Let your Characters Reveal Themselves to you

By Fielies de Kock

I am always amazed by how my characters can surprise me. Just this morning I wrote a flash fiction story. Yesterday the ending of the story popped into my head. I decided to write it on my phone last night whilst in bed, but I was too lazy to figure out the plot details. This morning I decided to sit down and labour over it a bit. I knew the ending was words uttered by a soldier in a war, but I had no idea about how I was going to get there.  But when I started writing, Uwe, the protagonist turned out to be a dentist in the German Army during WW2 who was experiencing a crossroads moment. I didn’t make Uwe up. He created himself before my mind’s eyes. All I had to do was to start writing a few words. The moment Uwe was ‘born’, he developed a life and a voice of his own.

The same happened years back when I started writing a novel (which is still only two thirds into the creating phase of the writing process). I wrote a chapter in which the two main characters – a couple – invited a new friend over for dinner. This friend plays the other main character in the story and they were chatting away soon enough. At that stage, all I knew about my couple was that they previously had a relationship, were reunited and were engaged now. During the dinner conversation I learned that they both went from South Africa at different times to work on kibbutzim in Israel. They eventually ended up at the same kibbutz, fell in love, got pregnant, lost their baby girl in a bus bomb during an intifada and then the woman went home. They only met again years later after she got divorced and finally had counselling – and were now sitting, engaged to be married, at a dinner table, telling their new friend – and most importantly, me – their whole story. I was flabbergasted by my characters’ secrets. I really didn’t know all those things about them until that night.

Listen to your Characters

So the moral of the two stories is to learn to sit back and let your characters do the talking – literally! We live in a world of helicopter parenting, controlling our every move to the finest detail and fomo, and writers sometimes tend to overkill on character development to a point of stereotyping. Like the police detective whose boss hates him, is divorced/getting divorced, has a drug/drinking problem, is an absent father and has a heart which is just waiting to attack him. Where are the out-of-the-ordinary detectives who are kind-hearted, crochet with their grandmothers, are romantic husbands etc? Are they really too boring to write stories about or are we are just too lazy to work out great story lines for them? (And there’s another challenging story idea right there! Don’t steal it – it’s mine!)

We should sometimes really sit back and just listen to our characters telling us who they really are. Maybe they have more to offer than the one dimensional stereotype we so often mould them into.

How do you Listen to your Characters?

Go about your character developing the way you normally do. Give them their eye and hair colour, pet peeves, characteristics, likes, weaknesses, family ties, problems etcetera, as much as you like, but don’t limit their back stories because of your own preconceptions. Put them in different circumstances and see how they react. Listen to how they talk to other characters and to what they tell them. You might be stunned at what they might reveal. The best way to do this is to sit down and whether you write to a strict outline or if you are off-the-cuffing it, free write your scenes. Follow these guidelines.

  • Don’t think too much or wait until you have everything figured out before you start writing. If your character do or say things that you didn’t plan, let him/her without interrupting or censoring them.
  • Explore the character by keep writing. Don’t hesitate if weird things flow from your pen or keys and don’t stop writing for even a second! And never, ever stop to correct anything until the free writing is over! Allow freewriting sessions of at least ten minutes per character.
  • Write whatever comes to mind – even if it scares you a bit or if you didn’t plan things the way it plays out. You can always adapt the story line later or edit some of what you have written. It is better to have and to do away with than not to have at all!
  • Trust your instincts (or those of your characters), because when you free write, your instincts take over and most of the time we write better this way than when we are forced to write according to a plan.
  • Just keep going until you reach a point where it feels as if it is done – even if it takes longer than the time allotted for the session.
  • Don’t edit immediately after writing. Leave your work until the next day or even a few days later. This will give you time to think about the revelations you characters made and how it will influence the plot and your story line and if everything still fits in the greater plan. Most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised. If you really find after rereading your work that it is not the case or that it really is a bunch of Charlie Romeo Alpha Papa, you can always delete what you don’t like and/or edit it until you are happy.

Learn to start trusting your characters to reveal themselves to you. You might discover a whole new approach to character development for future use.

