Writing Memorable Characters, Part 1

 

coverPart 1: Endearing Characters

Readers love discovering an endearing character in a story. They will sympathize with them and cheer for them. They will consider them as a friend.

But what makes a character endearing?

It’s the same things that make us like people in real life. Endearing characters are lovable. They are charming, witty, funny. They enjoy other people (us). They laugh at our jokes and they are outwardly happy. They have flaws we overlook or accept.

In this chapter you’ll meet a new character.

Read on, and see when you start to become enamored with Father Frank.

 

Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you step by step how to rework your story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece – and putting real examples of my own writing out there to highlight it. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and see them side by side, comparing each paragraph and its twin, to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.


 Chapter 12 “FINAL”

I eased open the door to the massive church and stepped inside. The metal latch echoed off the big walls as the glass door clicked shut behind me. Only three other people were visible in the rows of pews, their heads bowed in prayer. The bright, green and white windows behind the altar greeted me from their place behind the enormous wood cross.

Our Lady Of Mercy had an open floor plan like an auditorium. It was bright even on rainy days, with lots of tall windows to let the light in. That contrasted greatly with the dark, gothic St. Matthews I’d known in Indiana, full of oil paintings and stained glass windows, arched ceilings and stone columns—but ancient relics like that were built for a different time. St Matthews was erected by German stone masons over a hundred and forty years ago, modeled after cathedrals in Europe. Our Lady Of Mercy had been built in the 1970s, and it had that look.

Things tend to be done a certain way in any Catholic church, though. Holy water is located near the doors, a rack of prayer candles would be off to one side, and lining a quiet wall somewhere would be a row of confessional booths.

I crept into the quiet church. To the right stood the glass partition for parents with young children, allowing the family to attend the service but not interrupt it if the baby cried. To the left was a row of wooden structures, about the size of three phone booths all in a row, with curtains. Those would be the confessional booths. The priest sat in the middle one, and the confessors sat on either side. Protocol dictated that you wait your turn by praying in the pews, but if the side curtain was open, you were being invited to come on in. Some churches even had a little light over the top of the center booth, to show that the priest was actually in there. No point in telling your sins to an empty box and having to do it twice.

Confession is a touchy thing. Nobody likes to talk about all the stuff they’ve done wrong. If a thousand people were at Mass, maybe a dozen would be at confession, unless a big holiday was coming up, like Lent. In places like New Orleans, confessions were standing room only after Mardi Gras.

That was sure not the case today. The church was practically empty. In a far corner, an old lady in black prayed quietly. Seems like there’s always an old lady in black praying when you go to a church. That’s also part of the way things are done.

Outside the confessional booths, two people sat in the closest pew. They were probably waiting their turn. I checked the time on my cell phone. There was more than an hour to go before they wrapped up the confessions. I stepped around the end of the last pew and sat on the cold, hard wood.

People get intimidated about making a confession, me included. The longer you have to wait, the more nervous you get. With good reason. Admitting, out loud, the sins they’ve committed and the other things they’ve done wrong? Supposedly, you feel better for having gotten it off your chest. I always just felt relief that it was over.

After a few minutes, a woman emerged from the confessional and joined the others who were waiting. They all got up and left together.

My turn.

I took a deep breath and stood up, stepping sideways to the end of the pew and out onto the carpet as I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants. I made my way to the confessional booth and reached out to take its red velvet curtain in my fingers, taking one last look around the spacious church. Aside from me and the old lady praying at the candle rack, the place was empty.

Good. This might take some time.

I slipped past the curtain and kneeled down, staring at the small screen that prevented the priest on the other side from knowing the confessor’s identity. It had been years since my last confession, so I was antsy, but I felt relatively certain I remembered the routine.

I waited, tapping my toes. On a busy day of confessions, like a long day of interviews, the priest might need a few moments to relax before starting the next series. Who knows how long he will have to sit there listening. Hours, maybe. On a slow day, he might be in there reading Field & Stream from the table in the reception room.

Maybe I should come back later.

“Are you ready to begin?” The man’s voice boomed into the confessional.

I about jumped out of my skin. “Jesus!”

“No . . . Frank.”

I caught my breath and shook my head. “Right, Father. Sorry.”

“Been a while for you, huh?” His thunderous words filled my side of the little box. People in the pews could probably hear him. Maybe people in the parking lot.

Crouching, I managed a miniscule peep. “Yes.”

“We’ll go slowly, then. In the name of The Father . . .”

The screen between us prevented being able to see faces, but some movements were still visible. He made the sign of the cross. “How long has it been since your last confession?”

“Uh, a long time.” I squirmed on the kneeler. “And to be honest, I’m not really here to confess. I just sort of need help with a problem.”

Father Frank sat motionless. “So your first confession in a long time . . . is not a confession?”

It was harder than I thought. “That’s right, father.” I swallowed hard. Time for some salesmanship or he might shut the whole thing down on me. “If it’s okay, I really need to talk.”

That might be a good hook. Clergy are always open to helping a member of their congregation.

Father Frank was silent.

I hooked a thumb at the curtain. “If it’s any help, you don’t have anybody else waiting. You can check. There aren’t any other . . . customers.”

I winced at my own ineptitude. Through the screen I saw him close the book in his lap—hopefully it was The Bible and not a John Grisham novel. He opened his curtain and leaned forward.

