concepts from minds without souls
Twisting and turning past ancient lost goals
Awakening each morning to a world full of dread
Gods lost and demons surrounding each bed
Group time and tears raining to a cold floor
Heaven and hell lurks behind each closed door
Never knowing the place where the ending begins
Talking to lunatics about personal things
Hunched over in meetings alien and cold
Lying in a small bed abandoned and old
Reaching out for beliefs that have already failed
Soul dead to hoping that something remains
Lost to a world rushing by every day
Reality fading as time slips away
Where goes the meaning, what’s the use of a friend
Does the darkness keep going or is this how it ends
Degraded and useless, lost and betrayed
Paying for crimes that others had made
Sinking and dying beneath professional smiles
Searching for meaning through the eyes of a child
I won’t pray anymore now, you have what you need
I’m broken and beaten and down on my knees
You talk of a saviour as if he were real
You say he’s all loving, but that’s not how it feels
Is this some sort of madness, your belief in a god
There is nothing at all between us and the sod
If there were a creator, if he listened at all
Why is he waiting, why not get done with us all
Get it over with now Lord, please let it all end
If you remember me Jesus, if I once was your friend
Let me go now God, please let it all end…
They found Megan two weeks later hanging from a rope in the bedroom of her home; she’d only been out of the clinic for a few hours. She’d slipped away as quietly as she’d lived, never having believed she had the right to be here. Megan was twenty-seven years old when she hung herself, a victim of crimes committed many years before.
Excerpt from ‘The Boy in the Boat by Brian O’Raleigh. Available atAmazon.com & Kindle.com

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Purpose

cropped-triskelion-copy.jpgEvery human life holds a potential

If that potential is not fulfilled

That life was wasted

Carl Gustav Jung

There is a meaning and purpose to every human life. That has been known throughout the ages by  peoples from around the world. But, like many of our ancient beliefs and traditions, this vital piece of information has somehow become misplaced or lost in our modern, fast paced, digital world.

This blog will attempt to help bring this misplaced gem back into the consciousness of those looking for meaning, purpose and passion in an age where lack of purpose, apathy, hopelessness, mediocrity, corruption and greed threaten the very existence of our planet.

Each and every one of us is ‘called’ to a higher purpose, and there is a way each of us can discover exactly what that purpose is. In doing so we will move out of what the poet Elliot called the’Wastelands’ and begin to live the life we were meant to live and achieve the dreams that so often lie dormant within us. This is a journey, a journey to meaning.

Character Creation and Development

Station Three. The Mind

‘I think, therefore I am.’ Descartes:

Or should it be, ‘I think, therefore, I think I am?’business dog tablet pc ebook touch pad

One of the most fascinating things about our characters, whether there be good, bad or ugly, is how they think. How their minds work.  We watch the heroes in a movie, or follow them in a book, wondering what they will do next. Learning how they behave and gradually coming to understand their character, that invisible, unique imprint that makes them walk, talk and act like no other.

Throughout these exercises I will be using examples taken from books, my books and those of others. For me one of the most useful methods of teaching Show Not Tell, involves studying the written and the spoken dialogue of successful authors and film-makers. Examples that demonstrate the principles we’re attempting to master.

Some new writers tend to try to explain how their protagonists are thinking by telling their audience. ‘Tom walked in the bedroom door and found his wife in the arms of his brother. He was furious. He wanted to kill the Michael. He felt betrayed…’ etc. etc. But the oldest adage in the author’s toolbox admonishes; ‘show not tell’.

OK, so we all know it’s show not tell, but how the hell do you actually do that? Most people need examples, things they can read, see and grasp, before they can break through one of the most baffling aspects of written dialogue. So, why don’t we try again.

‘Tom heard the muted sounds as he approached the bedroom. He opened the door and froze. She was in there with him, his arms around her waist, ‘You bastard!’ he swung at Michael, rage blinding him as he slammed a hard, clenched fist into brother’s face…’

You see? Showing is alive, and it’s often to do with definitive action, and movement; real time incidents and actions that will bring your characters to life. Telling is abstract, passive and a lot less gripping. Telling involves the brain, thinking and describing, instead of actions, reactions and energy. Ultimately your characters will be judged by what they ‘do’, not by what you decide they should ‘say’, or what you chose to say about them.