© 2019 Fielies De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Foreverest dreamer. Living in a coastal village in the Overberg, South Africa, with her husband and two dogs in a small heritage house, and their job-seeking son in the garden cottage.

What Happens Between “Enchanté” and “Auf Wiedersehen”

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A longish note to everyone we met during our almost four and a half years stay in Egypt.

 

When we Afrikaners meet someone for the first time, we like to greet them with the words “Bly te kenne”. These words literally translate to ‘may we keep knowing each other’.

At that point, the person you meet is just another stranger about whom you know nothing, except his or her name – if you manage to catch, pronounce and remember it! But as time goes by and you meet again and again you learn to pronounce their names correctly, meet their families – either in person or by hearing about them. You eventually learn about the person’s passions, talents, joys and heartbreaks. And then suddenly they are unfamiliar no more.

During our five summers in Cairo we met quite a few people, who by sharing similar experiences, challenges, difficulties and fun, had transformed from strangers into dear friends. Fortunately, living in an ever-changing international community for a while, there are plenty of opportunities to say “Bly te kenne” or “Nice to meet you” or “Enchanté”. Unfortunately during this temporary expat life, another phrase is being used way too often too, because coming and going is a given in this type of lifestyle.

Saying goodbye is never easy and when you have to do it that often, it really “sucks”, to quote our American friends. At first there are goodbyes to family and friends when you first leave to go live in a foreign country in a foreign culture between foreign people. And then there are all the in-between goodbyes when you go home on holiday and return – just to leave your loved ones behind again. And again.  And again. And again…

But then, all of a sudden the day arrives when you have to say goodbye to the foreigners – the strangers whom you met at a reception or a coffee morning or a welcoming party or in the street or at work, and who, in a short period of time, became friends. People who made your stay in a foreign place less foreign. Who helped turn uncomfortable into comfortable. Whose unknown faces had become so familiar and loved that you can’t imagine saying goodbye to them to probably never see them ever again! And that thought is just unthinkable!

So, for that purpose we have another wonderful phrase in Afrikaans and in some other languages with which we try to ease the pain of saying goodbye. We say “Tot weersiens”, which means ‘until we see each other’ – much like the Hebrew l’hitra’ot or the French a bientôt or the German ‘auf wiedesehen’.

If we say “Until we meet again”, we all know that – even if the goodbye part is inevitable for the now – we keep the hope afloat to meet again, because who knows? It just might happen! It already happened when we went on holiday to Greece and met up with old Cairo friends there and when some of our American friends visited us at home while on holiday! So, anything is possible!

Saying goodbye is too final. It means it’s over and done with. Finished. It shuts the door on hope. Goodbyes are no good. They are hope killers and killing hope is not good for one’s soul.

So, after this long account, I’ll come to the point. This note is not a hope killer. This is not our goodbye to you. This is just to say thanks to you for all the laughs and cries we shared. For the many, many, many glasses of wine we had together – and for lamenting together over all those almost-full glasses we lost to over-eager Egyptian waiters! And for all the caipirinhas (“por favor” wink-wink) and all the times we danced to C’est La Vie at functions we were supposed to and at functions we were not supposed to!

Thank you for caring for Deon when Michael and I were not here and making him feel less alone in Cairo. Thank you for helping him when he was dean. And thank you for always asking about ‘our Michael’ and conversing with him and treating him as part of our community and giving him the experience of a lifetime! Thank you for every “How are you?” and every smile and every hug and every kiss and every “I will miss you” towards the end.

We will miss every one of you – those to whom we have already said goodbye to four, three and two years ago and last year and this year, and you who we leave behind now. Every one of you and your families had touched our hearts in one way or another. From now on when we hear English in a foreign accent it will be your voices and your accents we hear it and then we will miss you even more. We will miss your smiles. We will miss dancing with you. We will miss laughing will you. We will miss everything about you.

We wish that you and your families will be blessed in whatever you do wherever you go. Our family’s prayer for you comes from the Bible:

God bless you and guard you.

God make His face shine upon you and show favour to you.

God lift up His face upon you and give you peace.