I put a finger to my own curtain and peeked out a little. The church was completely empty.

Drawing a loud breath, Father Frank tapped his book. “Where would you like to talk? Here, or in the regular seats? There isn’t another service for a few hours, so nobody will be coming in.”

I pulled back my curtain a little wider to ensure my assessment was right. The hall was vacant, and kneelers tend to get uncomfortable quickly. Probably part of a leftover medieval torture setup during The Inquisition. A wood seat sounded like a nice upgrade. “Oh, the regular seats will be fine.”

“Good!” He said, rising. “My butt was really getting sore in here.”

I smiled. My kind of priest.

I stood up and went through the curtain to greet him. He was a barrel chested man, dressed in plain clothes. Guess he wasn’t expecting to be seen outside the confessional box so he skipped the black shirt and white collar.

I held my hand out. “Father, I’m Doug.”

His massive mitt took mine. “Call me Frank.” Gesturing to the empty pews with his book—The Bible—he smiled. “Shall we sit? Or would you rather walk a little?”

I opened my mouth to speak but he answered his own question. Rubbing his butt, he turned toward the exit door. “Let’s walk.”

I followed. Father Frank walked with a slight limp, almost unnoticeable. His shoes were old and faded.

“What brings you to me today?” His voice boomed off the walls of the empty church, making it sound that much louder. “What’s the problem you need to talk about so strongly that you dare disrupt the sanctity of my confessional booth?”

My stomach twitched. I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic.

At the door, Frank looked out. “Ah, it’s raining. Damn.” He turned back to me. “Looks like we’ll have to talk here. Just a moment.”

He took something out of his pocket and dropped it into a can by the rack of candles. It hit the bottom with a metallic plunk.

“Do you mind if Joseph listens in?” He pointed over his shoulder to the stature of St. Joseph behind the candle rack.

I shook my head.

“You’re not talking much for a man who wants to talk about his problem.” Father Frank noted. “Wanna know why I put that nail in the can?”

I blinked. A nail?

“I tend to swear a lot. I enjoy it. I find it helpful to me in my work. However, the powers that be within this fine institution find the use of profanity to be . . . undignified. And unworthy of any representative of the Holy Church.” He grinned. “Can you imagine? And so a crafty method was devised to cure those with of this horrendous affliction—that is, the bad habit of cussing.”

He put his hands in his pockets and tipped his head toward the statue. “I have been given a hammer and some nails, not unlike Joseph here, a carpenter. Every time I use a swear word, I hammer a nail into a piece of wood in the rectory storage room.”

“Does it work?” I asked.

“We don’t know yet. Some days it sounds like a machine gun going off over there.” He burst out laughing at his own joke, a thunderous whoop that bounced around the cavernous room.

Plopping down in the pew in front of me, he threw an arm over the back of the bench and cocked an eye. “Now, what’s on your mind?”

I drew a slow breath. “Okay. But it’s going to sound crazy.”

“Nobody’s keeping score, son.”

“I have a daughter.” I swallowed, searching the ceiling for the right words. “We do—my wife and I—we have a daughter. Sophie. That’s her name. We call her Sophie.”

“Cute,” he said. “Go on.”

“She recently turned four years old . . .”

“That’s a fun age.”

I nodded. “And there has been some trouble. Not trouble like she’s a bad kid. God, she’s a great kid.” I caught myself. “Oh. Sorry.” Using the Lord’s name improperly. And in a church yet.

Father Frank dug into his pocket. He reached over and plunked a nail into the can by Joseph. “That one’s on me.”

“Thanks. So . . .” The words were hard to say out loud. I had thought about it and thought about it, and still I was at a loss as to how to describe what was happening. Or what might be happening. “There just seems to be some sort of big event that occurs, a really bad event, every year.” I looked at him directly. “We feel jinxed, or cursed or something. Possessed, maybe.”

I watched Father Frank’s face to see if the crazy alarms had gone off yet. So far, so good.

“It’s just, things don’t make sense.” I folded my hands, then unfolded them. “They don’t add up. I mean, if you almost get killed at a winery are you lucky because you weren’t killed, or are you unlucky because you were almost killed?”

He nodded. “I see what you mean.”

I was surprised. “You do?”

“Yeah. It does sound crazy. Have you seen a psychiatrist?”

I opened my mouth to speak.

A burst of laughter erupted from deep in his barrel chest. “Just kidding.”

Relief swept through me. This guy was quite a character.

Father Frank scratched his chin. “I supposed how a person sees events like that all depends on their perspective. If you’re an optimist, you see it as lucky. You weren’t hurt, right? You and your family, in this winery incident?”

“No, not my family. Others were hurt, though. One lady was nearly killed.”

“Mm hmm.” The thick fingers massaging his jaw stopped. “Why does it bother you?”

“Because we should have been killed. It scared us.” It sounded terrible when I said it out loud.

A frown crept over Father Frank’s face. “Why should you have been killed? Did you do something wrong, to be punished?”

“No, nothing like that.” I leaned forward and dropped my elbows onto my knees, running a hand through my hair. I had gone over this so many times in my head but it still sounded insane. “We, my daughter and I, we were walking out to the parking lot right before the wreck happened. We were going to have a picnic. We had a cooler in the van, and it was a nice day, so why not? Spend some time with my daughter while my wife sampled wines.”

