Characters Are Not Built in a Day

            I love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Yes, I am fully aware they’re cornier than Nebraska. My dream wedding is also on a ship while I fight zombies, in international waters, with our captain acting as justice of the peace. Knowing this my mother made me learn multiple marriage traditions so I wouldn’t come home accidently married before I ran off to sail the world with my boyfriend. (Notice what I did there?) One scene that drives me to the brink of insanity, right from the very first time I saw the movie (here there be spoilers) is in the fifth one when Jack becomes Captain Jack Sparrow in one fell swoop. He fought one bad guy, got his name, most of his jewelry, his compass, and maybe even his hat. It was a transformation scene that gave the audience whiplash.

            I just assume you’re sitting down, giving this piece your undivided attention, stroking my already massive ego. Take stock of all you’re wearing. What’s in your pockets? Your backpack? Your purse? Why did you get that tattoo? We’ll pick on me for now. I’ve got one ring on my hand, and a ton of bracelets on my left arm, a bright pink sweater, and a knife, a lighter, and a ton of keys. The ring I got as a gift when I was 15; the tons of bracelets I collect. One of the bracelets is a hair tie that is also a friendship bracelet, another is one I picked up at a writing conference. My sweater came from a coworker who liked me because I was nice to her son. It’s not something I would’ve picked for myself but I love it because she got it for me. She was a small woman and she just happened to have a designer XL neon sweater in the back of her closet she never wore. Her sister chewed her out in English so that means I was meant to hear the sister say “That’s expensive!”. The knife I carry every day is more utility than sentiment. It also just so happens to be a gift from the ex I tried to sail the world with. The lighter was a gift from my father. The design on it is mountains with a crescent moon. Looking on scenes like that make me feel like I came home. As well as utility, it is a good luck charm. I used to wonder off into the woods frequently and you don’t want to do that without a reliable way to start a fire. I am 100% endorsing Zippo here. A good windproof lighter can save your life. As for the keys: I’m obviously one of the nine pirate lords and there’s a chest we have to unlock together in the 6th movie. I just keep it on me for when Hollywood calls. They certainly don’t go to my diary! Or my house for that matter! But all of these things, hanging off my sorry corpse and in my pockets, are little pieces of bigger stories. Not, I just came out of the sea like Aphrodite and there I was! A whole Helen M. Pugsley. Characters take years to become who they are.

            No, I don’t mean you should spend years building Bob the tomato vendor. I’m just saying, maybe Bob has a bullet scar on his chest from when he was a younger and wilder man. That can be cannon but that event could’ve [would’ve and should’ve] happened well before your story’s timeline begins. I mean, really, scars aren’t scars the day you get them. Maybe that’s why Bob hates fireworks but told that punk who tried to rob him to “go home and love your girlfriend and your child before I snap you like a dried twig.” People need time to become people. People need their spicy memories, battle scars, weird jewelry, tattoos, favorite sweaters, favorite flavor of ice cream that actually tastes like their cousin beating cancer for the 3rd time, good luck charms, and sentimental crap they pack around for no real reason.

            Ogres have layers, onions have layers, characters have layers. And lest we forget parfait! Layers take time to develop. (Except parfait. You can get that at McDonalds. Literally fast food.) Build your character with multiple dimensions, let them go through stupid phases, lose their father’s pocket watch and purchase its replacement at a swap-meet, fall in love and have it go wrong, tattoo the best day of their life in Roman numerals on their arm, and be just as complex as any of us! You’ll concoct a cool human.

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Helen M. Pugsley

Helen M. Pugsley comes from a small town of twenty in eastern Wyoming. They have been passionate about writing since they were small. Helen has been working on The Gishlan Series since she was 14, and 'The Tooth Fairy' was a pleasant side effect of surviving a global pandemic.

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