Another way to get to grips with, show not tell, is by watching movies. Movies can’t tell you how the heroine feels when her lover is caught in a trap or sent off to die in a war. The entire story is visual, the actors have to show how they’re feeling by their facial expressions, actions, gestures and the way they move.

You can also set the scenario for this by creating a visual landscape that your protagonists move within. Here’s an example from Endor’s Way. Chapter Two.

 

The shadow in the doorway glanced at his watch and looked back. There had been a movement at the far end of the street. From a distance you could have mistaken Charlie Douglas for an athlete. Tall, slim figure, dark track suit, Red Reeboks and a headband, but closer up the illusion faded rapidly. The gaunt face, haunted eyes and empty ass jeans all spoke of a long standing love affair with the big H. A mistress now badly in need of refreshment.

            “You’re late,”

            “Makin’ sure I wasn’t followed,” Charlies eyes were roaming up and down the darkened street, “This could get me fucked over, man.”

 

The feeling here is one of danger, drugs, destroyed lives, secret meetings. There’s an air of foreboding about it all. Something’s going down, something bad is about to happen. You can’t successfully tell them what Charlie’s feeling, but his gaunt face, empty ass jeans, fear of being followed and his eyes roaming up and down the street, show us that Charlie is frightened! Who’s the shadow? He’s not identified. Your readers have brains; they’ll work that out. You show them the scenario; you do not spell it out for them Let them uncover it. Make them work a little. Make them think. What’s Charlie thinking? ‘This could get me fucked over, man.’

 

One of my favourite books, and also one of the greatest movies ever made, that beautifully demonstrates the art of ‘show not tell’ is, ‘Zorba the Greek’. Antony Quinn and Alan Bates. You can watch this movie on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD1JJM4p1gw#t=77.579417            If you’re committed to creating strong, meaningful and unforgettable, characters’, please, watch it!’

Zorba, (Anthony Quinn) is a Greek fisherman/farmer/ex-soldier/itinerant worker, who’s led a full, wild, and adventurous life. Alan Bates plays an uptight English author suffering from writer’s block on a holiday/retreat/escape to a small Greek island.

Here we have a clash of cultures, identities, beliefs, prejudices, sexism, ancient ways and brutal realism as a remarkable story unfolds in a small Greek village.  The two main protagonists thinking couldn’t be more different. Zorba, a devil may care, no longer young, romantic, with a taste for wine, women and song. A forever hopeful dreamer, living on little more than enthusiasm and an unquenchable zest for life, meets a young Englishman. He’s single, in his early thirties, staid, conservative, timid, anal retentive, frightened of women, and lives by the rules – real and imagined. He believes in doing the right thing, he’s stitched up and shy, and he’s never experienced a wild, out of control moment in his entire life.

When the beautiful young widow stares at them from her bedroom window as they walk past her house one evening, Zorba knows the full meaning of that look,’

‘She wants you!’ he tells the startled Englishman. “Go to her!’

‘I couldn’t possibly do that.’ The Englishman protests, we’ve never met! I don’t want any trouble,’

‘Trouble?’ Zorba tells him, ‘Life is trouble. Only death is not; to be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.’

 

Later still, dismayed by the younger man’s lack of enthusiasm and passion, Zorba tells him: ‘God has a very big heart, but there is one sin he will not forgive! If a woman calls a man to her bed, and he will not go!’

 

This film is one of the best I know to help a writer grasp; ‘show not tell.’ The dialogue is brilliant, the acting superb, the facial expressions striking, and the sometimes brutally violent scenes, treasure troves of information for those looking to improve their understanding of how we can create and depict characters who think and act in startling ways when their basic characters are provoked and exposed.

Watch the movie with a pen and notepad. Write down the moments and movements that strike you. The sudden explosions of feeling, the wild declarations that Zorba makes that reveal his deep, passionate and often contradictory character. ‘Life is trouble, only death is not; to be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble!’