Frank nodded. “Go on.”

“Anyway, we went to go have our picnic by the side of the van. Only, on the way out, we got distracted.”

“What distracted you?”

“Nothing really. Dumb stuff. Sophie got fussy so I read her some t-shirts.”

Frank gave me a sideways glance. “T-shirts?”

“We’re always encouraging her to tell us what the words are on things. Like if there’s a poster or sign, we read it together. Things like that.”

“Oh. Okay.” He smiled. “That’s cute.”

“So we were in the winery, they had some wine t-shirts and I read them to her, to distract her because she was getting fussy. She was hungry. And they had some funny shirts that said ‘I like to cook with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food.’ Stuff like that.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“But here’s the thing.” I looked into his eyes, watching his face. “It was that little delay, reading the stupid t-shirts, that was just enough time for us not to get hit by the pickup truck in the parking lot. It smashed right into the car next to us and pushed that car, a sedan, flat up against our rented minivan. That’s where we would have been sitting for our picnic. We would have been killed.”

Frank let this sink in. “It sounds like you were lucky. But it also just sounds a lot like a coincidence.”

“I don’t disagree,” I said. “In fact, that’s pretty much where my wife and I left it. Until we started talking about it that night. There have been other things that happened to us. They always happen around the same time of year, around our daughter’s birthday. That made us start thinking that maybe there was a connection. Once they were all laid out, you start to realize there has to be a connection. I mean, I just don’t see how it can be coincidence anymore.” I swallowed hard. “That’s when we started to wonder if maybe we . . . you know, if we were cursed. Or possessed. Or just plain crazy.”

“Well, I can see your concern.” Father Frank sat straighter, adjusting his shirt. “You’re her parents. You job is to keep her safe. If bad things are happening around you, around your daughter, you feel as though you aren’t doing a good job.” He stood. “But bad things happen. There are good things in the world and there are bad things. Necessarily.”

He stepped into the aisle, pacing and shaking out his legs.

“You cannot have good without evil,” he said. “You look at the embodiment of goodness in the world. A child. A baby. Is there anything that you have seen in your life that was not as good and as pure as your daughter, or any baby, when they are born?”

“I suppose not.”

“You suppose correctly!” Frank boomed. “So we agree that some things are good. Absolutely good. But remember, as a Catholic, you believe that your daughter was born with original sin, yes?”

I nodded.

“And so therefore we see that the good is always accompanied by the bad. But you didn’t come here for scripture. Let’s look a little deeper, and from a different angle.” Frank meandered past Joseph and the candles.

“If we allow that things can be good, they are only good in comparison to other things. If there was only one color in the world—the color blue, let’s say—we could reason that there were no colors at all, because everything would be blue. That would be all that we know, and maybe that would not be enough information to let you understand that blue was even a color. Like air, blue would just be. It isn’t until the addition of a second color that we can see blue, because we now have something else that is not blue. So that allows the comparison, and the comparison allows for the whole spectrum. Do you see?”

“I think so.”

He cocked his head, apparently looking for a bigger commitment.

I gave it to him. “I’m with you so far.”

“Okay.” Frank strolled the aisle, gesturing like crazed professor. “Now, if we allow that something is good—and we do—then we have to allow that something is bad. Good and bad, or good and evil, et cetera.” He stretched his arms out. “And between them, a spectrum. Varying degrees of goodness, and badness. Or evil. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“So why is it hard to believe in God and not believe in a devil? Or in this case, if someone can be lucky, can they not also be unlucky?” He threw his hands up. “Of course they can. Usually, they aren’t too much of one or the other.”

Launching himself into my pew, he brandishing his finger like a pirate’s broadsword. “Do you recall the paintings you have seen? Of God and angels?”

I leaned away from the pointer in my face. “Like on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Yes.”

“Very good. Now—do you believe that they were just imagined by the artist, by Michelangelo? That he just made them up?”

I thought for a moment. “I suppose he was creating a visualization of something that he had read, or that had been told to him . . .”

“Again you suppose correctly!” Frank beamed, retreating into the aisle. “And let’s not forget who Michelangelo’s boss was. The Pope. So it’s safe to say that he was getting his information from a good source.”

He spaced back and forth in the aisle, his head down, one hand behind him and the other out front leading the way, stabbing the air as he spoke. “Now, if you can believe that there is a God and that there are angels, some sort of Old Testament embodiment of energy, that can bring down a sheep to interrupt you from sacrificing your son on the altar, like Abraham, or an aberration that can talk to this man’s wife.” He hooked a thumb at the statue of Joseph. “And tell her that she’s pregnant, why would you not think the other possibility is true as well? That there are beings from the other side of the spectrum that could also interact with us? Why is that so hard to believe?”

Frank stepped into my pew and plopped down. “Most people believe the other way. They see a movie like The Exorcist and after two hours they completely believe in the devil. They’ll have nightmares from that belief, and it may stay with them for the rest of their lives.” His eyes fell on mine, seeming to study me. “Or, when nothing dramatic happens to them, like hovering over their bed, or their head twisting around backwards, when nothing like that ever actually occurs, they eventually shrug it off. The devil becomes a boogeyman, not a real thing, and stories they read about people who think they are possessed become things to ridicule.” He sat back with a grunt. “And why shouldn’t they? You only can focus on so many things, so you don’t pay attention to what’s unimportant or what never happens. But some of those same people can’t make the leap to get their heart and mind to believe in a God, even though the proof is all around. In the beauty of a flower, in the magic of a child, on and on. What sense does that make?”

