What Makes You Squirrelly?

I have this new obsession as of late and it is the HGTV channel.  (Home and Garden TV, for all of my international peeps.)  I can not get enough of it.  I watch every damn thing on it.  I think it’s because I’d like to eventually purchase something.  I also watch it because I think it helps to dream.


I have one particular show that I like called, “Property Brothers.”  Basically, two, handsome, twin, Canadian brothers – one a realtor and the other a contractor – show you the home of your dreams.  But, of course, the ready-to-move-in, home of your dreams is always WAY out of your price range.  So, the twins show you how you can buy a “fixer upper,” renovate the hell out of it, and get the home of your dreams for a fraction of the cost.  I find the show endlessly fascinating.  The people purchasing the homes are almost always couples, so the amount and the nature of the cray-cray on display is always enthralling.


I’m a sucka for cute AND thrifty…


There was the guy who could not see past the renovation.  He was a gentlemen -literally- without the power of imagination, and he was a cantankerous mess, until the very day the job was done.  Then, he was overjoyed.  There was the lady who bought everything she could find online via craigslist – tile, fixtures, furniture – all in the hopes of driving down the price and driving the contractor crazy.  There was the dude obsessed with the house reno in the hopes of giving his pregnant wife everything she ever wanted, etc, etc.


Then there was the one that bothered me.  There was one woman, I’d say she was in her early 20s and something about her ticked off all my hot spots.  It all started around when the couple was trying to figure out which fixer upper they were going to purchase.  This always goes the same way.  They see two houses, hate them both, but then the designer/ contractor shows them on a computer screen what the two houses COULD look like.  From there, the couple picks the house that they would like to purchase.  This always follows a formula:  they hate the houses, see the plans, and then pick a house that they hope will be transformed.  That’s how it goes.  Always.  I know this because I watch the show more than I care to admit.


But, not with girl in question.  She kept saying, “I just can’t see it.  I just can’t picture it.  I just don’t know how THAT is ever going to look like THAT.”  And before I can scream, “Use your imagination, you crazy, woman-child,” the contractor and the hubby are off to appease, I mean, set her fears to rest.  They bring her BACK to both houses and show them to her AGAIN.  Okay, so she couldn’t see it from the beginning, right?  No biggie.  I mean, why am I being so hard on her?  Well, for me the seeing of the houses again was only the tip of the iceberg.  Once the couple finally decides on a house, the woman goes, “But, I really want this house.  Is there anything we can do to let the owners know that we really want it?  Like, can I write them a letter?”


The contractor looks slightly stunned, but quickly recovers and thinks it’s sort of “sweet” and “cute” that she wants to send them a letter.  The husband looks at her AND actually says, “I’m not doing that.  You can go ahead and do that, but I’m not…No.”


She writes the letter.  They get the house.  The contractor even mentions that maybe the letter helped after all.


Regardless, this woman IRKED me.  And that’s the interesting thing.  Why did these things irk me?  They’re, in the scheme of things, not that big of a deal.  In fact, her feelings card may have helped score the house for them.  Yet, I found myself wanting to shake her like a bad nanny.  What the hell is my problem?


Why was I so irked?


Maybe it’s because she seemed like such a baby to me.  Maybe it’s because the letter writing thing is something that I couldn’t necessarily do with my own Wifesy and expect (no, better yet, assume) that it would have a positive outcome.  Sure, some people would give the house sale to the two gay ladies who wrote them a nice letter, but some people would be turned off by it and NOT.  Maybe it has nothing to do with the gay issue at all.  Maybe it’s that this baby-woman seemed so weak to me and that just drove me – momentarily – feckin’ crazy.  She seemed like one of those fragile flowers who needs everything done for her.  She never does the household bills because, well, “Numbers are hard…”   “And can you lift that box for me because my vagina won’t let me…And wah, wah, wah.”  Maybe I just don’t like weak people.


What’s my point?  Believe it or not, I bring all of this up for one reason and one reason only — KNOWING WHAT BOTHERS YOU (AND YOUR CHARACTERS) IS SO IMPORTANT FOR THE WRITING.


I read a brief interview with a screenwriter, Will Reiser, the other night and he said something along the lines of, “I get to know my characters VERY well before I sit down to write my script.  I analyze them…psychologically.”  I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist.