Do you see? This is his character being exposed, this is the real Zorba. He’s not politically correct. He’s never heard of that abomination. He’s free, unrestrained, wild, passionate. He conceals much of that at times, as we all do. He can be cunning, manipulative, thieving, lying, but underneath all of that he is simply a wild, free spirit.

That is where his thoughts and actions spring from when he is aroused. That is his true nature, his true character. That is what we must see, feel and know about our own creations. How do they think deep down? What are they when reduced to their essence. When threatened will they turn and fight, or will they run? Will they feel so dismayed that their heart breaks when the see the young Englishman, so tied up in his own warped sense of duty, honour, religion and country, that he cannot see, feel, or experience the living passions, experiences, and opportunities that life presents to us as Zorba’s – ‘gifts from God!’

When Zorba recognises how emotionally constipated the Englishman is, a sudden rush of invective exposes a critical aspect of his character. This is how he really thinks, he’s not politically correct, he’s not about to choose his words carefully, his passion is real, urgent and alive, flawed as it all is. In doing so it gives us all dramatic insights into the true character of one of the most complex characters ever portrayed on film.

 

*     *     *

Another more recent movie that can be helpful in this ‘show not tell’ area, is Avatar. A truly great movie, one that is well worth studying. Everything is show here of course. As the movie begins we meet the main protagonist, a young, red-neck, American grunt. An ex-marine, physically handicapped and vulnerable who’s being coerced into a dangerous situation against his will.

Watch this film. You will get a good grasp of how this guy thinks originally, and how that changes over the course of the movie. The way his thinking changes and the character arc are both fascinating and utterly believable. It’s fascinating to observe how his thinking undergoes a slow, subtle, but powerful change as he encounters the trials and tribulations he faces on his own journey to understanding, empathy and maturity as a man.

Ultimately his transformation is total and complete, and we see the way his thinking has done a complete, 180 turn-around. He goes from a simple, almost brutish character, to become a classical hero figure who is prepared to risk his life for something he now believes in passionately.

This is the classical, Character Arc, the transformation of consciousness as the young ‘grunt’ evolves from a mere soldier into a strong, sensitive warrior, prepared to lay down his life for the woman he loves and his new ‘tribe.’ The classical heroes journey of mythology. This movie forever reminds me of a wonderful Irish saying referring to the uninitiated male. ‘Never give a man a sword, until he’s learnt how to dance.’

Writing, Character development and the ‘Human Shadow’.

‘The gems of our personality lie trapped  within our Shadow.’ 

Robert Bly – ‘Iron John’

Before we begin to address the powerful dynamic that prevents the majority of people from venturing into careers or ‘callings’ we need to take a look at that elusive Jungian archetype known as the ‘Shadow’.

 The shadow is possibly the most powerful and pervasive aspects of the human psyche and, as the term implies, it is a part of us all that lies hidden in the depths of the subconscious. Ignored, unexplored and often totally unknown, yet capable of disrupting our lives in sudden, destructive outbursts of energy that leave us and those around us baffled.

Sometimes this powerful archetype works on a more subtle level, poisoning friendships and negating opportunities with its ability to undermine our reason, confidence and self-esteem. The shadow often harbors all those barely conscious aspects of ourselves that we dislike and find impossible to accept, the murky secrets we cannot admit to, even to ourselves. It may comprise of qualities that we hate in ourselves and have tried to root out, only to see them come back with a vengeance when we least expect it.

When we are young we may have been forced to suppress many of our normal, healthy emotions and feelings. If our parents or care-takers refused to allow us our anger, grief, spontaneity, joy or sexuality, then much of these natural energies may be distorted, repressed and locked within the shadow.

These powerful energies may be repressed and controlled for long periods of time but if they are suppressed indefinitely they can take on a life of their own and ultimately work against us. They can lie dormant and festering for years before exploding outwards in self-destructive behaviors that can ruin friendships, destroy careers and leave us wondering who we actually are. If we continue to ignore or reject these natural instincts, we may inevitably be forced to pay a costly penalty.

