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- New Family Member
Buying a dog for Christmas was never an option. Everyone knows, that’s the wrong thing to do.
“A dog is for life,” after all. Presumably that expression is referring to the dog’s life? I hope so anyway.
I suppose, “A dog is a 10-15 year commitment, not just for Christmas,” isn’t quite as catchy.
So Christmas was out. Instead, we opted for Easter. So much better.
But then Easter 2020 got cancelled. F***ing corona.
Stuck at home, with all of this perfect house-breaking and training time available, the puppy conversations started again in earnest. There was even a performance (song and dance) by my daughter and her friends, begging for a puppy.
I think my wife and I actually put more thought into planning for the dog than planning a family (sorry kids). The costs, the inconvenience, the training, the breed, what if one of us is allergic, what about holidays? We certainly discussed it for longer than we did having a third child! (“Do you wan-” “Nope. I’m good.”).
But that was just it – this would be our third child. The fifth member of our family. It had to be the right for all of us, and again, for the foreseeable future.
We wanted the kids to have a puppy and have those fun memories when they were grown up. We were also in no denial about the facts that a) the novelty would wear off eventually and b) puppies grow up – and then we have a dog.
So what am I looking for in a dog?
The kids don’t know a Pomeranian puppy from a poodle puppy. A puppy is a puppy. It’s small, it’s fluffy, it’s cute. It will love them, lick them, fetch a stick for them.
I, on the other hand, was never going to agree to a “handbag dog”. No yappy little rat-looking excuse of a dog for me. I wanted a DOG. A real dog. Not a massive dog, so no lurcher or Great Dane. Not an accessory to try and look “well ‘ard”, so staffy’s and boxers were out. Not to look “cool”, so huskies and Alsatians were out. And minimal chance of the kids being eaten meant that rottweilers and dobermans (is it doberMEN?) were out too.
My ideal dog had to have the following qualities:
- Intelligent – enough to train and behave
- Gentle – child-/people-friendly
- Quiet – minimal barking
- Short-haired – minimal grooming
- Endurance – Good for running and hiking, going long not fast
- A dog – as opposed to a bitch (I’m in for some bad karma soon, but he can enjoy “them“ for the next little while)
I reappeared from the rabbit hole known as google a few hours later with a clear winner: border collie.
The border collie ticked all of the above, and I was quite excited to read about people running full marathons with their working dogs. I doubt I’ll still be running full marathons by the time our pup is old enough to run that distance, but it gives me a great reason to run regularly and stay in half marathon shape.
The next step was to find a puppy online, purchase and collect. Sound so easy right? Well not during lock down. Everyone in the UK had apparently gone through the exact same thought process (which always troubles me) and border collie pups were selling like hot cakes.
Whole litters were snatched up minutes after being posted online, and the prices seemed to be creeping up as well. At one point the only pups that seemed to go unsold, were those on farms in west Wales and the Scottish islands.
Eventually I found a collie-cross a few hours away, made the call and took the plunge. It was love at first sight, and despite not enjoying the car ride home, Ronnie was incredibly excited about his new home – as were my kids. There were some tears of joy when he arrived and lots of cuteness and laughter late into his first night.
I was told that Ronnie is 3/4 border collie and 1/4 Huntaway, so he’s a collie cross. A h-ollie, if you will. Or if he’s been naughty a c-
…oh alright, I won’t go there.
Anyway, judging by the size of his paws and the rate he’s growing, he may well be 3/4 Huntaway and only 1/4 border collie. He moves like a big dog as well…you know, like those 5 foot bodybuilders carrying invisible buckets of water? He’s about 2 foot tall but struts around like he’s Scooby Done That, Been There.
So Far, So Good
Ronnie’s been a dream to train so far, and at 14 weeks old we’ve still got plenty of time for learning new tricks! We’re all greeted each morning by this joyful, loving creature and our family walks in the woods are even more enjoyable now. I can’t run with him as much as I’d like yet as it might damage his bones and “plates”? Also, unless he starts becoming more or a pooch and less of a pussy, he’s not going to be a great guard dog (he growls and then hides behind us).
So I’m looking forward to:
- teaching him to play “Hide and Seek” with the kids
- teaching him to catch a frisbee (he’s mastered fetching a ball)
- camping with him
- running with him – maybe even a Parkrun when they restart?
