Saturday, November 25, 2006

Decorating Characters

Hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving. I did. Family dynamics totally change when your kids grow up and become adults. Instead of retreating to their rooms to play video games or disappearing to avoid having to talk to parents, they sit down and talk. Wow.

Since I know my husband and I will be gone for a week in early December, I talked him into starting the Christmas decorations early this year. Of course, what we consider early may not be so for others. Somehow we don’t usually get started until December hits, then it’s a crushing rush to get the tree up, decorate, buy presents, send cards, and plan the dinner. This year, we put the tree up before Thanksgiving.

Just up. Not decorated. We did the decorating the day after turkey dinner. And it took most of the day. We have a ton of ornaments. I’m not kidding. The naked tree is about twelve feet tall and every inch sports an ornament.

While the decorating takes hours, I really enjoy doing it. First of all, I dig out the Christmas CDs and play them while we work – yes, even though it’s only November 24th. Mostly the joy comes from seeing the ornaments. Each one is a glimpse into our family, our lives, our past, our travels.

There are about two hundred ornaments from my “ceramic” days. That doesn’t count the most precious ones – those the kids made in their early years. Those I hold aside, along with the hand-made ones from preschool and boy scouts, and hang them front and center, not hidden back in the depth of the needles.

Others come from friends and family. I have a sister who lives in up north. Every year I send her the official Texas state ornament. She’s started sending me ones from her part of the country. I now can recognize the shape of Minnesota. For a while, she was into making salt dough ornaments. Each year those get packed carefully in bubble wrap and so far we’ve only lost one or two.

Hanging ornaments takes me to places around the world since I try to get an ornament from wherever we travel. Lots of resin skiers and snowboarders from Colorado; a marshmallow ice cube fisherman from Montana; Donald, Goofy and Minnie from Disney World. Ornaments from London, California, Morocco, Spain, Paris, Wyoming, North Carolina, Mount Vernon, Mexico, Florida.

Hundreds of ornaments. Each one a glimpse into the Ginger family, into our lives. At this time of year, it all gets displayed for anyone to see.

When you write a character, you put their life on display. But you have to pick and choose. You can’t hang everything out there and expect the reader to make sense of it all. Or to even enjoy seeing it all. You, the author, have to decide what to put on display. What to tell the reader. You choose what to hide among the branches and what to position up front. You decide what to keep to yourself, to save for a future book, if it’s a series. You choose what the reader needs to know and what they don’t.

It’s a little like a Christmas tree since you’re putting the character’s life on display for the reader’s enjoyment. But it’s a small, selective tree. There aren’t any ornaments whose origins are a mystery, where you haven’t a clue where they came from. When you hang an ornament on a character, you know its meaning, its purpose, its significance. The reader may not understand the first time they see it, but they will eventually.

How will you decorate your characters? When the book is done will you step back and admire the beauty? Will the reader recognize and understand each ornament hanging on the character?

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