Compulsive obsessive behaviors, all kinds of addictions, irrational rages, loss of energy, depressions, suicidal thoughts, dependencies and chronic despair are all symptoms of an out of control shadow.

But what is less well known about this powerful archetype is that it also contains and conceals many of our most positive qualities, often relegated to the unconscious in confrontations with authority figures in childhood. These suppressed parts frequently hold the joy, spontaneity and childlike nature of what Sigmund Freud referred to as – ‘das wunderkind’ – the wonder child – which in turn holds the key to our innate creativity, our authentic selves, our soul, our purpose in life, our ‘calling’.

In the movie world, one of the most dramatic personifications of the shadow was Darth Vader (a pun on Dark Father) of the Star Wars Trilogy.  An extreme, archetypal figure representing the dark or shadow side of patriarchy. Remorseless, unforgiving and unreachable as he urges his only son to join him on the dark path of unfeeling, demonic intellectual control, in the service of the evil Empire.

Who can forget the scene where Darth Vader urged his own son, “Come over to our side Luke, the power is incredible!” But Luke Skywalker refused. He was a Jedi warrior engaged in his own heroic journey and committed to the transcendent side of the Life Force. Therefore he chose the power of the heart, the classical hero’s choice.

In the third episode – The Return of the Jedi – Darth Vader himself is redeemed when, realizing the error of his ways, he returns to his heart and his humanity when he sacrifices his own life to save that of his son.

We last see him as a ghostly figure, reunited with the other Jedi warriors, hovering over Luke, guiding and protecting him from beyond the grave for in finally rejecting the dark path by sacrificing his life he has transcended both life and death.

Another classic tale of the shadow is Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which depicts a good man struggling with the darkest aspects of his own psyche. In this case however, Dr. Jekyll, whilst tinkering with forces beyond his ken is led by Mr. Hyde down an ever darker path, until eventually he is taken over completely and destroyed by the evil excesses of his alter ego. The message here is clear, the shadow needs to be exposed but it also needs to be tamed and disciplined. Our shadows are vital forces that must be brought out into the light of day or they can destroy us.

People who act out in compulsive obsessive behaviors such as alcoholism, drug addiction or compulsive over eating, are clear examples of an out of control shadow and obviously have major problems.  But there are many others who are less visible, people who are crippled by doubt, fear or shame, suffer endless depressions or talk of suicide.  Or others who get carried away by monetary success, abuse their power or becomes totally self-centered or self-seeking whilst ignoring the needs of others, have also been overwhelmed by their own shadows.

Character development depends as much, if not more, on the writer’s understanding of this powerful yet hidden dynamic, and every writer worth their salt must be prepared to examine their own hidden drives and yearnings if they are to successfully convey the power that this archetypal energy generates in their protagonists consciousness.

But it is also vital to remember that the shadow also contains and conceals our greatest talents and abilities, gifts that we will finally be able to integrate and harness as we unearth and explore what Robert Bly referred to as the ‘Gold of the Shadow’.

Character Development. Stage 1 – Your protagonist’s work life!

A Writer’ Life

I have spent my days stringing and un-stringing my bow2017-creating-character

Whilst the song I came to sing remains unsung…’ 

Rabindranath Tagore

You want to write a great book?  Then let’s get real!

Creating Great Characters

Character creation is probably the most talked about aspect of the author’s art and craft. A subject that has been hashed and rehashed to death. It has been done so many times, plagiarized so many times, and adjusted and re-presented so many times that it has created a quagmire of useless, misleading information lacking in both integrity and originality. Do I sound a little angry about this? I am. When pseudo experts lead aspiring writers down misleading alleyways, solely to buffer their own ego’s or bank balances they automatically become just one more obstacle in an already difficult journey.

