Shopping for My Characters

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As a mom, shopping is part of my job description. Not that it is for every mom, since I know some husbands who are in charge of groceries, etc, but in our family I corner the market. I’m the one on the receiving end of, “Hey, next time you’re out, will you get me a _________?”

Yesterday, for example, I had to shop for our upcoming trip (string cheese, raisins, tortilla chips, fruit leather), shop for an upcoming birthday party (eye patches, gold coins, treasure map, red-and-white-striped bandanas), shop for a bike helmet for my almost four-year-old . . .

. . . and shop for a camera for Wendy.

“Wendy who?” you might be asking.

Um, well . . . my main character. The fictional teenager who lives only in my manuscript.

She needs a camera. An awesome camera. A digital SLR. The sort of camera that you cradle, the fingers of your right hand curled around the side, hugging it, index finger crook’d and ready to pounce, while your left palm sinks under the fantastic weight of the removable lens. The sort of camera that once you’ve held it and felt it fit in your hands, you don’t want to surrender it.

That level of appreciation is currently missing from my manuscript, and if I shop for a particular camera and fall in love with a particular camera and give that camera to Wendy, I’m hoping I can give her an emotional connection to the camera and the reader an emotional connection to both the camera and Wendy. See the brilliance of the plan?

With of course the technicality that in this case shopping does not equal buying — as much as I would love one of these for myself (*cough* Christmas???).

It’s funny how, despite that technicality, many of my usual shopping parameters still apply. Even though this is fiction and the sky should be the limit (seeing as how I’m not spending real money), I can’t buy Wendy even a mid-level SLR with the twisty LCD screen — because it’s $800, and Wendy is not a rich-girl character. She’s a regular-girl character. She got the camera for Christmas, from her dad, and while her dad spoils her a tad, he doesn’t go overboard. So I have to take that into consideration and not go overboard in my selection. I have to be practical and go with an entry-level model. I have to think what is practical for Wendy, even if practical is slightly less fun.

Yesterday I combed the photos and descriptions online, but I need to do better than that. I need to hold some SLRs and get a literal feel for Wendy’s connection to her camera, for the loving way she holds it and babies it and tucks it into its case. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the $800 model. She is in love with the camera because it’s hers.

That is, once I get her one.

I guess moms aren’t the only ones with the shopper hat. Sometimes writers have to shop around for their characters, too. And like it sometimes takes me a while to catch on that Hubby is serious when he asks for a certain type of milk, etc, it took me a while to catch on to the importance of the camera for Wendy. I threw it into the story a couple drafts ago but didn’t give it the attention it deserved — until the camera solved a major character dilemma for me.

See, I could not figure Wendy out. She was so elusive to me. How would she react to seeing the fairy that stalks her in the novel? No idea. And for my manuscript, that’s a fairly critical thing to know.

Finally I realized that I needed to change the question into something I could wrap my head around: How would Wendy react to seeing a spider?

Answer: She’d grab her camera, get close, and zoom in until all its tiny hairs were in focus.

Answer: Wendy would be fascinated.

That kind of insight proves to me that the camera deserves a little more attention. So while fitting in shopping for produce at the farmers market and other real and mandatory errands this weekend, I’ll also be fitting in the task of nestling a few cameras into my hands, pondering their size and weight and feel, and deciding which one to give my character.

Ever shopped for someone imaginary? Any tips on selecting a great entry-level camera for a dad to give his teenage daughter for Christmas? 

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6 responses »

  1. I love the idea of shopping for your characters as education! When I write some modern fiction I will totally borrow this idea. 😄

    My usual advice to people looking for expensive things is to not be limited by the latest models and the latest sticker price. With vigilance, you can find great deals on used cameras through sites like Craigslist and Ebay.

    About digital SLRs specifically, when I bought mine I was surprised that the camera body was only about half the total cost. My 28 to 200mm zoom lens was just as expensive. Also there seems to be a fair bit of brand loyalty similar to how families can end up always buying from the same car manufacturer or attend the same college. The two big names are Canon and Nikon. I think it’s pretty funny when I get teased by Nikon users for the Canon Rebel XT at my side. But it has faithfully captured my life for the last six years and I’m not about to change it. ^_^

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  2. Thanks! I can totally see that. I used a Pentax camera for my image because my dad had an awesome old 35mm Pentax with three different lenses and he let me play with it when I was a teenager. In fact, I still have it. And great idea on buying older models, too. That does make more sense for a teenager’s first SLR. 😀

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  3. Pingback: A Payoff « All About the Words

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