Most importantly though, long after covid is a distant memory Ronnie will still be with us, his arrival having marked the start of this new chapter in our lives.
As I’ve made clear in previous posts, and in the title of the blog itself, I’m no rocket scientist. I am Joe Average.
I have the same 24 hours as everyone else each day, and a finite amount of time, energy, money and mental bandwidth.
I do my best with the resources I’ve got to:
- educate myself to develop the mindset and habits that will help me achieve my goals
- exercise and eat a healthy diet on a daily basis (and not be a burden on my family or the NHS) for as many years as possible
- be kind to people and where I can’t quite manage that, at least be respectful and listen
- help other people, encourage and support them to achieve their goals, and serve them as best I can (that is my real job, my purpose in life)…starting first and foremost with my family
I feel quite sure about the above, I am committed now and have been for many years. Falling short of acting on those four things on a daily basis would cause me to feel guilt, shame and ultimately feel “less than”.
I can’t see myself ever joining a Pride march, or BLM protest, or adopting a unicorn…not because I don’t see their plight as serious or important, but either because a) I don’t believe in their strategies to implement change or b) there are other causes more important to me that I choose to invest my limited resources in.
I will never buy a piano with elephant tusk keys, but my decision to send £2 a month to Cancer Research UK (subtle virtue signal) instead of the WWF won’t cause me to lose sleep.
Questions Not Conspiracies
Black Lives Matter. More? Too? This needs a qualifier. Otherwise isn’t it just common bloody sense?
Why did black lives not matter enough to protest before George Floyd?
Why did black lives not matter enough to protest about the numerous black on black stabbings and shootings year after year in the UK? Outcry about the tiny leak in the side of the boat after you’ve hit an iceberg makes no sense to me.
All Lives Matter. Why is that such a trigger, when again, that statement seems like good sense?
Has corona virus suddenly disappeared? If not, then as a member of the BAME community is it wise to be attending a mass gathering (the protests) during a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting your community?
So in an effort to educate myself, initially I do what everyone else with no time to read an actual book does. I surf the web.
So much violence, lawlessness, hate and anger. But then, I come across Candace Owens.
WOW! Apart from being an incredibly attractive, confident and articulate young black woman, the content of most of what she said about BLM and outrage culture in general just resonated with me. She is living proof that coming from the projects and having family members in prison is no excuse, that there are no limits for those who are willing to work hard.
I’m still not convinced about Trump, and the Rogan interview showed her to be lacking on the topic of climate change – but I was looking for a black voice on racism and the current situation. She is not alone…but she is definitely not every black person’s, or white progressive’s cup of tea!
Deep Dive Conclusions
- Victim culture sucks – whatever happened to “empowerment”? Choose a decent label if you HAVE to have one
- Outrage culture sucks – stop being so sthen-sthe-tive
- Cancel culture sucks – people make mistakes, words and behaviours taken out of situational or temporal context seem far worse than they actually are
- The media edits everything to manipulate its consumers – be a selective and sceptical consumer, and consume less
- The Left sucks – I’m all for freedom and equality, but there has to be some responsibility, duty and order (I’m not so keen on the right either though)
- Black on black crime is a MUCH bigger problem (statistically) than white on black – that’s in no way pretending that there is no white on black crime, or police harassment, etc. But the black community has lost far more members through stabbings and shootings by other black people than from police brutality
- Public outcry about racism seems to coincide with election cycles in the US
- Welfare policies have hurt the black community more than helped them – again, going by the numbers
- Trump might be a good guy underneath it all and misrepresented in the media…and his administration has done more for black people than any other since Abraham Lincoln? Maybe?
- I have no control over my ancestor’s actions – no guilt required
It makes absolutely no sense to me to intentionally treat someone unkindly or unfairly because of their skin colour, religion, sexual orientation or gender. None. A natural reaction to an individual being unkind to you is to retaliate, but not to take it out of every person who fits the same description. That’s ridiculous. Moronic.
Whatever your colour or other group identity, I’m not the biggest fan of angry or aggressive people, drill music, welfare spongers, deadbeat or absent fathers, lawlessness, gang culture, hard drugs and the violence that accompanies the selling of them. It’s a prejudice. I don’t see that as a problem until it leads to me discriminating.