He stared at me. My turn to talk.

“Because if one exists, the other has to.” I whispered. “And if God and His good angels exist, the others can, too.”

His eyebrows raised at my revelation. “Aha!” Bounding up again, he went back to pacing the aisle. “You understand that there is a lot more to this.”

I nodded.

“God can still exist even if people don’t believe in Him, right?”

It was a rhetorical question. I didn’t try to answer, and he didn’t wait for me to.

“The devil and his dark angels can exist even if people don’t believe in them. And until something bad happens that can’t be explained any other way, most people choose not to believe in dark angels and Satan. It’s pretty simple, really.”

He put his hand on the back of my pew, leaning on it like he’d exhausted himself. “Let me ask you this. In the story of Abraham, he is told to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. Was Isaac lucky, or unlucky? Had his father Abraham gone mad, ready to sacrifice his own son on the altar, and at the last minute God intervened? God sends down an angel with a sheep, and Isaac is spared.”

I shook my head. “Nobody mentions luck in that story, do they?”

Frank erupted in a laugh. “They sure as shit don’t!”

He dug into his pocket and clanked another nail into the cup. Then he settled into the pew again, apparently happy with the progress we were making. I was, too.

The thick fingers returned to his jaw. “When do you think you may have seen other things like this, that make you wonder if your daughter is possessed? Aside from ones around her birthday, and even aside from being connected to your daughter at all?”

I shrugged.

“Think about that. It’ll help. Maybe you’ve been missing things. Signs.”

“But not possessed.” Mallory would have none of that. “I don’t believe my daughter is possessed.”

“There are different types of possession. Degrees of intensity. Allow that thought in your head, too, purely as a discussion point. You want to consider—and eliminate—all the possibilities you can.”

I took a breath. “Okay.”

“Think about when in your life these things may have happened. Let them come to you. Then, think about those examples when they do.” He lowered his voice. “This is like making tea. It won’t happen just because I suggested it, but as you allow the possibility to steep in your head, you may think of something. Consider it, and what it might mean.”

He glanced at his watch and stood up. “People will be filing in for the next service soon.”

I followed him as he walked back toward Joseph. “Think about all of it. And then, please, come back and see me, and we will chat some more. You can talk to . . .” Frank gestured toward the church offices.

“Mrs. Clermont.”

“Okay, sure.” He smiled.

We walked out the door together. The rain had stopped again.

Father Frank looked at me “What does your family say about all this?”

“You mean my mom and dad?”

He nodded.

“I haven’t told my dad about it. My mom passed away.

“Recently?”

“No, mom died years before Sophie was even born.”

“Hmm.” Frank eyed the cloudy sky. A light breeze tugged at a tuft of his hair on his forehead. “The mother is usually the religious force in the family.”

“Yeah, she was,” I said. “Especially when I was a kid. It’s a shame that Sophie will never meet her grandmother, somebody who was so influential in my life.”

“As a Catholic, don’t you believe she will see her grandmother in Heaven someday?”

I squinting at him as my eyes adjusted to the brightness outside. “To be honest, Frank, I spent the first week of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I kinda see my job as trying to keep her from returning to Heaven for as long as possible.”

“I’m just teasing.” Frank patted my shoulder. “We talked about a lot of things today. You have some thinking to do.”

I shook his hand. “Thanks, Frank. You helped a lot.”

“Talk to my boss.” He smiled. “Maybe I can get a raise.”

I pulled my car keys from my pocket.

Frank lifted his face skyward, scanning the clouds. “Remember, there have been many iterations of good and evil throughout time. Fire. Dragons. All kinds of things. The original burning bush was God, and then later fire represented Satan and Hell. Nobody connects fire with God now, do they?

“I guess not.”

“Angel of light, angel of darkness.” Father Frank held hands out like weighing scales. “The Church believes these things exist, and so do I. Most people just find it easier to believe one way or the other. Why not both? Why should only the bad guys get to have all the fun?” He laughed. “Fuck ‘em!”

“That’s a two nailer!” I said, smiling.

“At least!” Frank chuckled as he waved goodbye.


Original Chapter 12, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

I entered the church and looked around.

 

Our Lady Of Mercy was a big, open church, almost like a high school auditorium. It was clean and bright, with big windows that allowed a lot of light in. That was a huge contrast to the old churches I had grown up knowing, but those old churches were from a different time, built over a hundred years ago. Our Lady Of Mercy had been built in the 1970’s, and the success of musicals like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar had some sway over churches constructed around that time, allowing a younger, more modern feel.

 

The only problem was, by the 1990’s the architecture from the 1970’s looked dated and stale. Buildings with more classic lines seemed better suited to draw crowds in a declining market. A decade later, the modern look was in vogue again, to the extent that churches are ever in vogue. The pendulum swings back and forth.

 

Still, things are always done a certain way in a Catholic church. Holy water would always be located near the doors, a rack of prayer candles would be around somewhere, as would a baptismal font. And lining a wall somewhere would be the confessional booths.