I realized (and it was like a light bulb moment for me) that you must know what BOTHERS your characters.  Knowing their background and history is not enough.  You need to know what bothers them.  For me, it would be being around weak people.  I’d have to find out why.  Maybe because I feel that they highlight my own weaknesses?  Maybe because there’s some primitive part of me that thinks the person who can’t pull her own weight (especially the woman) is going to be the thing that sinks the whole ship?  Or maybe that’s it right there…maybe some men have formed their opinions of women based upon encountering adult females like the baby one that I just mentioned.  As a result, they see most women (if not all) as being HELPLESS.  And I don’t like being viewed as helpless.  That could be it.  It could be any number of things.


Now, what about the baby-lady?  If I were going to have to write from her pov, the world would be very different.  Perhaps, she saw herself as being the contemplative, unsure, needs-to-be-cared for, qualities of her personality as an essential part of being a woman.  Maybe for her, that’s what it means to be female.  Maybe her nature is just purely submissive and there’s nothing she can or would want to do about it.  For, regardless of what I like, it takes all kinds to make the world function.  Further, maybe she would see a person like me as dangerous for a variety of other reasons.


All of those things – the bothersome things for both her and I are the very things that I think help to formulate good and solid drama.  Maybe when you know what makes your characters itch then you have some deep and interesting writing.


Now, the only question is – how do you find out – without a shadow of a doubt – what the personality and psychology of your main character is?  How do you analyze your own creation?  If you have ideas, Mother wants to hear ‘em.



Sweet Mother is updated daily-ish.  If you’d like to follow this blog, you can do so by clicking the “follow” link at the top right of the blog.



You might also like:

Dear Fat Dudes



Photo creds:

propbros, squirrel, badnanny


40 thoughts on “What Makes You Squirrelly?

  1. I agree–you really have to know your characters. Even if you only write about 5% of what you know about them, you still need to know what makes them tick. Otherwise, you risk inconsistencies in their behavior.

    By the way, SM, I must warn you–I went through an obsession with the HGTV channel, too. It was right before, during, and after I had a baby. Hmmm, something you’re not telling us? 😉

    1. oh and on the hgtv thing… not unless the property brothers can induce an immaculate conception…in which case, they really are good at renovation work…. lloooooooolllllllll. oh, lawd, at least i make myself laugh. i’m such a cheeseball. xo

  2. YOU are so good at that from what ‘seneca’ is telling me. i am still learning it. with non fiction, i find it easier, i just go, ‘what do i really feel about this…’ and then go hog wild from there, but with characters, EVEN if the characters are an aspect of me – you have to know everything about them – psychologically. i always thought it was more of a biographical thing that you had to know, but actually, you have to know more – how they think. a very interesting discovery for me. anyway, you rock. and i do not know how in the hell you find the time to comment from wherever you are. i truly don’t. 😉 xo, sm

  3. Even though I don’t write fiction, I think this lesson on knowing your characters has large bearing on real life. I’ve made it no secret that the reason I write is to record my own thoughts and hopefully decipher patterns about who I am. This is because I find it extremely difficult to gauge who I am at any given moment. Writing and reading back over what I wrote helps give me some perspective. It helps me know my own character – the objective Emily – a lot more thoroughly than I could if I just lived my life without writing about it. Does that make any sense? Im kind of rambling, but I totally know exactly what you’re saying, Moms.

    1. it totally makes sense and i see that in your blog. in fact, i think that’s one of the reasons i like it so much. you are analytical, so you analyze. i do the same. i’m attempting to write a play currently. and even though, one of the character’s is loosely based on me, i thought i could get away with witty dialogue and leave it at that. nope, if you know exactly WHY the characters are doing what they do, it makes the positions they take SO much stronger. i watched ’50/50′ last night. the screenwriter that i talk about wrote it and what i liked was that the character’s povs were SO STRONG. and, in fact, i think those are the blogs we all like the most – the one’s that have author’s with a strong pov… so, it works across a lot of things, me thinks. xoxo and thank you for commenting, ems. sm

  4. My very first, full length novel idea, that I had in high school over 20 years ago, was a fantasy novel involving 6 characters that were paired up based on the psychological trauma issues they went though, the things that REALLY bothered them.

    Through the story, they would address those issues and find a way to deal with them. Not all of them would overcome those issues and become a fully-healed, fully-integrated people. But they would find ways to deal with it process it so they could become fully-functional people.

    I’ve started that story more times than I can count. Something always happened to it. The kids I was babysitting got hold of the notebook and used it for a coloring book. I used an old computer that used the big floppies for way to long and then couldn’t find anything that could convert the discs. Restarted on the smaller floppies and lost then in a move. I kinda gave up after that.