 

We will always remember you, because between “Enchanté” and “Auf wiedersehen” we have made too many memories together to forget each other.

 

Until we meet again, our friends.

 

With love from Deon, Fielies & Michael De Kock

June 2018 – Cairo, Egypt

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Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – The Finale

 

 

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As we are ready to leave Egypt after almost four and a half years, I knew I had to eventually write the conclusion to our cat chronicles. I put it off for quite a while, because like with all goodbyes, this too is a bit of a sad one – a-circle-of-life kind of finale.

Cat#1 and Cat#2, Camo’s latest (and last so far) black and ginger offspring are still doing well. It was touch and go for a while for Cat#2, the slightly weaker of the two. The little ginger became ill and stopped eating. He was so weak and unwell that we thought he was at his end. But, alas, we fed him (and prayed a little also) and after two weeks we knew that he would make it for now. In the meantime he grew strong and still lives in our garden with his brother. Their mother, Camo, mainly lives downstairs in the parking garage, with her favourite place to relax on our car! I find the dust paw prints on the bonnet quite cute. 🙂

We are leaving soon and we hope that the new tenants will also find it in their hearts to feed them when they are here. They are not dependant on our food for survival as they are fed by people upstairs, the policemen on duty outside the building and the bowabs (doormen). So, they are sorted. And privileged! But. We are going to miss them. These two last ones were cute ones, especially the little ginger. I will miss his little face and his chutzpah when he hammers his head against the glass door in the mornings to get my attention – or to go around the corner to the other window to stare us down when we’re sitting on the couch. And I will miss laughing at him when my husband scares him with our soft toy Ikea dog, Ike!

I wrote in my previous cat chronicles blog about ‘our’ beloved ginger building cat, GemmerGat who came back after an absence of nine months. We were very happy to have her back and quickly realised that she was tired and nearing her sell-by date. So, it came as no surprise when we noted one day that she had become quite weak. We fed her and chatted softly to her and told her to hang in there, but I think we knew that her time had come. So, three days after she became so weak, she wasn’t in our garden anymore. It was the beginning of a really hot period in the summer and we fathomed that she went downstairs to the parking garage to have her last lie down. Maybe she came home to find her rest. This time we are okay with it though. She came to greet and we’ve said our goodbyes.

And that, my friends, is the grand finale of our cat chronicles in Egypt. We will return home now and become dog people again. We can’t wait to have doggy companions again! It had been a long few years without pets. It had been only the second period in my life without pets and I missed having them around a lot. We hoped to see our beloved Maltese, Simmie, again when we went back, but he died on 6 December 2017.

So, this is it for our Egypt cat chronicles. Thank you, Egyptian building cats for entertaining us the way you did. And rest in peace, dear Gemmergat.

As if any of you cats were going to read my blog… 🙂

 

2018 ©  Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.

 

Read my previous cat chronicles here:

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – Part 3 https://fieliesdekock.com/2018/03/25/egyptian-street-cat-chronicles-part-3/

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – Part 2 https://fieliesdekock.com/2017/04/30/egyptian-street-cat-chronicles-part-2/

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – Part 1 https://fieliesdekock.com/2017/04/30/egyptian-street-cat-chronicles-part-1/

 

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – Part 3

More Egypt Chronicles

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GemmerGat – Die kat kom weer!
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Cat#1 & Cat#2

And yet more cat stories.  Ja, wragtig!

So, I should probably give you an update on our cat family here in Cairo. The last time I wrote about them l was really sad about the ginger, Gemmergat, vanishing from our lives. Although we became used to him not being here, I kept wondering what had happened to him – especially after little Swartgat was hit by a car. Yep, we came back after travelling and was relieved and happy to see that the rest of the building fed the cats and that the cute little black cat survived. I was even starting to wonder what the procedure would be to take a cat back to South Africa. The very day after we arrived back, our son and I walked to the shops and was away for about an hour. When we came back, we saw the lifeless little body of ‘our’ black kitten lying in front of the church across the street from our home. He was hit by a car. So, that was the end of little SwartGat.