Here I will present a totally new and different approach to Character Development. One I have created, developed and taught over the past 10 years. And, whilst you are considering this, make sure you check out the teacher, the guru, the one you are handing money to, to teach you how to write. Have they written anything worthwhile? Are they published authors? To my astonishment I found that the vast majority of ‘Writing coaches’ have never been  published! Put bluntly, they’re striving to make a buck out of naive people who are struggling to learn the  art and craft of the writers profession. OK, enough of the negative! Let’s just say that there are writers and writing gurus out there who are honest, devoted and fantastic teachers. And some of them are either low cost or free, as is this blog. These are the people you can trust and follow. So, check’em out!

OK, the foundation stone of my program is this diagram. There are actually 8 Stages of Character Creation. Initially will be examining these four. Work -Love- Mental- Physical. Later we will take a good look at the remaining four. I do this for simplicity and clarity. Today we pull apart Stage 1. Work.

2017-creating-character

First, let’s give your character a name. Don’t just toss any name in. Think of a good name if you can. (but don’t get hung up on it!) Give your main Character some gravitas. Mary Brown might not hack it! I love Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, the hero in Michael Connelly’s thriller series. He’s known to all the other cops as Harry, but it’s a great name to hang on a main protagonist. So,what about you? Is your character male or female? How old is he/she. And then, the big question. What do they do for a living?

The first method we will be using to create  powerful, memorable characters will be by identifying and examining their work life. Why? Because in most cultures people tend to classify others by their job title. One of the first things people ask, shortly after being introduced is; ‘So, what do you do for a living?’

Some may use it as an ice-breaker, an innocent query to get the conversation going, but usually it has a much deeper meaning than that. We tend to make an initial assessment of a new acquaintance by finding out what they do for a living, what they work at. It’s a form of ‘social sniffing’, similar to the way dogs tend to sniff at strange new dogs in an attempt to pick up more about them, to see if they’re safe, to see if they fit into the ‘tribe’, to see if they’re above or below expectations.

So when the new acquaintance confides, ‘I’m a minister in the Anglican Church,’ our perception of this stranger alters immediately. Our barriers may rise, our filters switch on. Watch your language, some inner voice warns, not too many edgy jokes tonight! But if our target tells us; ‘I’m a musician, I’m in town to play at the jazz festival on the weekend,’ we relax a little; this guy/girl could be fun! (Depending on where each character fits into the story of course!)

We tend to put people into categories, stereotypical boxes that confine and limit our understanding of them as human beings. We all have hidden prejudices and hang-ups, and many people are racist, at least to some degree. But we now live in cultures that insist on political correctness. As children we are told: You mustn’t stare at black people, you must be friendly towards Jews, Catholics, Muslims, etc. Soon, as our space program expands, those admonitions will almost certainly extend to ‘You mustn’t stare at Martians, Moon people, or three headed wombats from Uranus!’

Truth is a lot of us still will, and some of your character’s will also have varied reactions to other people they will meet in your book. Your characters can’t always be politically correct. There are many among us who simply aren’t like that. We need to identify some of these characteristics. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or like them. Doesn’t mean you have to approve of them, or their behavior. Doesn’t mean that some of your own prejudices are leaking out in your writing. It means that you are a good enough writer to expose some of the idiosyncratic behavior that haunts the shadowy corners, quirks, and subconscious drives of otherwise ‘normal’ people.

This is an essential tool for creating memorable characters. Therein lies the art and craft that we all must learn and develop if we are to produce multi-faceted individuals who will populate our books and movies with idiosyncratic characters who may charm, horrify, or mesmerize us in accordance with the complexities of their fluid, unpredictable, natures.

Most of us suffer from prejudices and irrational dislikes of one sort or another. We need to investigate and explore these inner forces in ourselves if we are to understand the hidden demons, quirks and foibles that inhabit our fictitious characters, quirks and traits that make them memorable and intriguing.

We’ll take an example. Let’s imagine that one of my secondary character’s is Robert, a 47-year-professional man from a country town in N.S.W. Married, one child, lives a calm ordered existence. He does a lot of community work in his area. He’s a member of Rotary,  a civil rights lawyer who’s heavily into social justice, boat people, Aboriginal affairs and various other oppressed groups in Australian society. He loves his family and is known to be a good family man.

