Saguaro Series III
Those of us who feasted on a diet of Looney Tunes and Doritos each Saturday morning as children probably grew up thinking that those funny desert plants zipping past the roadrunner and coyote were all pretty much the same: deep green, trident-looking in their shape, with three equidistant arms.
If you’re like me, you also grew up associating that shape with the word cactus (even though there are thousands of species). And you probably had no idea that what you were looking at was called a saguaro. Unless you lived in the desert or visited it, you also probably had no sense of scale since the roadrunner and coyote often seemed to be only slightly smaller than those three-pronged prickly green cacti.
Now that I’ve lived in the Sonoran Desert for 13 years (transplanted from Pennsylvania where nary a cactus grew of its own accord), I’m here to tell you that those cartoon assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Saguaros are all different – as different as you and me.
Some aren’t as thick in the middle. Some are very small, while others are very, very tall.
Some saguaros have two main trunks. Most have one. Some have three. Some have dozens of arms, while others have none. (Hey – that was kind of Dr. Seuss-equse, wasn’t it?) And some even resemble the Coyote and Roadrunner’s counterpart, Bugs Bunny.
And finally … some saguaros even cultivate different species of cacti on their own arms. The assumption is that birds dropped the prickly pear seeds, and there was just enough moisture/dirt on the saguaro’s arms to support growth.
For Writers: As novelists, we run the risk of writing one-dimensional “everyone looks and sounds the same” characters. You know the kind: flat characters like the incorrectly portrayed saguaros in our cartoon-laden childhoods. Cardboard replicas. Characters without personality. But what if we approached our characters the same way that nature approaches its creation of the saguaro: with lots of little variances, some big differences and all kinds of diversity?
I’m personally a big fan of an MC’s emotional baggage and even his or her occupational choices when I develop my characters; just these simple details can differentiate your characters and the choices they make from story to story. What are some of the techniques you use to develop one-of-a-kind characters from novel to novel and story to story? Dialogue and colloquialisms? The surrounding environment and your character’s reaction to it? Your character’s hopes and dreams? Can you think of others?
NOTE: MORE PHOTOS AT RIGHT- I couldn’t fit all of my favorite saguaro shots onto this post (without making you scroll even more). If you’re interested in seeing more, click the Twitpic box at right for additional saguaro images.
P.S. My love for the spectacular saguaro abounds – especially as I’ve seen them struggle through the recent drought. If you missed the other posts in my Saguaro Series, feel free to take a look now: End of Mighty Saguaro, and Majestic Crested Saguaro. And stay tuned for Series IV, V and VI.