Posts Tagged ‘Golden Retriever’

Some of the Easiest Characters Around

June 15, 2012 9 comments
Jack Russell Terrier with ball.

Jack Russell Terrier with ball. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever struggled to come up that character to add comic relief to a story? What about the little kid who holds the hearts of everyone in a five mile radius with the look on his face and the expression in his eyes? Or, the old lady down the street who is always there with a kind word and an understanding presence?

These are all common characters, so common they’ve become near stereotypes. But how do you create freshness to a stereotype without removing what makes them appealing and affective?

Use a different model for your character. Let’s say you’ve chosen to have an old lady for your story. She’s going to live next door to the family you’re writing about. Let’s also assume that that’s all you know about this character.

One way to get a fresh perspective on this character is to change your own perspective. The only thing you know for certain is that this character is old and lives nearby. With this in mind think of others that could be old and live nearby.

  1. An aged golden retriever that’s been faithful and gentle all her life. Her slightly coppery locks have grayed. Her step is more measured now. Her ability to rush is curtailed with age. She is always available for a hug, and she thinks nothing of spending an afternoon with anyone who needs a companion, to sooth and ease a hurt.
  2. An older Scot Terrier that doesn’t take guff from anyone for any reason. Female she might be, but tough, and knows her own mind. Short legs don’t keep her from taking long walks each day; even if they tire easily, she’ll push through to the end.
  3. An older mare that’s birthed her last foal and been put to graze and grow complacent in her last years. She stands at the fence looking to the west, her eyes seeing the wild herds that used to roam the plains and mountains, whose king stallion stands guard at the edge of his circled harem.

You choice of character models are endless, when you realize that all creatures as they age share common traits. By removing the “animal” from the model and concentrating on the behavior, the visible traits, your own story character takes on a new dimension. You could find these characters in your own home.

Remember that comic relief character? Can you think of models to give you a handle on such a role in your story? Here are three that might work.

  1. A Jack Russell Terrier. That’s the hyper pup on springs. If you don’t laugh at the antics of one of these little clowns, there’s no hope for your character.
  2. Chickens are comic creatures, often overlooked for their relief value. Watch a small flock during evening feeding of veggie scraps. Or, watch them tussle over the use of the swing or perch. They also have personalities.
  3. Wild birds during nesting season. They are a hoot; stealing each other’s nesting materials, poking each other, squabbling, all while trying to attract a mate.

Writers must look outside their usual views in order to keep their perspectives out of stereotype territory. One of the surest ways of doing that is to create different criteria for developing characters. Substituting aspects and traits of animals is one of the easiest methods for ensuing uniqueness.

Give yourself time in the park to watch those creatures that frequent it; ducks and geese on the pond, squirrels racing from tree to tree, or birds arguing back and forth. Go to a quiet wooded area and sit down next to a small stream. Wait in silence. You’ll find more inspiration that you know what to do with if you’re patient.

Come back and tell me of your adventures. Let me know how this process works for you. We can always discuss what you learn along the way.

Until then, a bientot,






How Far Can Family Be Extended?

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

For the past two days I’ve talked about people who I’ve adopted into my family after becoming an adult. This post is about those whom we love to distraction and sometimes to bankruptcy, the ones who worm their way into our hearts with soulful eyes and a generous heart.

I’ve been privileged to be partnered with two such individuals in my life. I lost the last partner in 1997 to cancer and simply couldn’t face the possibility of living through that again afterwards.

When I lost the majority of my sight in 1979, I refused to crawl into the nearest closet to vegetate for the next 60 years. I chose to fight for a life in the world on whatever terms were necessary. I was fortunate to have a caring family who would put up with having me around during this period and support me until I could support myself.

After Vocational Rehabilitation, I went straight to Leader Dogs for the Blind to get a partner; my first such pairing. I won’t go into the details of selection, training, etc. It would take a book to do that.

I will tell you that—at least at that school—the trainers pair human with canine by the dog’s standards, not the human’s. I was chosen as a partner for a specific dog because of how what specific needs the dog had. How’s that for learning humility?

The system works, though. The trainers had just spent months learning every nuance about their animals. The people were unknown quantities, factors that could disrupt everything.

I was selected for Penny, a shiny copper-colored Golden Retriever, who was probably as smart or smart than most people I’ve known. She was bred for the program and two years old. I fell in love at first “sight” when was introduced to me.

As all the dogs did at one time or another, she tested me to see if I would allow her to break training. She ran me ragged testing my stamina. She made me the best I could be with her as a partner.

With Penny by my side, I attended university the next Fall term. I did have to take her back to the school before during Spring break that first year because my vet thought she had hip dysplasia which would cause her so much pain, she’d been unusable as a dog guide.

Blessings flowed when the school’s vet discovered, not dysplasia, but a severe withdrawal from antihistamine injections she’d been taking for severe allergies to grass and fleas. I spent the break there getting her back into shape, re-affirming her training, and thanking God each hour that she hadn’t been sentenced to euthanasia.

Penny could read my mind, I know. She recognized danger from a block away, kept me from injury more times than I could count, and acted as everything from best friend and comforter to confessor. She’d become my other half in more ways than acting as my eyes.

One of the most unique qualities was comforting those around me who had need, even when I didn’t. A friend who was terrified of dogs and was forced to by in her company each week became desensitized and had his phobia lifted so that he could leave the fear behind. A friend who was assaulted one night and came to us for safety found her lap filled with eighty pounds of retriever as a warm body to hang onto.

When my mother lay dying of cancer in her hospital bed in the living room, Penny lay beneath the side rail so that she would know if I needed to tend to Mom’s restlessness or pain, in case I dozed off while sitting on the couch. Penny had a special bond with my mother from the day I’d brought her home. The only time she left Mom’s side was for potty breaks and dinner. She grieved as much as I did when my mother died.

A few months later, she escorted me to work each day, got me through my work day and back home. My job took me all over the country. There was training in Dallas where the heat nearly fried us both. There were trips to the West Coast and back east for weddings, and more.

I had a busier, more adventurous life after Penny came into my life than before. I learned, worked, lived. And when the day came when she was dying of cancer, too, I had to make the torturous decision that every animal lover dreads most.

Not long afterwards, I was forced to replace her with another such partner, another second half. For all that I came to love and appreciated Jesse, who was a terrific replacement; there would only ever be one Penny. She would always hold a special place in my heart and in my family.