But when his 17-year-old daughter, Melisa invites her boyfriend, Simon home for dinner for the first time, and Robert opens the door to find a black Jew from Ethiopia standing there with the biggest smile he’s ever seen, what happens? I don’t know. What do you think happens? Think about that. You’re the writer! He’s been caught completely off-guard! So, how’s he going to handle this situation? Maybe he’d start with:

‘Well! We’re delighted to meet you, we’ve heard so much about you! Come in.’ Trouble is, Simon has already picked up a certain tension, the expression, the body language, the hesitation. The cautious, ‘Come in,’ didn’t help much either. Dad glances across at Melisa, who’s totally oblivious to the unfolding drama. She was born in 2000, a totally different era to her parents! Multi-culturism was never heard of when her dad was a young man. He’s all for it intellectually, he’s talked about it, even lectured about it, but it’s not ‘in him, as him!’ Its learnt behavior. He agrees with it, of course, but it’s an acquired belief.

Melisa’s mixed with all sorts of people all her life. At school, at Uni, teacher’s, friends, professors. Black, pink, Asian, African. It didn’t even cross her mind to say, ‘By the way, dad, Simon’s black’. But Dad’s amazed, he wasn’t warned. Warned? She would think. Warned about what?

They’re in the lounge room now and Dad has become aware that he’s smiling way too much. He needs something to kick start the conversation. He’s concerned, he’s already wondering what how dark the baby will be. What will his friends think? Could it be as black as Simon?

Amusing? No. Some people would respond exactly like this and we need to recognize that. If you’re going to create characters without flaws, if your character’s are all going to be honest, wholesome, non-racist, squeaky-lean, cardboard cut-outs, your readers can throw away their Valium and their sleeping pills, your book will do the job just fine.

But let’s get back to dad. He’s beginning to pull himself together now, although mum still looks a bit concerned. ‘So, tell me, Simon, what do you do for a living?’ he asks hopefully. Hopefully because he already knows that they met at Uni. Uni means professions. To dad Uni means doctors, accountants, engineers, politicians, opera, rich people, academia, acceptable, Australian, standing.

“I majored in music, man. I’m here to play at the jazz festival on the weekend.’

*     *     *

It’s very common. Most of us tend to make initial judgments or assess people on their professions or their jobs, what they do for a living.

But in character development we have to go way deeper than that. If I’m going to tell my readers that Sean Harrigan is a detective in the Sydney Drug Squad, they will need to know a whole range of other things about him before he actually comes to life.

Take another look at Chart 1 – Work. As you can see, there’s a light and a dark side to the Work Station. Yin and Yang, positive and negative, light and dark. We need to know where Harrigan lies in relation to this. We need to know everything there is about Sean’s Harrigan’s work life. Why and when did he join the Police Force? That comes up fairly early in the story as he is reminiscing about his now dead partner, Michael Jameson. And I quote:

but soon my thoughts were drawn back to Jameson and the nightmare I was attempting to leave behind. The way he’d died had sickened me. We’d been partners for years but our history went back a lot further than that. I’d known him since I’d arrived in Australia. We’d gone to the same school as kids and we’d entered the Police Academy together. We’d graduated the same time and with the exception of a one-year exchange stint he did in America with the NYPD, our careers had run parallel courses.

            He’d been a big drinker too and we’d done a lot of crazy things together. But after he went undercover things changed and our friendship began to decline. Unlike me he’d loved the life and when the Endor file had come up he’d been one of the first to volunteer.

            So here we are looking at the two main characters in ‘Endor’s Way’ a murder mystery that begins on Bondi Beach. In just a few sentences we learn that both men were keen to join the police force. They were childhood friends, they volunteered for the Police Force together, they were keen. Later on, at the ‘Back Story’ station, we will learn why. (Sean’s father was a detective in Belfast, Ireland) We’re also learning about the Work station of his partner. It’s obvious that Det. Jameson loved the life he was living as an undercover cop. There’s also a hint that Harrigan may be tiring of the job. We have also learned that both men were big drinkers, a factor that has already damaged Harrigan’s career.

