Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Unexpected Blonde

Marilyn Monroe and I met on my birthday. I got her as a gift, and although she was half-dead I was very pleased. After I introduced myself, I set up a nice place for her and made her as comfortable as possible. Since then I've been spending a little time with her every day, talking to her and nursing her back to health. I know the trauma of being uprooted and sent to a strange place can be too much for some beauties, but she looked pretty tough.

After a week of TLC I discovered I was right:

Yep, she's a rose bush. You didn't think I had the real Marilyn here, did you? Euw.

I planted Marilyn the bush by my sweet Josephine, in a nice spot where I can see them both from the porch. I deliberately put a little distance between Marilyn and my Don Juan because frankly I don't trust those two together, but Josey is a nice old lady who will keep her company.

Marilyn lost some leaves, and then after a week or so took root and put out two buds. I wasn't expecting flowers for a couple months, so I felt like I'd gotten a lovely compliment.

I was also excited because I got her without any blooms, and I decided not to look up her colors on the internet, so I wouldn't know in advance what she would produce (it's like not finding out the gender of your baby; I prefer to wait for the arrival versus finding out ahead of time.) I thought she might be a pink like Josey, only hotter; I kept thinking of the iconic gown her namesake wore while singing Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.

Seeing the first flower bloom on a rose bush is like watching a gift unwrap itself. As the bud swelled I was out there a couple times a day to check and see what would show. Finally Marilyn flaunted a little color:

For such a big, robust bud the color she showed wasn't a brassy gold but quite delicate; almost like sunlight on snow. I wasn't disappointed to discover she was a blonde, only surprised that I didn't guess that would be her color. After all, her namesake was the ultimate blonde. But I have only one other blondie in the rose garden, so she'll provide some nice contrast for Josey and the other ladies.

This morning her petals began to open, and I expect by tomorrow she'll be in full bloom. I know watching a rose flower sounds about as exciting as observing the growth of grass, but for me it's a little miracle. If she blossoms, she's decided to hang out here with me, and if I look after her properly, she'll give me roses all year.

As writers we have expectations of our characters, and build them according to a vision and/or a plan that serves the story. Characters without vision or purpose in a story are like weeds in a garden; they're unattractive, annoying, and too many of them can can choke the life out of a story. This is why we work so hard to choose the right character, put them in the perfect spot and give them whatever they need to bloom into full, vivid life.

Any writer can tell you that no matter how careful you are, sometimes characters turn out differently than what we anticipate. I think characters who don't evolve according to plan but seem to take on a life of their own are really coming from the writer's subconscious. I've had it happen to me a couple dozen times, and while I think it's annoying as hell, I always trust it because I know there's a damn good reason for it.

The next time you create a character, remember that you're planting something new in your story garden. You can think and plot and plan all you want, but until you write the character, you really don't know what you're going to get on the page. It might be exactly who you want, or an unexpected blonde; either way you should do your part, tend to it carefully, and see what grows.


  1. Beautiful flower, beautiful analogy. The more time I spend in my garden, the more I learn about writing.

  2. Marilyn is a lovely rose. When she's stronger, she'll produce lots of blooms.

    I never thought about the comparison before, but you're right. Some characters really are weeds and need to be pruned occasionally.Sometimes though, I have a character who walks onto the page and is obnoxious. But with a little TLC, he/she turns out to be a great supporting character and twice, were good enough to deserve a story of their own.

    Who knew?

  3. I agree with Charlene!

    I have also found it more productive not to force my characters into a particular action, but let their characters develop more subconsciously, writing down what they say and do instead of telling them what to say and do. They end up far more interesting that way.

  4. What a wonderful analogy!

    Love roses but can't grow them here in the desert but I used to do the same thing, watching that first bud of the season bloom.

  5. Wonderful analogy. Thanks!

  6. I just love the way you think and put words together so beautifully. Such talent.

  7. Wow, what a beautiful rose!! What a wonderful analogy you have used, I love how you took your rose bush and used it to explain characterization and what we do as writers to create the perfect character and how the characters interact with us.

    You take really amazing photos. :)