Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing Prompt For A January Weekend

By day, he is a mild-mannered draftsman, toiling in obscurity at an ordinary machine shop.

At night, your protagonist is....Puma Man!
Looks harmless enough

To write an interesting character, you want to hint at some hidden secrets in the opening pages, anything from an overt act to internal dialogue that will get your readers to turn the page. Take our draftsman, for instance. What might he get up to that would generate an intriguing narrative?

Look no further than real life and you'll find the answer.

Richard Hyerczyk worked as a draftsmen, but he had earned a master's degree in botany. Imagine how that must feel, to be so educated and thoroughly trained in one field, to have worked so hard to obtain an advanced degree, only to enter a world where your skills and knowledge were not needed. He taught a class here and there at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but alas his passion for plants could only be a hobby, rather than his life's calling. Still, he went to work every day because a man has to earn a living.

But by night, he became...Puma Man!

Our mild-mannered draftsman took a particular delight in firing off threatening letters to various organizations, public personages and clergy. Whoever had annoyed him for whatever reason caught the bitterest end of his sharp pen. He unnerved his victims with warnings of violence to come, rape and murder and mayhem.

Then he went to work the next day in his disguise, just another blue-collar worker in a blue-collar world.

Random threatening letters did not draw much of a response, and it was not worth the cost of police manpower to track down the source of the anonymous epistles. It was not until the botanist morphed into Puma Man that the Chicago police department decided they had to locate and stop the author of hate mail.

A few years back, a wild puma had to be put down because it was wandering in an urban environment filled with small, very edible, children. As you'd expect, the bigger story at the time was how the police took down someone's air conditioning unit in a hail of bullets. Most of their shots were well off the mark, but then again, how many of the lads were fond of hunting?

A new grievance arose, and Mr. Hyerczyk put pen to paper and sought revenge for his puma friend. He thought it would best express his outrage by giving the coppers a taste of what they'd given Puma, which was a hail of bullets while they were walking in an urban environment, that is, marching in a local parade.

It took several years, but Mr. Hyerczyk was caught and will soon face trial.

A fascinating man, to be sure. His family had no idea that he had it in him to become Puma Man, rather than the botanist by training who found true happiness by wandering in the woods, searching for lichen.

Your novel or short story needs a character with that kind of depth, with a secret that cannot be kept hidden because he hints at it with such craft that it is not obvious. On the surface, at the opening, he is ordinary. As the narrative plays out, you the author expose him, but only a little at a time, and preferably at the end of each chapter.

Why not use such a real-life example? You'd be hard-pressed to make this stuff up.

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