So in just half a dozen sentences we can learn a lot about our main protagonists work lives. But there is more, a lot more. Now let’s take a good look at your own main character’s work station. (We’ll look at secondary characters later.)

  1. What is her/his profession? Is she/he good at it. Are they perfectionists? Do they pursue their work late at night, driven by a need to excel? If you’re writing a memoir the work station can be a great place for your readers to get a good sense of who and what you are. You must draw word pictures to fuel their imaginations.
  2. Describe how you felt when you landed in Mt Isa to begin a new career. Talk about the adrenalin rush the first time you rode a wild brumby or operated a twenty-ton bulldozer. Make sure they feel the fear, the danger, make them feel that thrill. Make them experience it.
  3. How did your hero come to work in that field? Tell us about how they got started in that job. Was it a passion, or did they just drift into the position. Maybe a casual job that became permanent?
  4. How long have they been at that job?
  5. Do they still love the work, or has that changed? Do they plan on staying, or do the dream every day about getting the hell out of there? (Over 60% of people in the Western World are dissatisfied with the work they do for a living) Allude to that, help them to identify with the hero/heroine.
  6. These are not, yes or no questions. If they’re tired of their work we need to know why. Why? Because it affects how they act, what they say, and how they respond to pressure. Are there too many rules and regulations. Or is it because someone is making their job more difficult. Is the boss a bastard? Is it because there’s too much pressure. Are the hours too long, or the pay too little, or both?
  7. Are sexism, racism, glass ceilings, office romances or office secrets and petty feuds destroying the esprit de corps of the workforce. Or has your heroine just simply outgrown that position and needs a change.
  8. Tell us about their superiors. Do they get on with them? Are they casual and friendly, or high handed and aloof?
  9. What hours do they work? Do they take their work home? Does that interfere with their home life? (We’ll be looking at that next in the following station: Love Station)
  10. Are they self-starters, motivated. Do they wish to change the work ethic of the company?
  11. Are they attracted to the boss? Is he or she pestering them? Is there an office romance?
  12. What chances are there for promotion? Do they want to advance in that particular company? All of this information can be pertinent, and much of it may be essential if you wish to create memorable characters that will capture your readers’ imaginations.
  13. And remember, this is not a test or a race. We all begin somewhere. This is why I created this method of teaching. It’s step by step, one-character trait at a time process. We build our characters one brick at a time, one piece on top of another. Do not look at this and think it’s too much. It’s not. It is simple. One trait at a time, one habit, one quirk, one detail, one more piece of information. Then sooner rather than later, you’ll be living with your new creation. Talking their talk as you show us how they walk their walk. This is the beginning, add your own insights. You can’t get too much detail. When you fully understand your hero, you will then know exactly how they speak, how they react, how they love and hate, and at that point, your readers will too.

For the male writers, this is as close you’ll ever come to being a mother. For the Femmes, perhaps you’ve given birth once again. This time to a character dreamed up by your imagination and brought to life by your pen!

We need every detail about our main character’s work life. The more the better. Why? Because once you know the answers to all those questions, once you have filled out their background, you will know how your protagonist thinks, feels, and responds to the variety of situations that will arise at her work place and in her/his ordinary, everyday life.

Not only will you know how she responds, you will also know the hidden drives that may cause a furious row, a tender moment, or a complete breakdown. The best part of all this is, when we enter the skin of our character, we will become their voice. Not our voice. Their voice. We will get angry for them, with them. We will cry with them. We will stand up for their rights with them. And in the case of one of my favorite character, Sean Harrigan, we will tell Chief Superintendent Kearney together to go and get; “BLANKETY, BLANK, BLANK, BLANKED!!! when Harrigan’s finally had enough of all the back-biting, lies and intrigue, in the NSW Drug Squad!

*     *     *

There are variations on the above theme of course, as there are with all the other Stations on the Character Creation Chart. Our hero may not have a job. She/He could be retired, out of work, on a lengthy sabbatical or studying at a school or university. Even so you will find that most of the questions and concepts above will apply to whatever hobbies, studies or vocations we are involved in.