 

Looking to the right, I saw the glass partition that Our Lady Of Mercy used for folks with little kids. They could see the service but not interrupt it if they made noise or ran around. The small partition off of that room was for the crying infants. Friendly looking, but soundproof.

 

To the left was a row of tall wooden structures, about the size of a three phone booths all in a row, stuck together, with curtains. Those would be the confessional booths. The priest sat in the middle one, which had a door, and the confessors sat on either side. Protocol dictated that you wait your turn by praying in the pews, but if the side curtain was open, you were being invited to come on in. Some churches even had a little light over the top of the center booth, to show that the priest was actually in there.

 

No point in telling your sins to an empty box and having to do it twice.

 

Confession is a touchy thing. Nobody likes to come in and tell somebody all the stuff they’ve done wrong. So even though the Sunday morning Mass might be packed, the Sunday afternoon confession would be sparsely attended. If 500 people were at Mass, maybe a dozen would be at confession, unless a big holiday was coming up, like Lent. In places like New Orleans, confessions were standing room only after Mardi Gras.

 

That was sure not the case at Our Lady Of Mercy today. The church was practically empty. In a far corner, an old lady in black prayed quietly. Seems like there’s always an old lady in black praying when you go to a church. That’s also part of the way things are done.

 

The confessional booths had two people waiting. I checked the time on my cell phone. There was more than an hour to go before they wrapped up the confessions. I went ahead and grabbed a seat.

 

People get nervous about making a confession, me included. The longer you have to wait, the more nervous you get. With good reason. Nobody wants to actually admit, out loud, the sins they’ve committed and the other things they’ve done wrong. Supposedly, you feel better for having gotten it off your chest. I always just felt relief that it was over.

 

After a few minutes, a woman emerged from the confessional and joined the others who were waiting. They all got up and left together.

 

My turn.

 

Crap. I hate going to confession.

 

I got up and walked over to the confessional booth. I had one last look around the church before pulling back the curtain. Aside from me and the old lady praying at the candle rack, the place was empty. Good. This might take some time.

 

I sat down. It had been years since my last confession, so I was antsy, but I felt relatively comfortable that I remembered the procedure. In grade school it had been pretty strict; you say this, the priest will then say that. By high school, it had loosened up. You could sit down face to face with the priest and almost have a chat. They still had the opening lines that each of you had to recite, but after that it was casual. People considered it brave to sit face to face and do your confession. That’s why I always chose it. But most churches still had all the old booths, and they probably still did things the old way.

 

I waited, tapping my toes. On a busy day of confessions, like a long day of interviews, the priest might need a few moments to relax before starting the next series. Who knows how long he will have to sit there listening. Hours, maybe. On a slow day, he might be in there reading Field & Stream from the table in the reception room. Maybe I should come back later.

 

“Are you ready to begin?” a loud voice said. I about jumped out of my skin.

 

“Jesus!” I exclaimed.

 

“No… Frank,” the puzzled voice replied.

 

I caught my breath. “Yes, Father. Sorry.”

 

“Been a while for you, huh?” he asked.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“We’ll go slowly. In the name of The Father…” I could see him beginning to make the sign of the cross. The screen between the confessional booths was designed to let the conversations take place without being able to see faces, but you could still make out some movements.

 

“How long has it been since your last confession?” he asked.

 

“Uh, a long time,” I replied. “And to be honest, I’m not really here to confess. I just sort of need help with a problem.”

 

Even though the screen blocked me from seeing his face, I imagined Father Frank on the other side of the partition, looking a little surprised.

 

“So your first confession in a long time… is not a confession?”

 

“That’s right, father,” I said quietly. Time for some salesmanship or he might shut the whole thing down on me.

 

“If it’s okay, I really need to talk.” That might be a good hook. Clergy are always open to helping a member of their congregation.

 

Father Frank was silent.

 

“If it’s any help, you don’t have anybody else waiting. You can check. There aren’t any other… customers.”

 

Customers?

 

Through the screen I saw him close the book in his lap – hopefully it was The Bible and not a John Grisham novel. He opened his curtain and looked out into the church body.

 

I quietly pulled my own curtain back and peeked out a little. It was still empty.

 

He drew a loud breath, as if to help provide the air to contemplate his next move.

 

“Where would you like to talk?” he asked. “In the confessional here, or over in the regular seats? There isn’t another service for a few hours, so nobody will be coming in.”

 

I pulled back my curtain a little wider. “Oh, over in the regular seats will be fine.”

 

“Good!” He said, standing. “My butt was really getting sore in here.”

 

I smiled. My kind of priest.

 

I stood up to greet him. “Father, I’m Dan.”

 

We shook hands. “Call me Frank,” he said with a warm smile. He gestured outwardly to the empty pews with the hand that held his book – The Bible. “Shall we sit? Or would you rather walk a little?”

 

Then he answered his own question. Rubbing his butt, he turned toward the exit door. “Let’s walk.”

 

“What brings you to me today?” He asked me, his loud voice booming off the walls of the empty church. “What’s the problem you need to talk about so strongly that you dare disrupt the sanctity of my confessional booth?”

 

He got to the door and looked out. “Ah, it’s raining. Damn.” He turned back to me. “Looks like we’ll have to talk here. Just a moment.”