If someone wants to say, “well that racist because that’s MY culture,” my immediate thought would be, “you really want to claim ownership to THAT? Good luck with that.” I am guilty of discriminating against those behaviours mentioned above, because I don’t want to assist or perpetuate them. I don’t buy that music, I don’t associate with perpetually angry or aggressive people. I’m not going to actively discriminate – my resources are better invested elsewhere – but I won’t help those attitudes and behaviours to flourish.
Learning is a lifelong process, so I’m going to keep on reading, watching and listening. I have started listening to Robin Diangelo’s book, “White Privilege” and I’ve pre-ordered Candance Owens’s book, “Blackout”. Like Bruce Lee’s philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, learn what you can from every martial art, keep what is useful and discard what is useless – I’m looking for what works. Works = improves the situation. Improve = positive, measurable change in the chosen area of focus e.g. unemployment, murder rates, academic achievement.
So I will do my best to support the BLM movement, while believing that All Lives Matters, be an ally without being a white saviour, use my white privilege to benefit all without feeling guilty for something that’s completely out of my control – being white and history. I will not be silent in the face of racism…so in reality, after learning all of this, will my actions be any different to the last 39 years?
Signing off for now. Peace and love to you all. Stay safe, and buckle up for the second wave!!! And I’ll leave you with this hilarious sketch:
- …You Think You Have Time…
“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Buddha, maybe
Where did the last 10 weeks go? Admittedly, some of it passed in a drunken haze (hence Dry June for me) but seriously, it’s going to be 3 months before I know it and I have accomplished…F*** ALL!!!
The first few weeks I stuck to my routine. I was full of energy, aspirations, excitement about the vast amount of time in front of me…and then it all went to pot (that’s a British expression, meaning “everything went wrong”, I didn’t add weed to my list of vices).
I started staying up later and sleeping in later. I skipped my daily exercise (or at best I can say it was sporadic), and my 5:2 diet of 5 days of clean eating to every 2 days of whatever takes my fancy…well..I stuck to the ratio…just reversed the numbers.
My lower back started to give me problems and I can’t put my finger on whether it’s just lack of flexibility or a herniated disc. Either way, I can run and cycle, but sitting down for long periods and dead-lifting are out of the question.
On a positive note, I did grow that beard, and was proud of it…but no one was ready for me to look THAT old, so off it came, along with the mop of hair that had grown over the last 10 weeks.
I also plucked up the courage to speak to a couple of policemen about my novel – which was very helpful – and I have daydreamed a lot about the individual scenes…but write? No, I haven’t actually WRITTEN anything!
I even took a break from the blog because…well…why not? Why not? Why not? I seem to be saying that far too often, the further into the covid cave I get. It’s dark in here at the moment…and it ECHO-ECHO-ECHOOOOOEEESS!!!
Why not have some chocolate? Why not have a beer or some wine? Why not binge watch another Netflix series and turn off my morning alarm? Why not leave my writing, reading, studying, exercising until tomorrow, or the next day?
There are some bloody good reasons for “why not?” and yet they never seem to come to mind at the right time! So instead, as of the 1st June 2020, I’ve decided to mind f*** myself and ask aloud “WHY???”
Why eat some chocolate – knowing that 4 squares is never enough and will ultimately destroy my dreams of ever possessing a visible six pack?
Why drink alcohol – knowing that getting up to run is hard enough without a hangover (which doesn’t take me much) or that booze seems to send my resting heart rate skywards and ruins my heart rate training?
Why put off writing/studying/exercising – knowing that I’m already further behind than I want to be as a result of my earlier poor life choices and delayed arrival to the game?
I have plenty to be excited…(well, at least enthusiastic) about, even without a definite upcoming race or exam to focus on:
- We have just bought a puppy, Ronnie – he’s a collie cross (border collie and a huntaway…a hollie, if you will…or if he’s been naughty, well…you can work it out. He will eventually be an ideal running partner and perfect answer to “why run this morning?”
- The Paris marathon is 20 weeks away, as long as it doesn’t get cancelled. I plan to train as if it’s going to happen, and as if this is the sub 3 hour attempt that Berlin should have been.
