Working on a Character Who is Not a Stereotype

I’m looking for inspiration and where better to find it than here in the uber-mind of a blog full of writers. No John or Martha this time (they were last seen off Tierra del Fuego bailing out their kayak), but rather a 50-ish female named Bertie. Who is she?

Your freedoms and limitations: Avoid stereotypes. Feel free to revise what’s been written earlier if you find a way to make her more interesting. Consider family, location, occupation, health, clothing preferences, hobbies, life issues, etc. Push hard for a woman you’ve never read about before.

Bertie is….

17 responses to “Working on a Character Who is Not a Stereotype

  1. Bertie tugged herself into her dark tights and boots, breaking a fingernail in the process. Her self-control snapped as she let loose a stream of language beyond foul, beyond blasphemous, and frankly anatomically impossible. She sat on the edge of her bed and panted, sweat along her hairline ruining both her careful hairstyle and subtle makeup. After a minute or two, she smiled at her rare tirade; librarians always loved inventive use of language, though not particularly the paint-peeling return to her boot camp years she had just enjoyed. “Mild-mannered, indeed,” she said aloud as she repaired the damage to her manicure and makeup. She adjusted her suit, surveyed her appearance in the mirror, and collected her lunch and briefcase waiting at the bottom of the stairs. She was going to be a minute or two late if she didn’t hurry.

    No one seeing Bertie enter the library precisely at 9 AM would have thought for a moment that the librarian had just had a meltdown. Bertie wasn’t the sort. Anyone named Bertha MacAfee who was chief librarian in a mid-size midwestern city should look and behave exactly as Bertie always looked and behaved in public. Erect posture, runner’s strength, disciplined thinness, conservative clothing of good quality – that was the Bertie everyone knew. She was fifty-five years old, but she looked much younger in a steely, stiff upper lip sort of way.

    Bertie lifted her laptop from her leather case, connected the cables, and began reading the routine tempests in a teapot that filled her inbox regularly. Nothing new on the library’s server, nothing of interest in the small stack of pink While You Were Out notices. Normalcy and routine soothed what was left of her morning’s outburst. Her tiny, unornamented office suited her librarian persona.

    At precisely noon, Bertie closed her office door and opened her zippered lunch bag. She opened a napkin, spread it neatly on her desk, and helped herself to her usual chicken on whole wheat sandwich. She closed her eyes as she chewed, going over the morning’s meetings and calls, and reviewing the issues for the afternoon. After a final swallow of hot tea with lemon, she checked her watch again. Gathering the remains of her lunch and her tea mug, she walked to the door and casually checked that it was indeed locked.

    she logged off the library’s server and quickly typed the ID to enter the back door to BlackOut. As always, Bertie’s stomach tensed as she went through the authentication process. She had been reassured that her firewalls were strong enough and the encryption sophisticated enough that no one could monitor her as she passed through each verification level. Still, it would take nerves stronger than Bertie’s to blithely tiptoe into the government’s Defense Department without even a brief twinge of unease.

    Finally, Bertie was in. She put her earbuds in her ears and waited for Eagle to update her. He appeared on the screen, nodded briefly, and gave her a recap of the overnight news. Eagle never expected Bertie to say anything in return, and in fact would have been dismayed if she had. Her function was to hear, to remember, to process, and, in due time, to act. Bertie listened intently. She displayed no emotion, though Eagle’s news was quite bad. Eagle stopped for a moment and surveyed Bertie. “Do you understand your part in our plan, and can you do it quickly?” Eagle asked. Bertie gave an almost imperceptible nod, and Eagle acknowledged by a return nod. She closed the connection, noting that the whole process had taken less than five minutes.

  2. Too many log-ins lately. I’ve lost my username/ID. This is chickenlittle, or petite poultry. Aaarrgggghhhh.

  3. Bertie leaned her rifle against the nearest alpine hemlock tree, far enough to be out of the way for the chore ahead, but close enough to reach should a bear approach and claim the dead caribou as its own. Entirely possible at this elevation, Bertie thought, those bears haven’t gone to bed yet.

    She took a long, careful look around at the slopes above and below her. Most of it was barren of any vegetation more than knee high, except for small patches of dwarf alpine hemlock like the one next to her. She took the caribou permit from her shirt pocket and filled out the required information. After a few minutes, certain that she wasn’t being observed by a large brown hairy Ursa Horribilis with fifteen inch paws and five inch claws, she took off her Carhhartt jacket, tossed it onto a branch of the hemlock. Then she pulled a knife out of the scabbard on her belt and set to field dressing the animal.

