Building a Bird House


riting a story could be very much like building a bird house. A bird house, like many other enclosed boxes has six sides, but it might use seven pieces of wood. I usually like them to have a peaked roof for water runoff, etc.

I start by cutting seven pieces the same length – my personal preference is 12 inches. What about waste? It doesn’t matter most of my bird houses are made from 5 ½ x 5/8 inch used, weathered fence boards.
So, you ask, how does this apply to writing a story. The working title – Bird House describes the general concept and perhaps the goal.
So, there will be at least one character with a name – in this case Bird House.
With a name there must (should) be body specifics. In a person story, man, woman, boy, girl, etc. is too general for depth. So, it is with the parts of a bird house. The base starts as one of the 12-inches pieces of wood and must be modified for a good fit. The roof is a pair of nearly identical parts as are the front/back and the two sides. But the front is different from the back – it has the opening for birds. Getting the picture?
Does each of the bird house parts have body language? Consider what a bird sees. Hole too large or too small – not a good fit. Would a bird land on the back side? Consider a character in a people story known as a wimp standing hands on hips with a stony glare. Not the right body language.
The sides, like right and left guards or tackles on a football line, they hold provide physical protection for the occupants and keep the other parts from collapsing. Front and back, as previously mentioned are nearly the same, but each has its role in the story. The back is visually rejected by birds, but the front has an attraction. The hole gives a promise of shelter and security for the bird family.
Perhaps my attempt at using a bird house is too simplistic. Bird houses are inanimate, and characters in a story must never be. However, bird houses don’t start fully formed (natural openings in trees, etc. excepted). My bird house did start as a tree of some kind (but other materials are used by some), so some of its features represent its background. Weathering characteristics of oak are different from cedar. But aging characteristics of Western Red Cedar are different from Cedar of Lebanon, yet they’re both cedars. It is such with people in stories.


ell, as I look at what I just wrote trying to explain something that I read recently, I cannot even say, “Nice try,” to myself.
So what did I read?
Someone wrote, “Wooden characters in stories are individuals who the writer doesn’t fully understand.” That writer said that characters in a story must have a name, body specifics, body language, a background, a psyche and strengths & weaknesses. The writer also said the character should have a unique presentation of himself or herself and have a motivation for actions in the story.

Just as the bird house is built from raw materials, the writer has to build each character and keep those traits true to the absolutes that make him or her who he or she from start to finish in the story.

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