Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Character Study - Buttercup, from Sonata by Blair McDowell

I can't begin writing any new book without first writing background character studies of the people who will inhabit my story. Somehow, in my mind, my stories always begin with place, and, after place, with characters. My stories evolve from the settings and the people.

But even I had to laugh at my preoccupation with character studies when I found myself writing one for a dog.  Of course Buttercup is not just any dog. She's Vancouver Police Detective, Michael Donovan's dog, and she plays an important role in Sonata.

What she's like and how Michael came to have her are vital elements in the story.

Below is the first draft of my character study for Buttercup. Initially, as you will see, I made Buttercup a male, but somewhere during the writing of this novel she told me she was female. My characters have a way of changing on me sometimes—although not usually gender.

Buttercup—Michael Donovan's dog.  

Michael rescued the dog when a drug bust went bad. He found the dog, only a puppy at the time, malnourished and shivering with fright under the bed after its owner had been killed. Michael took him to a vet and then home. Fed him up and ended up with a dog who would gladly give his life for Michael if it seemed needed. Physical description— Malamute and St. Bernard cross, but somewhere in his lineage is a wolf—(other indeterminate ancestors as well). This is one BIG, fierce-looking animal, with a sugar sweet disposition.

The odd name? I haven't figured that out yet, but it is his name. Maybe because of a bright yellow patch under his chin.  Brown and white fur, soft and thick.  Face, white with brown freckles from the top of his head to his nose. One blue eye and one brown eye. Buttercup is a real coward, afraid of his own shadow. Hides under the bed when anyone new comes into the apartment. He stands high enough to eat off the dining table without any effort.


The following excerpt from Sonata shows something of the relationship between man and dog:

Michael fitted his key into the lock of his apartment door and swung it wide. A huge fuzzy mass leapt at him and the two, man and dog, rolled over and over on the carpet.

"Okay. Down, Buttercup." Immediately the beast backed off and sat expectantly on its haunches, tongue lolling, tail thumping on the floor.

"Buttercup, this is Sayuri. Sayuri, Buttercup." The dog lifted a paw the size of a small ham and Sayuri, after hesitating only a moment, shook it.

"How do you do, Buttercup," she said, gravely. Then she turned to Michael in total disbelief. "Buttercup?"

"It's a long story. I'll have to take her out to the park for a quick run before I start dinner. Just make yourself comfortable. There's wine in the fridge. Pour us both a glass. Be right back." With that, man and dog disappeared out the door.


As they went down in the elevator and across to the park, Michael spoke to the dog, "So far so good. We've got her in my apartment. I expect your full cooperation tonight. Whatever happens you are not to climb on the bed, should I get so lucky, or slobber all over Sayuri. If there's any slobbering to be done, I'll do it. Got it, buddy?"

Buttercup wagged her tail furiously, nearly knocking over a passing pedestrian.

"Sorry, ma'am."

Michael thought about how Sayuri had looked when she answered the door. So cool and composed. Delectable. Good enough to eat. Down boy, he reminded himself. Don't blow it now. You've got her this far.

Taking a deep breath, he muttered, "Keep it cool." Then he looked at his dog. "Okay, Buttercup, do your thing so we can get back up there."

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