 

He took something out of his pocket and dropped it into a can by the rack of candles.

 

“Do you mind if Joseph listens in?” he said, gesturing to the stature of St Joseph, behind the candle rack. I shook my head.

 

“You’re not talking much for a man who wants to talk about his problem.” Father Frank noted. “Wanna know why I put that nail in the can?”

 

I blinked. A nail?

 

“I tend to swear a lot. I enjoy it. I find it helpful to me in my work. However, the pastor of this fine institution finds the use of profanity to be… undignified. And unworthy of any representative of the Holy Church.” He smiled. “Can you imagine? And so a crafty method was devised to cure those with of this horrendous affliction. That is, the bad habit of cussing.”

 

He went on. “I have been given a hammer and some nails, not unlike Joseph here, a carpenter.” He gestured at the statue. “Every time I use a swear word, I hammer a nail into a piece of wood in the rectory storage room.”

 

“Does it work?” I asked.

 

“We don’t know yet. Some days it sounds like a machine gun going off over there!” Then he burst out laughing at his own joke.

 

It was a good tactic. Tell a little personal story about himself to loosen me up, and break the ice with some humor. Smart.

 

He plopped down in the row in front of me and turned around to face me, leaning on the back of the bench. “Now, what’s on your mind?”

 

I drew a slow breath and nodded. “Okay,” I said, “but it’s going to sound crazy.”

 

“Nobody’s keeping score, son,” he replied.

 

“I have a daughter,” I began. “That is, we – my wife and I – we have a daughter. Savannah; that’s her name. We call her Savvy.”

 

“Cute,” he said. “Go on.”

 

“She’s about to turn three years old soon…”

 

“That’s a fun age.”

 

I nodded. “And there has been some trouble.”

 

I interrupted myself. “Not trouble like she’s a bad kid. God, she’s a great kid.” Then I caught myself. “Oh. Sorry.” Using the Lord’s name improperly. And in a church yet.

 

Father Frank dug into his pocket. He reached over and plunked a nail into the can by Joseph. “That one’s on me.”

 

“Thanks. So…” The words were hard to say. I had thought about it and thought about it, and still I was at a loss as to how to describe what was happening. Or what might be happening.

 

“There just seems to be some sort of big event that happens, a really bad event, every year.” I looked at him directly. “We feel jinxed, or cursed or something. Possessed, maybe.”

 

I carefully looked at Father Frank to see if there the crazy alarms had gone off yet. He was still listening. So far, so good.

 

“It’s just, things don’t make sense.” I explained. “They don’t add up. I mean, if you almost get killed at a winery are you lucky because you weren’t killed, or are you unlucky because you were almost killed?”

 

He nodded. “I see what you mean.”

 

I was surprised. “You do?”

 

“Yeah, it does sound crazy. Have you seen a psychiatrist?”

 

Then he smiled. “Just kidding.”

 

Father Frank scratched his chin and thought for a moment. “I supposed how you see events like that all depends on your perspective. If you’re an optimist, you see it as lucky. You weren’t hurt, right? You and your family, in this winery incident?”

 

“No, not us. Not my family. Others were hurt, though. One lady was nearly killed.”

 

“Why does it bother you?” he asked.

 

“Because we should have been killed. It scared us.” It sounded bad when I said it out loud.

 

“Why should you have been killed?” Father Frank asked. “Did you do something wrong, to be punished?”

 

“No, nothing like that.” I said. I had gone over this so many times in my head, it was hard to get somebody else up to speed. “We, my daughter and I, we were walking out to our van right before the wreck happened. We were going to have a picnic on the side of the van. We had a cooler with us; it was a nice day, you now? So why not? Spend some time with my daughter while my wife sampled wines.”

 

Frank nodded. “Go on.”

 

“So we went to go have the picnic. Only, on the way out, we got distracted.”

 

“What distracted you?”

 

“Nothing really. Dumb stuff. Savvy – my daughter – got fussy so I read her some t-shirts.”

 

Frank looked confused. “T-shirts?”

 

“She’s almost three, and we read to her. She doesn’t know words yet, so we’re always encouraging her to tell us what the letters are on things. Like if I have a Buccaneers t-shirt on, I’ll have her tell me which of the letters in ‘Buccaneers’ she knows, like the ‘A’ and he ‘S’. Things like that.”

 

“Oh. Okay.” Frank smiled. “That’s cute.”

 

“So we were in a winery; they had some wine t-shirts and I read them to her, to distract her because she was getting fussy. She was hungry. And they had some funny shirts that said ‘I like to cook with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food.’ Stuff like that.”

 

“Mm-hmm.”

 

“So, here’s the thing. It was that little delay, reading the stupid t-shirts, that was just enough time for us not to get hit by the pickup truck in the parking lot. It smashed right into the car next to us and pushed that car, a sedan, flat up against our rented minivan. That’s where we would have been sitting for our picnic. We would have been killed.”

 

Frank let this sink in. “It sounds like you were lucky. But it also just sounds a lot like a coincidence.”

 

“I don’t disagree,” I said. “In fact, that’s pretty much where we left it. Until we started talking about it that night. There have been other tragedies that had happened to us. They always happen around the same time of year, around our daughter’s birthday. That made us start thinking that maybe there was a connection. Once they were all laid out, you start to realize there has to be a connection; it can’t just be coincidence anymore.” I swallowed hard. “That’s when we started to wonder if maybe we… you know, if we were cursed. Or possessed…or just plain crazy.”