    When she reached the skinning part, she switched knives, this time using one that was fashioned after the Eskimo ulu, a blade that looked like a quarter of a circle, with a handle on the cut-off pointed end. This was a mindless task, pull the hide up and away with one hand while drawing the rounded blade gently against the connective tissue, separating the meat from the hide in smooth lines.

    This is going to be a long pack out to the road, she thought. Better bone it all here. If I’m lucky I can pack it out in one trip, up and over the summit, then a steady downhill for twelve more miles. I can be there before sundown. Good thing, too, she thought. Don’t care to have any bears coming after me and this fresh meat in the dark.

    Her mind drifted to her students at the dance studio. She smiled, remembering how they had mastered the waltz and the cha cha, but were stumbling over the tango. All they wanted, she grinned, was to get to the country line dancing.

    And my biggest problem is what I’m going to wear to the Hallowe’en costume party.

  4. October 23, 2011, My name is Bertie … I turned 53 today. If my mother could see me now, I’m sure she’d say ‘Bertie, I’ve told you a thousand times, you need to find a man and settle down. I would like to have a grandchild or two before I’m too old to enjoy them.’ I miss her sometimes, not her nagging, but how grounded she was in what she believed a woman should be. Instead of going out and finding a nine to five husband and a white picket fence I went for a career. School was never really my bag and frankly the type of work a woman of my limited, or should I say my specific area of study isn’t really something to put on a application for secretary. Sure, I could have been one of those women that went to college and applied herself to become a lawyer, a doctor, or even a scientist, but I want real money. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in real comfort when I retire. Funny thing is that when you have a job like mine, you get to enjoy it which makes retirement in itself a pipe dream just because the work is so damned fun. My name is Bertie … I’m 53 years old today and I just stole 20 million dollars in uncut diamonds from one of the wealthiest men alive. I’m a thief and I’m damn good at what I do. I don’t have a catchy nickname from the newspapers. Only those idiots who leave a calling card or a pattern by which they steal get those. They say there’s a psychological need in most criminals to get caught. That deep down, they know what they do is wrong and want someone to stop them. This is a job, not a lifestyle, I never get caught. I read all the books on the criminal psyche and I’ve watched a lot of crime dramas. I’ve also sat in on over three thousand criminal court cases to hear all the evidence patterns that get people caught. I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from earlier heists to get jobs, temporarily, assisting with evidence processing or observing crime scene investigators. I know the angles. I know the kinks in the armor of the law to leave no trace. My viewpoint is that if I can take it, you didn’t really need it. As far as I know, I’m the most successful thief alive. I guess if there were anyone else as successful, or more so, I wouldn’t really know. Neither would anyone else. In this business, success means no one knows you exist.

  5. I think this woman is a true pro. She enjoys the process more than the reward. She even misses her mom. Good one, Carl!

  6. Her lithe dancer’s body slips into the water without a splash as though the surface tension conveniently split at that exact place, allowing her to enter. Barely a ripple disturbs it. Bertie loves these early morning swims. The shock of the ice cold water makes her aware of every part of her body, reminding her she’s still alive.

    Fifty-seven years of pent-up anger propel her from end to end of the pool. A perfect pie-in-the-face flip turn sends her slender form off the wall like a torpedo hell bent on destroying its target. Water is life to her. She draws her strength from it. Another turn sends her outstretched body gliding under the surface like a dolphin. She forces herself to stay down until her lungs burn. Then, like the Orcas she works with every day, she lunges through the still surface. Gallons of water follow her, drawn upward like a fountain
    ejecting a life-sized mermaid into the air. In another month she’ll be the same age her mother was when she died.

    • I love to find sentences like that last one. Just as we’re focusing carefully on each specific detail of this woman and her swim, a sentence like that last one blasts the story wide open. Well done!

  7. The sun beat down on her long red hair, highlighting the strands of gray. She wipes the back of her gloved hand over her forehead, keeping the sweat from running into her eyes. The ache in her back shot up into her shoulder causing her to quickly straighten up. The knees of her camo cargo pants are wearing thin, causing her to scrape her knees. She looks around at her surroundings and smiles, able to work at what she loves. “Yes, Bertie, you’ve got it made.”