- The blog was doing well, lots of views, even if the likes and comments were few and far between, so I’ll go back to writing that on a daily basis, publishing weekly.
- I have a great story to tell…right now I feel that way. Funny how the blinking cursor on the blank word document convinces me otherwise! One – word – at – a – time!!!
- I have found so many books to read, films to watch, online courses to study…I have so many things I would like to do, I need to start them! And start them again.
- I know a routine works best for me, so it’s back to waking at 04:30 and going to bed at 21:00, I’m far more productive that way.
Anyway, I can’t do anything about whatever time was wasted over the last 10 weeks. All I can do is make sure that the next 10 are far more fruitful. Some people only wake up and realise this after 10 months or 10 years, so I should count my lucky stars.
So thank you for all of those encouraging slaps and kicks up the backside. I’m back on both feet, soon to be back on track and into some sort of rhythm again.
- Characters: Personality
As a psychology graduate, being given a window into the inner workings of a character’s mind is one of the best parts of reading fiction. The golden rule, “show, don’t tell,” holds true – and being shown a character’s unique personality through their thoughts, words and actions is a gratifying experience – especially when you can relate to the character, or know someone just like them.
I remember learning about the Big Five Personality Traits from a clinical psychologist lecturing at my university in London. Even now I sometimes find myself thinking about someone I’ve met, in real life or fiction, ans where they fit on those five dimensions. I could be wrong with my educated guesses, as sometimes a person’s inner world is very different to the way they appear to conduct themselves e.g. the introvert who drinks alcohol to be more sociable or assertive, the neurotic who meditates daily to better control her hostility or stop her withdrawing from threatening situations, etc.
So with my characters, playing with those personality dimensions, giving the development of each trait a backstory and throwing in a few red herrings is great fun. There is no good or bad in terms of personality, but being high in a particular trait can make specific situations easier or harder due to how the character instinctively reacts e.g. criticism to a character high in neuroticism, is like a paper cut would be to a haemophiliac.
Below I’ve listed the five traits and their aspects, with a short description of each one and how sometimes, all is not as it seems.
Openness to Experience: Openness and Intellect
These characters like to learn new things, try new experiences, can be insightful, imaginative and have a wide variety of interests.
If they score low in intellect however (this is different to IQ – author sighs in relief) those interests will more likely be practical in nature as philosophical or complicated ideas are less appealing.
People tend to be more open to new experiences when they’re in a new place, with new people, like on holiday – which says a lot about the reinforcing nature of family and old friends on personality. We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, says Tim Ferriss, so allot that time wisely! Who are my character’s family/friends? Who is bringing my character’s average down…or is she the dead weight?
Conscientiousness: Industriousness and Orderliness
The characters scoring high on this trait are conscientious, reliable and prompt. They are generally organised, tidy, methodical, and thorough. Not bad traits for a professional hitman or surgeon.
Ask a child to tidy their room, or polish their shoes, or do homework and you are trying to instil the behaviours of this trait. But if they don’t understand WHY those tasks are important, or they understand why but those reasons just aren’t that important to them, they won’t become a habit. The behaviours don’t match their SELF-IDENTITY, so the habits won’t stick and you end up with a lazy or messy character.
A moderately conscientious person, with high neuroticism is the perfect storm when it comes to procrastination – useful to know. Increasing conscientiousness and reducing neuroticism, could be a potential cure?
Extraversion: Enthusiasm and Assertiveness
Extraverts become energised by interacting with others, while introverts get their energy from within themselves and find socialising draining. Extraverts are frequently energetic, enthusiastic, talkative, and assertive.
That doesn’t mean introverts can’t display all of the above…but it generally requires some chemical enhancement or extreme event. Parrots can ride mini-bicycles, but not if left to their own devices. Give me cosiness or camping over crowded pub any day.
Agreeableness: Compassion and Politeness
Those characters who act in a friendly, cooperative, or compassionate way would score highly in agreeableness. Whereas scoring low in this trait can make the character seem distant, unkind, cold and lacking empathy.
As with all of the other traits, agreeable people may not be so in every situation, and in certain situations scoring too highly on this trait could put you at a disadvantage. We all read and see characters who are too compassionate and polite, only to have their good nature taken advantage of.