    The bad thing, I was never able to write short stories again after rewriting the first 7 chapters of that over and over again. I discovered that writing intense, thorough, detailed character development and back stories was really more fun that the real writing.

    1. okay, urban. that is such a fascinating story. why do you think you were not able to write short stories after that? i have (and have had others too) a current writing teacher who believes whatever story we right over and over again like that, means we are trying to solve something. it’s something in our own lives (a theme maybe?) that we are trying to get at…do you think that had anything to do with the starting and stopping process? it may not have been for you, but it is fascinating nonetheless. thanks for telling me about it, here. much love, sm

      1. I was in the middle of my reply and it all just vanished on me! (SOB – the action not the anacronym). I got to caught up in character and plot development and would realize that I now had something that wouldn’t stay short. In other words, I guess I started to over-develop every short story. I don’t think it was something I was working out in my own life. That would tie in with the concept I know some people believe in which all the main characters are really self-portraits of different aspects of the writer. I get that, but I don’t always believe that to be the case.

      2. ah, i hear you. totally. length has been a problem for me, as well. this blog seems to have helped with that somewhat though… however, i feel like there’s NEVER enough time to fix my projects. sigh. anyway, i’m always happy to see you here, urban. thank you for reading, i completely appreciate it. much love, sm

  5. Since I’m not a fiction writer I can’t begin to advise on this, but I can say that the woman-child would have annoyed me too. I would have been screaming at the television, “Butch up, you whiny little bitch!” I actually did yell that exact line at the TV once when there was another couple where the guy was the whiny one. He was all “I don’t like the color of the walls” and stuff. I wanted to kill him. I don’t know why people like that bother me so much, I think it’s because to me it seems that they lack any sort of intelligence or vision. That irks me deeply.

    1. okay, I’m getting, “butch up, you whiny little bitch” printed on some sort of t-shirt. and then i’m going to put jilian michaels’s face on the back. bwwaaahhhhaa. seriously, you made me snort. i don’t know why people like this irk me, but she did. ohhhhh, she did. lool. xoxo, sm

  6. Sometimes being pathetic is really power. There are a whole bunch of things I refuse to do and find that my “I don’t get it, I don’t want to get it, please help me” gets it done, no fuss, no bother and the laziest person in the universe, me, just had to ask.
    Put that in your laptop and write it SM, mwaaa ha ha ha.
    Portia x

    1. somehow i don’t feel you would annoy me. you might make me get another cocktail or get you another cocktail, i’m not sure. but, i don’t think your ‘pathetic as power’ quality is bothersome, it’s quite genius. but, this woman was like lactose. and i was inmuthafeckin’tolerant. xoxoxoxo, sm

  7. I’m sure that lady would have really bothered me too. I really get upset with people who are oblivious and ignorant to the world around them. Must you stop in the middle of the isle, so now one can get around you? I’m the President of a local club this year (Jaycees) and I have a friend who has been a member for the last three or so years. Even now she will still text me and ask “Are we having a meeting this week?” Our club is 81 years old, and has been having meetings on the first and third Monday for the last 81 years. It’s not that bad until I get the follow up message that says “Oh, I thought the meeting was this week…” Well, that’s what you get for thinking I guess. Maybe I shouldn’t mention this, but this friend is a Teacher.

    1. ok, i know so many women like that teacher. i swear they want to get out of being responsible for themselves. it’s some weird and manipulative way to get attention and i’m not 100% sure why (other than it’s feckin’ annoying) it gets to me so, but it does. i nearly died that the club has been having the mtg on the same day for 81 years!!!! seriously, let me talk to her… i’ll make sure she never forgets the meeting day again. looool. xo, sm

  8. Your baby-woman is a really interesting character Mum. I look at her and I see an iron fist in a velvet glove. She may look weak, and act helpless but… isn’t she also the one who keeps getting her own way? Was that how she learned to get around Daddy?

    I could be waaaaay off target here but it strikes me that she is a master of manipulation and that’s basically how women had to be, back in the dark days when men ruled the world as well as the purse-strings. Back when women weren’t allowed to vote. Back when they died in child birth after having 10 kids in ten successive years.

    For me, this arch-female way of exercising power is no longer acceptable. Not in this world. Maybe that’s what you were reacting to as well.