 

“Well, I can see your concern,” Father Frank began. “You’re her parents. You job is to keep her safe. If bad things are happening around you, around your daughter, you feel as though you aren’t doing a good job.”

 

He stood up. “But bad things happen. There are good things in the world and there are bad things. Necessarily.”

 

He walked a little, pacing, and shaking out his legs.

 

“You cannot have good without evil,” he said. “You look at the embodiment of goodness in the world. A child. A baby. Is there anything that you have seen in your life that was not as good and as pure as your daughter, or any baby, when they are born?”

 

“I suppose not,” I said.

 

“You suppose correctly!” Frank replied. “So we agree that some things are good. Absolutely good. But remember, as a catholic, you believe that your daughter was born with original sin, yes?”

 

I nodded.

 

“…and so therefore we see that the good is always accompanied by the bad. But you didn’t come here for scripture. Let’s look a little deeper, and from a different angle.” Frank walked past Joseph and the candles. He paused.

 

“If we allow that things can be good, they are only good in comparison to other things. If there was only one color in the world – the color blue, let’s say, we could reason that there were no colors at all, because everything would be blue. That would be all that we know, and maybe that would not be enough information to let you understand that blue was even a color. Like air, blue would just be. It isn’t until the addition of a second color that we can see blue, because we now have something else that is not blue. So that allows the comparison, and the comparison allows for the whole spectrum. Do you see?”

 

“I think so,” I said. He cocked his head, looking for a bigger commitment. So I gave it to him.

 

“I’m with you so far.”

 

“Okay, Frank said. “Now, if we allow that something is good – and we do – then we have to allow that something is bad. Good, bad; good, evil; et cetera. And between them, a spectrum. Varying degrees of goodness, and badness. Or evil. Yes?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“So why is it hard to believe in God and not believe in a devil? Or in this case, if someone can be lucky, can they not also be unlucky? Of course they can. Usually, they aren’t too much of one or the other.”

 

Frank went on. “Do you recall the paintings you have seen? Of God and angels?”

 

“Like on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Yes.”

 

“Very good. Now, do you believe that they were just imagined by the artist, by Michelangelo; that he just made them up?”

 

I thought for a moment. “I suppose he was creating a visualization of something that he had read, or that had been told to him…”

 

Frank was exuberant. “Again you suppose correctly. And let’s not forget who Michelangelo’s boss was! The Pope! So it’s safe to say that he was getting his information from a good source!”

 

“Now, if you can believe that there is a God and that there are angels,” Frank explained, “some sort of Old Testament embodiment of energy, that can bring down a sheep to interrupt you from sacrificing your son on the altar, like Abraham, or an aberration that can talk to this man’s wife” he hooked a thumb at the statue of Joseph “and tell her that she’s pregnant, why would you not think the other possibility is true as well? That there are beings from the other side of the spectrum that could also interact with us? Why is that so hard to believe?”

 

Frank sat down again. “Most people believe the other way. The see a movie like The Exorcist and after two hours they completely believe in the devil. They’ll have nightmares from that belief, and it may stay with them for the rest of their lives. Or, when nothing dramatic happens to them, like hovering over their bed, or their head twisting around backwards, when nothing like that ever actually happens to them, they eventually shrug it off. The devil becomes a boogeyman, not a real thing, and stories they read about people who think they are possessed become stories to ridicule. And why shouldn’t they? You only can focus on so many things, so you don’t focus on what’s unimportant or what never happens. But some of those same people can’t make the leap to get their heart and mind to believe in a God, even though the proof is all around. In the beauty of a flower, in the magic of a child, on and on. What sense does that make?”

 

He looked at me expectedly.

 

“Because if one exists, the other has to.” I offered. “And if God and His good angels exist, the others can, too.”

 

He raised his eyebrows twice at my revelation and smiled. “Aha!”

 

He stood up again, his energy forcing him to become restless. “You understand that there is a lot more to this.”

 

I nodded.

 

“God can still exist even if people don’t believe in Him, right?” Frank asked rhetorically. “So the devil and his dark angels can exist even if people don’t believe in them. And until something bad happens that cannot be explained any other way, most people choose not to believe in dark angels and Satan. It’s pretty simple, really.”

 

“Let me ask you this, then,” he said. “In the story of Abraham, he is told to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. Was Isaac lucky, or unlucky? Had his father Abraham gone mad, ready to sacrifice his own son on the altar, and at the last minute God intervened? God sends down an angel with a sheep, and Isaac is spared.”

 

“Nobody mentions luck in that story, do they?” I said.

 

Frank erupted in a laugh. “They sure as shit don’t!”

 

He dug into his pocket and clanked another nail into the cup. Then he settled in again, happy with the progress we were making. I was, too.

 

 

 

“When do you think you may have seen other things like this, that make you wonder if your daughter is possessed? Aside from ones around her birthday, and even aside from being connected to your daughter at all?” Frank asked.

 

I shrugged.

 

“Think about that,” He advised. “It will help. Maybe you’ve been missing things. Signs.”

 

“But not possessed,” I countered. “I don’t believe my daughter is possessed.” Michele would have none of that.