Neuroticism: Withdrawal and Volatility
That moody, tense character who frequently experiences negative emotions and lacks emotional stability is the embodiment of the word, neurotic. Those with low scores of neuroticism would be unlikely to withdraw from anxiety producing situations and less prone to emotional outbursts.
I’ve blogged about 4D people before, and a high degree of neuroticism will definitely make a character more likely to fit this description. They may be a drain in real life, but neurotic characters are fantastic because there is so much going on – in their head, if nowhere else.
Plot vs Character?
“There are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.” – Admiral William Halsey
People. Not just men. People. He was speaking to the navy back in the day, so he’s forgiven. Either way, I don’t think that I agree fully with the statement. Here comes my tangent…hear me out…
We find ourselves in our current circumstances (plot) because of how we have behaved (character) in the past.
If we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances it is rare (possible, but rare) that we were acting in an ordinary way. It’s our past decisions and actions which have led to these present and future consequences.
I would argue therefore that extraordinary people do exist. They are the select few who decide and act in such a way so as to arrive at those extraordinary circumstances. Signing up for the navy or any military service in the first place is an extraordinary act. Continuing to work on the front line throughout this pandemic, is an extraordinary act. Homeschooling children with no background in teaching yourself? Continuing to provide necessary services and products in some evolved format? Habitually act in a certain way, and shouldn’t you earn the title of an extraordinary person?
I get that he may have just been trying to calm the nerves of his men, who were faced with overwhelming odds. I understand that reassuring them, that their leaders and their enemies were ordinary too, could have made those odds seem better. But there are a lot of professionals in the world at the moment, who I see as anything but ordinary.
Whilst I agree that ordinary people can be thrown into dramatic situations – and then either rise to the occasion, or not – most will not. They will let fear get the better of them, they will feel the overwhelm and run away, they will procrastinate. They will fail, confirming their ordinariness (anyway…that would be a crappy story. Rocky gets beaten – no rematch. Marty get stuck in 1955 – messes up everything…next!).
So plot and character are linked inextricably, but I do spend a lot of time of the character part. Not just because I enjoy the process, getting to know these “people”, but also because you can’t rush these things. Flat characters are the worst. It’s very easy to pigeonhole your character – especially using occupational stereotypes e.g. “Oh, she’s a rocket scientist, so she must be good at maths, and think about nothing but the physics involved 24/7.” That could be the case, but the professionals I’ve met are multifaceted. Flawed. Doctors who smoke. Divorced marriage counsellors. Bald hairdressers. For all we know, our rocket scientist took the job because it paid well enough to fund her drug habit and all the science, she doesn’t understand – it’s just her job five days a week. There is more to life. There is more to her. Even those lucky enough to do their dream job, will have elements that they would rather delegate – and these elements are far more interesting.
I have delayed writing anything useful for long enough…I’m off to meditate in the hope of becoming a little less neurotic, and I may reward myself afterwards, inadvertently making myself a little more extroverted.
- Step 5: Write Character Sketches
Step 5 instructs us Snowflake practitioners to write a few paragraphs (up to a page) on the main characters, including their backstory, story goals, values and ambitions, etc.
I find this part so interesting, which should be no surprise as a psychology graduate. I am going to be spending a lot of time with these characters, so unlike the cardboard characters in Netflix’s Top Boy (it might just be the terrible actors playing them), I want them to be believable, multi-dimensional and fun to be around. I inevitably started to brainstorm what that would entail and ended up on a google-sponsored tangent instead.
I read that K-Pop culture has invented a slang term 4D, to refer to a person who is strange, eccentric or has a big personality. It’s supposed to be a compliment, not a derogatory comment. But for years I’ve had my own meaning for a 4D person, that’s not so positive. In fact, I do everything I can to keep these people at a firm distance in real life – even before that was in vogue – but as a reader, I do enjoy these characters.
4D people are those individuals perpetually drawn towards Drama, Disease, Divorce and Debt. They will be totally oblivious to the fact that they are a 4D person, so there’s no point in telling them or even blogging about it. They have probably blogged about it in the past themselves and not even realised who they were writing about (too meta?).