    As for getting inside the head of your character, yes! Knowing what someone does is just the tip of the iceberg. Knowing why they do what they do is far more interesting. And as Carrie said, a writer has to know all this stuff even though she/he only ever uses 5% of it in the story. Knowing all this stuff colours every word you ever write about that character. It informs the words you use in their dialogue and it shapes their body language.

    Some writers plot all this stuff out ahead of time. Some ‘discover’ things about their characters as they go along. I’m a ‘discoverer’ but the only thing that matters is getting there in the end. 🙂 Apologies for the long reply.

    1. no, no, no, never apologize for a comment this great! i’m with you all the way in terms of a character’s psychology. as for your thoughts on the baby-woman, you might be completely right. what came to mind when you sketched out that angle was the hbo series, “rome.” have you ever seen it? the women in that series display nothing, but submissiveness on the outside. but, OHHHH, it’s only on the outside, behind doors and in behind the back ways they are controlling every, little, feckin’ thing. it was -for me- one of the most compelling things about the series. you might be right as to my reaction to her as well. it just seems like such an archaic archetype for a female to have these days, but to each their own. regardless, it’s fascinating when i think about it in terms of the writing. i have yet to dive into my play after this discovery, but i know i’m going to tackle things in a psychological way now. so, it should be interesting! xo, sm

      1. I haven’t seen that series coz we don’t get hbo here [we did get to see Carnivale and Game of Thrones though – thank you ABC]. but everything I’ve read about that time seems to show women had to be manipulative. Even your Scarlet O’Hara from Gone with the Wind! It’s hard to know if that kind of manipulativeness is conscious or just really deeply ingrained because it ‘works’ for them.

        I can’t believe you have the energy to do all you do /and/ write a play as well! Happy writing.:)

  9. This makes me think of that cliche scene when the actor pauses and says to the director, “what’s my motivation?”. The director then give the actor some back story and some psychology behind the character. Of course, the actor then nails it. The thing is somebody has to know the character inside and out to be able to make them real, multi dimensional characters that the audience will invest in.
    On another note – Property Brothers – one of my guilty pleasures. It is nice to know that it is not just a Canadian thing. 😉

    1. so, true, mg, so true. i think once i figure out how to bottle this “psychology” or just as well said, “motivation” as you put it, it’s going to give my characters the missing element that they so need. well, time will tell, as i’m tackling the play from these angle over the next few days… and i can not get enough of the property brothers. wifesy and i have this continual discussion about whether or not the houses are priced in canadian dollars when the show is shown over here or have they converted the currency? the other thing that drives me nuts, NUTS, is that in both property bros and love it or list it over here, they’ve cut out the names of the canadian cities where the homes are located and that drives me bananas. when a couple lives just outsides of a city or walking distance from downtown, i want to know which feckin’ town they’re talking about. honestly, it makes me crazy. i feel like they’re saying americans won’t watch it if it’s about a canadian city, which i find absolutely outrageous. xoxo, sm

      1. I watch Love It Or List It too. I have never heard them mention the city or town that they are in either show. I watched the credits to find out where Love It Or List It was taped and it is West Coast as opposed to Toronto so I just assumed they are in Vancouver area.

  10. Maybe she’s just a selfish, entitled brat who thinks everyone has to bend to her desires at all times and that everything must instantly be exactly what she wants. I know that would drive me nuts (maybe because I can be a little, teensy tiny bit like that sometimes).

    I watch DIY more now because HGTV is more about buying houses than renovating and redecorating them. I like to get ideas about what I’d do if I actually had any money.

  11. i have been trying to work on personalty and behavior of the protagonist and other lead characters of the story im working on…and its difficult…

    as for the baby woman…Sweet Mom i think probably she is one of those people who love to be the ignorant one to get the attention…some people prefer to stay weak to get the attention..i think..maybe…dont know ..human mind and emotions are way too complicated…

  12. I imagine that it’s pretty damn hard to write a good, believable, human character without first knowing yourself.
    And I think you hit the nail on the head when you touched on that fact that what bothers us almost always is reflective of what we don’t like about ourselves.
    Deep stuff.

  13. Psychological character development is my favorite part of writing. I had an acting teacher who used to tell us to find our character’s biggest fear and how they compensate for it. Once you know that you can react to anything that comes your way as that character. As a writer I ask myself a lot of additional questions like where did that fear originate? What happened? And of course, what’s going to happen and how will they change because of it. I love that sh!t! If only I loved description as much. Then my work would be more literary. Oh well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s