There was still no sign of ‘our’ ginger, so I was wondering if that was what had happened to GemmerGat too, but then I thought that Gemmergat was too smart a cat to be run over by a car. Did she die from injuries after a fight? Hm-hm, I thought, couldn’t be either, because although from the few fights l witnessed, I learned that that she didn’t like to fight, but she knew how to defend herself. So, I kept wondering.

In October or November last year, the serial mother of our neighbourhood, Camo, surprised us with yet another few bundles of joy. She always have three, it seems, but somehow only one or two make it upstairs to our garden. The other one stays downstairs in the underground parking garage or die or something. We still see one of her previous kittens – a beautiful light grey male – from time to time. He even visits our garden. This time the two kittens she brought upstairs for us to help feed, was a beautiful, strong black one – just like little SwartGat was – and another, much smaller ginger one. We didn’t even bothered with names anymore and they just became Cat#1 and Cat#2 .  We feed them and watch them grow and of course I take a lot of photos of them.

In December we went home to South Africa on holiday and when we came back, the most wonderful surprise awaited us, because in front of our door, as if she had never been away, GemmerGat was bathing in what Egypt has to offer as a winter sun! Never in my life would I had believed that I would be so ecstatic to see a stray cat!

Yep, it was just as in a well-known Afrikaans song’s words: Die kat kom weer (the Cat comes again)!

 

Read my previous cat chronicles here:

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – Part 2 https://fieliesdekock.com/2017/04/30/egyptian-street-cat-chronicles-part-2/

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles – Part 1 https://fieliesdekock.com/2017/04/30/egyptian-street-cat-chronicles-part-1/

 

2018 ©  Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

 Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles Part 2

 

Egypt Chronicles 2/2017

It was quite something to experience our ginger building cat’s transformation from that shy, scared, in-survival-mode creature to an animal that would lovingly come and rub her back against your leg and even allow my husband to pick her up and hold her. It took a long time, but she learned to trust us and to feel save around us. The more we learned about her, we realised that she was a reluctant, but fierce fighter with a soft heart. We named her. Sort of. That’s even more dangerous than to start feeding them! We called her GemmerGat (in English literally Ginger Butt). She became happy and quite relaxed when she realised that she could rule our yard.

So, on a not-so-cold winter January day in Cairo, GemmerGat brought a camouflage coloured kitten (which we saw since that December in the flower pots in front of the building) into our yard to be fed. We weren’t very impressed, but we couldn’t refuse GemmerGat’s generosity to reach out to the little street cat and thought that maybe it was her way of ‘paying it forward’.

The kitten wasn’t very pretty and yet it was. We called her Camo. We soon realised that she doesn’t have the same likable personality as GemmerGat. In fact, i think that she’s a bit off mentally. She was only eight months old when our son, Michael, heard some faint crying sounds outside his window one afternoon and found Camo with three little ones! We were terrified! We didn’t want more cats in our yard!

Camo was a terrible mother! She slapped her babies through their little faces if they wanted to eat and bit them. We came to like her even less. We were away on a trip and when we came back the two kittens that were left (the third vanished earlier) were gone too. I am ashamed to say that we were relieved. So we kept feeding GemmerGat and Camo and kept chasing away the male cats. A few times we thought Camo looked pregnant again, but fortunately no more kittens appeared. Then one day, two months ago, Michael heard a noise outside again and there, from behind the big bag of charcoal, the two pairs of little blue eyes of Camo’s latest offspring peeked at us.

We weren’t happy with another addition to our yard, but as it goes with baby animals – they steal your heart. This time around though, Camo is a model mommy! Instead of slapping and biting her baby (she brought up only one to be fed), I was the one who got clapped when feeding her! Talk about haughtiness! (I don’t like that cat!) But she looks well after her baby, feeds him well and even shows affection. So, I have to commend her for that. She got so protective that she started scaring away GemmerGat – to our dismay! What a rotten attitude! GemmerGat brought her to our yard to be fed and she chased her away! I am so angry at her! And I’m even more disappointed in GemmerGat to let her do that without even fighting for her territory! We saw GemmerGat in the vicinity for a while, but then she disappeared. I’m still trying to come to terms with my feelings about that.