Make no mistake. It is ALWAYS about them. Victim one minute, hero the next – but their challenges far outweigh anyone else’s. They have the unenviable ability to start a fight in an empty room. They use Machiavellian methods to stir shit up, but only if it would cause them to lose favour to be seen throwing the first punch. They are predictably unpredictable, and to keep your sanity it’s best to laugh and marvel at their endlessly inventive ways of starting shit.
The opposite is the character who won’t take the bait. They can chuckle to themselves and shake their head, or roll their eyes and sigh, because they hold a “live and let live” attitude and they are firm on their decision not to be drawn in to the person’s shitshow. Life is too short my friend, it will offer enough drama of its own, without you inviting/creating more. The second character may be a bit less entertaining on the page or the screen however, so God bless those drama queens.
Whether it’s karma from a previous life, a genetic predisposition or sheer bad luck – if we are lucky to live long enough, we’re going to end up with some illness or other. A cheery thought, I know – but there are actually people out there, who are rubbing their hands together and hoping for that very thing – like I hope for a lottery win. The NHS website describes Munchausen’s syndrome (Factitious Disorder) as a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves. They might actually be ill – but they bring it on themselves. Their aim is to assume the “sick role” so that people care for them and they are the centre of attention. I try and keep the posts to 1000 words, so I can’t even begin to go into the how fucked up that is….and Munchausen’s by proxy? Don’t even get me started.
The opposite is someone who does their best to guard their own mental-emotional health, to sleep right, eat right and exercise. When they are concerned about their health, they go and see the doctor (after a terrifying morning on WebMD, we’ve all done it) and don’t trouble everyone else with their ailments until they’ve actually been diagnosed. They take the doctor’s advice and complete their treatment, they don’t see-saw between doing so and throwing caution to the wind – “well, you only live once”. They don’t have to say, “I’m a fighter,” because they show it with their continued efforts to get and stay well. They do not run, screaming from the burning building, only to start another fire outside.
A vegan, teetotal marathon runner may not sound like someone you would want to be sat next to at a party – but given the choice between them and Sick Note? Let’s talk tofu recipes. On the page however, at a distance, those characteristics might well make it into the DNA of one of my characters.
This is not necessarily marital divorce, but could be any strained relationship resulting in arguments, separation or lack of communication. People can have short-term falling outs, but these are generally over situational specific disputes, as opposed to ever-present personality conflicts.
It’s the difference between an argument caused by a momentary misinterpretation of someone’s intent, versus the long standing feud caused by them being so different in terms of their values, beliefs and behaviours, that people realise it’s better to keep their distance. They are not part of the same tribe.
Apparently there are lots of different types of toxic people, which again, make great fictional characters – but you wouldn’t want them as a room mate or partner. But we love to read about or watch them from the safety of our sofa, where they can’t penetrate our own like bubble of Hugge. We hope.
“Neither a lender nor borrower be.” – William Shakespeare
You will see these people win the jackpot on Friday, only to ask you if they can borrow a fiver the following Monday. They live beyond their means and any pay rises are accompanied by an increase in spending on excessively expensive possessions or ENC (pronounced, en-see, stands for emperor’s new clothes) experiences – you know the kind? You went, you thought it was shite, but you dare not say so to all of your friends who loved it, because you don’t want to seem uncultured or like a Neanderthal. Just smile for the selfie.
Money is a charged topic. Give a character an issue with handling their money (think, Snatch, Frankie Four Fingers) and you automatically have tension. It’s a car crash waiting to happen. Do I want someone like this as my accountant? No. But do I want to watch or read about a gambler getting further and further into debt to pay off his other debts…it would be a tense read, but it will keep me turning the pages.
He Who Fights With Monsters…
“…might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” – Fredrich Nietzsche
Basically you start to become like the people you associate with and think about the most. Tim Ferriss says something similar, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So I shall be watching myself as I write about the dodgier of my characters – wary of any changes to my usual thinking or behaviour.
I am currently rereading James Clear’s Atomic Habits and he argues that a key component of changing your habits comes down to changing your identity. I’m nearly 40 years old, but I don’t believe my identity is fixed (as in stable, not repaired) – although it’s human nature for other people to want it to be.
I believe that change is possible. Improvement is possible. I hope that my characters change and grow throughout this novel – from this starting point I’m writing – and that some of those 4D characters are just 3D by the end.