 

“There are different types of possession. Degrees of intensity. Allow that thought in your head, too, as a discussion point. Purely for discussion. You want to consider – and eliminate – all the possibilities you can.”

 

I took a breath. “Okay.”

 

“Think about when in your life these things may have happened. Let them come to you. Then, think about those examples when they do.”

 

He paused. “This is like making tea,” Father Frank said. “It won’t happen just because I suggested it, but as you allow the possibility to steep in your head, you may think of something. Consider it, and what it might mean.”

 

He looked at his watch and stood up. “People will be filing in for the next service soon.”

 

He walked back to Joseph. “Think about all of it,” he added. “And then, please, come back and see me, and we will talk some more. You can talk to…” He gestured toward the church offices.

 

“Mrs Clermont,” I volunteered.

 

“Okay, sure.” He said smiling.

 

We walked out the door together. The rain had stopped again.

 

Father Frank looked at me “What does your family say about all this?”

 

“You mean my mom and dad?” I asked. He nodded. “I haven’t told my dad about it. My mom passed away.

 

“Recently?”

 

“No, mom died years before Savvy was even born.”

 

“Hmm,” Frank thought for a moment. “The mother is usually the religious force in the family.”

 

“Yeah, she was.” I said, “especially when I was a kid. It’s a shame that Savvy will never meet her grandmother, somebody who was so influential in my life.”

 

“That’s a curious comment for a Catholic to make,” Frank said. “Why do you say that your daughter will never meet her grandmother? Don’t you believe she will see her grandmother in Heaven someday?”

 

“To be honest, Frank, we the fact that we spent the first week of her life in the neonatal intensive Care Unit trying to keep her from returning to Heaven…”

 

“I’m just teasing,” Frank said patting my shoulder. “We talked about a lot of things today. You have a lot of thinking to do.”

 

I shook his hand. “Thanks, Frank. You helped a lot.”

 

He smiled. “Talk to my boss. Maybe I can get a raise.”

 

“Remember,” he added. “There have been many iterations of good and evil throughout time. Fire. Dragons. All kinds of things. The original burning bush was God, and then later fire represented Satan and Hell. Nobody thinks of fire and thinks of God now, do they?

 

“I guess not.” I said.

 

“Angel of light, angel of darkness,” he said, holding his hands out like weighing scales. “The Church believes these things exist, and so do I. Most people just find it easier to believe one way or the other. Why not both? Why should only the bad guys get to have all the fun?” he laughed. “Fuck ‘em!”

 

“That’s a two nailer!” I said, smiling.

 

“At least!” Frank said laughing as he waved goodbye.

 


ANALYSIS

How’d I do? Don’t you love that Father Frank? Readers will remember him years after they’ve forgotten a lot of other things they’ve read, and that’ll help them tell their friends about my little story.

Now you’ve seen an endearing character get created. What were the things that caused him to be memorable? Emulate those elements in your own story.

Other Characters Help

In this chapter, the character of Father Frank as bold and brash. At the same time, Doug is somewhat shy and reserved. The two personalities contrast each other, and through the course of the chapter we see Doug go from being somewhat reticent about Frank to really bonding with him and trusting him. The two opposing character types heighten each other. Doug’s insecurity heightens Frank’s bold nature to a reader.

As a result, as Doug begins to trust Frank, the reader does.

Be Unique = Be Memorable

Father Frank says and does things that are unique. He cusses, and has to put a nail in a can every time he does. That’s memorable. He has a loud booming voice that makes Doug flinch at times. That’s memorable. And he brings up things in a unique way that make us realize he’s intelligent.

Often, a memorable character will say the things we wish we could say. Have a character do that stuff.

Your mental image of Frank is probably that of a large man, taller than you and gregarious. But he is described as being barrel chested with thick fingers, not that he is necessarily big or tall. We begin to create a mental image based on how the other character reacts. When Frank refers to Doug as son, we probably picture Frank as older and probably possibly taller then Doug.

The fact that Doug goes to him to confide in him also conveys a difference in age, but we never said that in the chapter.

And the fact that Frank is so forthcoming with his information gives him the appearance of being wise.

We associate all that with age, but we never said how old Frank is, or described him as old.

Anyway, he’s a likable guy! He’s funny!

Endearing Characters Relate To Your Reader

When Doug says things about his daughter Sophie, Frank says complementary things in return.

“We read signs to her.”

“That’s cute.”

and

“She’s four.”

“That’s a fun age.”

I did that because I have a small daughter and most readers will have had a small child. They will relate to the part about reading signs to them and teaching them words. Frank paying a compliment to the parent in that discussion is a way of connecting with the reader and paying the reader a complement. Who hasn’t done those things with their own kid? If you told that to Frank, Frank would’ve told you that was cute.

So we as readers are connecting.

And all of those things will make this particular character endearing to readers. And memorable.

And it’s not a bad thing to have your book be memorable.

By the way…

This was a long chapter, and I’m sure you saw that, but did it read as long as it was? The original was over 4400 words, and the Final was around 4200 – with a lot of stuff removed and a lot added.

Fun chapters read fast, though, and seem shorter than they are. When you are rereading your stuff for the third time, the stuff you want to skip is the stuff to take out.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

4 thoughts on “Writing Memorable Characters, Part 1

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