Thursday, June 20, 2013

Character Pieces: Starling

Now that I am in town for a few weeks I have been working hard at my non-fiction project. I find, however, that I feel stunted if I'm not working on my novels. And when it gets down to bare basics, I'm a child at heart and I can't help but write children's stories. That's why The Baby (Thrice Removed) is getting more space and time than the other projects I had going on. In an attempt to get to know the characters of The Baby, I looked up some character-building writing exercises which I always enjoy but seldom actually do. I am planning on doing various Character Pieces to help familiarize you (and myself) with the cast of The Baby. I found a couple of really great ones that I hope to do later on, but the one I went with was:

In the First Person perspective, write a scene of the first hour of your character's day.

The character I chose for this exercise is one you've not met yet. One neat bit of trivia about this novel is that at least three or four of the characters are built off of two particular dreams I had that were peculiarly vivid and that made me think at the time, "Gosh, they need a story." Today you get to meet Starling. Her dream was one of the strangest dreams I've had yet. All I know is that I was going down through a peculiar castle that was all twisty and odd and I ended up in a cobbled kitchen with bookshelves that looked terribly unsteady and leaned out from the walls. There was a queer mess of dirty dishes, pots and pans, stacks of teacups, and books on the shelves, and sitting in a pile of rags with an absorbed determined look on her face was a girl of about fourteen. She had very little time to spare for me because she wouldn't leave off running her finger up and down the pages of a book, trying to teach herself how to read. She didn't know how in the world to begin and she was frustrated almost to tears, but the creature was determined. Somehow she was having to cram lessons in to odd cracks because she wasn't supposed to be learning how to read. I don't recall what my purpose was in the dream and it had no conclusive end. All I know is that is how Starling was born.

source // The Baby pinterest board


In looks, Starling is stunted. Think Young Cosette advanced six or eight years. Her costume in the dream was very very similar, and she was "all over with smuts". As I learned, she's an under under undermaid and is a terribly obscure but eventually important piece of the Castle of Crissendumm. Anyway. I just started writing with that exercise, and I've posted the bit here so you can all get to know Starling:

I dreamed I was not a under-under-under maid any longer, but a princess. I had a nose that turned up in a delicate point and a dress that crinkled when I walked, and long golden hair.
I was enjoying that dream.
“Thump.” Something hit me crack in the belly and the dream disappeared. I wasn’t a princess no longer. I was just me--Starling--and my stomach hurt. I screwed open one eye and saw Cook across the room. On my belly was Charlemagne, the cat. He’s fat and I’m puny--it hurt when Cook lobbed him at me like that.
“Get your lazy buns out of that bed, girl!”
I screwed both eyes shut, wishing the dream hadn’t gone away. I bet princesses didn’t get a cat in the belly every morning. Charlemagne was tired of just sitting there and decided to help Cook wake  me up by pushing on my cheeks with his claws out.
“Owgeroff!” His fur muffled my protest and I scrambled up in bed, shoving him off the edge with my blanket and put a hand to my cheek. It came away with little streaks of blood.
“Ain’t there a law ‘gainst Child Aboose?” I asked.
“Child Abuse?” Cook’s  face twisted in her ‘You Stupid Oaf” look. “Of course there’s a law ‘gainst it.”
“Then I ought to tell someone you beat me,” I said, trying to remember if I was in trouble with any of the constables and if so, who I’d tell instead.
Cook’s face was very red and I bet she had been drinking all the cream off my milk again. “I don’t beat you.”
“You throw cats at me,” I said.
“That’s hardly what you might call beating.”
I rolled off the cot and pulled my flimsy petticoat off its hook, snagging the fabric and widening the tear. I looked at Cook through the hole. “So it ain’t beating. But it hurts all the same.”
“An’ well it should if you’re such a lazy clot.” She flopped onto my nail-keg and it disappeared under her. Her fat little legs stuck out on either side and she swung them till she looked very much like one of the black beetles I turn on their backside while sweepin’ the hearth.
“I like this room,” she said after a bit. Her eyes were roving around and looking at everything and my fingers shook so I couldn’t do my buttons. She might see my Letters.
I cinched the rag of an apron around my waist. I could pull it tighter each day and I didn’t even have to wear a corset--when you’re fed off of crumbs and dribbles you’re never what they call Plump. “‘Course you like it,” I mumbled.
“What’s that?”
“OF COURSE you like it,” I said, and shoved the board I used for a shutter away from the tiny window. Early light seeped into the room and puddled on the floor, making a safe wall between me and Cook. “Know why you like it? ‘‘cause it’s mine and you don’t like me to have anything nice.”
Cook lumbered up from the nail-keg, for all the world like a great, heaving cow and the red in her face started to mix with bits of purple. “What are you sayin’?” She crossed the floor and came up evil-close to me.
I filled my lungs with breath and held it a moment, then it let it out, choosing my words with care. “I’m sayin’ you’re a mean, cross old woman and you’re jealous of an undermaid’s undermaid’s undermaid.” I folded my arms across my flat chest and glared at her. Later I’d pay for my words and then I might care, but for now I liked just looking at the old fool and watching her fish around for words like an overfed pigeon in a worm-garden.
“Starling-chit,” She grinned a grin like Charlemagne’s after catching a mouse, and fidgeted with the strings of her veskit. “This room is my room now. You’ll sleep in the dairy-house tonight.” With a sniff she whipped out of the room and left me half-dressed, starin’ after her.
I weren’t so very worried--I was joggled from place to place every couple of weeks because somehow Cook always liked where I slept best. The dairy was a new thing, but maybe after a few weeks she’d want to trade places again, and that heifer would finally be where she belonged. I stuffed my straw-colored hair into my cap and--after being sure no one looked on--took the Announcement from its hiding place and puzzled over the symbols that I prayed would someday make words for me.



1 comment:

Molly said...

Aww, poor Starling! I love the picture!