I can’t believe I miss an animal that doesn’t even belong to us! It’s just a building cat after all! I’ve even cried a bit over her. OK, I was actually crying over a situation friends of ours are having, and then I thought about GemmerGat and then I found that I had one more reason to cry and I let go! Now, I’m just really worried about her and quite sad too, that she just abandoned us like that.

Maybe she is still around and just eating elsewhere, because we are not the only ones feeding them. The bowabs (doormen), policemen and other tenants also put out food. But what worries me is that while we still saw her in front of the building before, we haven’t seen her for weeks now. And that worries me more than I am willing to admit.

In the meanwhile, we have grown quite fond of Camo’s black baby, SwartGat (literally Black Butt). He is lovable and playful and thinks our garden is his home.

I can’t believe I’m writing about cats! Again!

I can’t believe that I miss a bloody street cat!

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©  Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopeful Writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.

Egyptian Street Cat Chronicles Part 1

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GemmerGat (GingerButt)

Egypt Chronicles 1/2017

One phenomenon everyone living in or visiting Egypt are guaranteed to encounter is the presence of street animals, be it dogs, cats or other animals – like horses, donkeys and camels, which are used for work and/or entertainment.

Although the work animals are looked after by their owners, most of the time they look a bit different than the well-nourished farm animals one would be used to seeing in your native country. For various reasons I won’t elaborate much further on the subject of Egypt’s work animals.

One has to learn soon that you can’t rescue every street creature you come across. In fact, you have to learn to become a bit thick-skinned in your approach to these animals – something that is very difficult for an animal lover. And there are phases to this process.

In the beginning you feel terrible for the dogs running in packs, looking for food. You feel worse when you see that almost every female bears the ‘Baywatch’ look as our son calls it – with their milk giving ‘tools’ swinging around their undernourished bodies when they run through the streets looking for something to eat and drink. What makes it even worse, is when you stumble upon a thin, dirty litter of puppies or kittens stowed away somewhere where the mom though it to be safe.

The terribleness develop into a depression of sorts when it seems that all you see are stray animals looking for food and you realise that you can’t do enough to help.

Eventually you hear about angel people – some expats, some veterinarians – who try to at least sterilise some of the dogs and cats at own cost.

The next phase is when you walk in the street in the summer heat and you get that familiar smell in your nostrils and then see the decomposing evidence and you think: Ah, thankfully you don’t have to suffer anymore.

The next phase is the most dangerous one. On a hot day when all the different smells of human sweat hangs in the air, mixed with the smell of blood freshly washed off the pavement after a Ramadan slaughter, you find yourself standing in a little shop in Road 9, checking out the cheapest available cat food. Because by now, a very nice looking black-and-white had started following your neighbours’ son back from the gym, your friend down the street had picked up an almost dead kitten and nursed it back to life and when you get home from a function one night, a ginger living in your building had shyly followed you to your front door and after you have checked each other out a few times, you have fetched a bowl of milk one night and rapport had been established.

And after a few more weeks, the once scared, shy, in-survival-mode cat, greets you at the building door and show you to your front door as if it is the bowab (doorman) and cheekily sits and waits for her treat. And when you open the door a few nights later, she only slightly rubs against your leg before pushing past you, and runs perkily ahead, through the house to the other door. And before you know it, you fill an empty butter container with the cheap cat food from that little shop in Road 9. And when you go to the ‘plastic’shop’ the next time, the butter containers get replaced by plastic bowls. And almost without you realising it, you have become a street cat carer.

You shush the male cats away from your garden because they spray and it stinks and they fight with ‘your’ ginger. You know this because you hear the unearthly cries in the middle of the night and you see the ginger fluff rolling past your bedroom window in the slight breeze in the mornings. And you feel surprisingly relieved when you open the blinds and ‘your’ ginger sits there – battle scarred, but alive.

I never thought that I would become one of those crazy persons filling the Internet with writings about cats.

I’m a dog person, after all.

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©  Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopeful Writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.