    Archaeology has been Bertie’s passion since she found her first arrowhead at the age of eight. Now as a resident Archaeologist for Texas Tech University, she spends her time at digs around the world. This has been her lucky year, because of the worst drought in years she has been able to dig close to home. With lakes drying up, burial grounds of ancient residents have been uncovered, causing a urgent call to Bertie and her crews to gather the treasures before the rain comes or before the looters took the relics and the history that they would tell.

    Bertie often lay awake at night thinking about what life would be like if she had followed the path that her mother and grandmother had taken, being a stay-at-home wife and mother. She often longed for children, but then she’d discover a village hidden for hundreds of years or an old urn that told a story that connected the dots to solve a hidden mystery. She didn’t mind being married to her job, at least not until recently. After turning 56, doubt started entering her mind about just how long she’d be able to continue to dig and spend hours kneeling in the dirt.

    Suddenly Bertie realized that the rumbling that she heard wasn’t her stomach but thunder in the distance. With renewed vigor she digs, and brushes the dirt away an inch at a time. With a clunk, her shovel hits a stone and it echos, indicating a chamber beneath, unheard of with the tribes that lived in this region. As she summons the others to concentrate on her location, a drop falls on the ground in front of her, then another and another. She looks to her West and sees the sheet of rain headed in their direction.

    All she could say was, “When it rains, it pours.”

    • The echo of the chamber sure grabbed me. We love this particular Bertie, with her dedication and passion, as well as the sense that some aging issues are on the horizon along with that storm. Perhaps it was a burial chamber? Yikes!

  8. Bertie opened the door, climbed out of the cab and started down the steps to the ground. It had been a long tough day. She couldn’t believe she had gotten stuck. It had rained for days. Everything was mud and slush. She wasn’t the first to get stuck, but she was the only woman on the crew. I shouldn’t have gotten stuck, she thought. She had never gotten the truck stuck before and she had been driving a haul truck at Cargo Mines for nearly two years. It hadn’t taken the crew long to get her and the truck back in service, but it was lost production time none-the-less. She reached the ground and peered up at the Caterpillar 793. Just the truck tires alone stood twice as tall as Bertie.

    “Cinnamon roles tomorrow, Bertie, home made!” yelled one of the guys.

    The rule was if you got a piece of equipment stuck you had to provide donuts for the crew the following day.

    She reached her locker, unlaced her boots, unbuttoned her Carthartt jacket and removed her hard hat. Bertie wasn’t a coal miner’s daughter, she was a coal miner and all she wanted was for the day to end. Her face was dirty. Her dark hair, although cut short and stylish, was plastered to her head. Coal dust covered everything. It was in her ears, under her fingernails and permeated her clothes. She threw her work clothes into her locker and stepped into the shower. The twelve hour shifts were tough, really tough, but thank goodness her three teens were self sufficient. And the extra days off in between actually gave her more time with her kids.

    Despite her frustration at getting stuck she thought, by gawd, I am proud of myself. Two years ago I was 52, on welfare, barely able to feed my kids with nothing more than a high school education to put on my resume. Today I drive mammoth haul trucks with 16 cylinder engines, churning over 2000 horsepower and carrying payloads of over 200 tons. And, who would have thought I would be earning in excess of $50,000 a year.

    Bertie stepped from the shower, pulled on her ‘not your daughter’s’ jeans, a soft pink sweater and slipped into her loafers. She checked the mirror, fluffed her nearly dry hair, added some lip gloss, a little eyeliner and thought, well, I still look fiftyish but it’s a damn good fiftyish. Her confidence restored she headed for home stopping at the market just long enough to get supplies for baking those cinnamon roles.

    • This kind of Bertie always makes me wonder if, say, 250 years from now, the human race will be run by women who have finally discovered that they really don’t need a spouse to go out and hunt the wooly mammoth anymore. Love this Bertie! And she can cook too, of course.

  9. Just so you know: I modeled my Bertie after my neighbor’s daughter. In her mid-twenties, she has a master’s degree, is a marine biologist who now does field assessment work for an environmental engineering firm, writes a column for a weekly newspaper, minored in photography, and recently bagged a caribou which she field dressed and with the aid of a girlfriend, packed out 14 miles to the road. Alaska girls rock!

  10. All in all, I’d say our Berties are far from stereotypicals.

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