Tag Archives: characters

It’s Just So Hard: suppressing the inner you

This morning my Youngest Son broke my heart.  On the way to school, he began crying. 

Me: What’s wrong, honey?

Youngest: I don’t want to go to school.

Me: Why not?

Youngest: It’s just so hard.

Eldest Son has dyslexia, and I highly suspect Youngest does as well.  His reading sounds eerily similar to the way Eldest read at that age, he makes the same quirky writing mistakes and he’s missing some very basic knowledge–like how to rhyme.

Me, wanting to pinpoint the areas we need to address and work on regarding his reading: What’s hard about it?

Youngest: It’s just so hard to be so good.

Yeah, that broke the floodgate.  Youngest has a simultaneously fun-loving and extremely difficult personality.  He wants to have the most fun possible without getting into trouble.  This makes him delightful and trying on many levels.

On Fridays, a student who listens well and follows the rules gets to chew gum.  If your name appears in The Notebook, you have to stare glumly into space while your peers chomp away on Hubba Bubba.

I can only imagine how excruciating it must be for Youngest to suppress his inner urges to chat, make his peers laugh and have good, old-fashioned fun.  In fact, I expect him to be cantankerous and uncooperative at night because he’s stuffed his natural tendencies deep down inside where they can’t get out.  For eight hours straight!  School must feel like his own personal version of hell.

Gum.  Who knew it was such a powerful motivator?

Book reviews, estimated sales numbers and the acquisitions committee.  Who knew they had such power over the words we write?

If you haven’t heard the #YesGayYA scuttlebutt floating around the cybersphere, I suggest you check it out.  Blog posts abound and tweets on the topic are more prolific than the dust bunnies under my fridge. 

#YesGayYA.  Check it out.  Check out how authors are being asked to suppress their inner stories in favor of more publicly palatable writing. 

I’m not going to debate race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities or religious beliefs.  Instead, I simply want to call to attention to the very idea that diverse children are traditionally under-represented in literature.

I think these stories are being written.  I also think their perceived marketability greatly influences whether these stories make it into the hands of the children who desperately need to read about characters just like them.

No matter what your heritage, your love life, your spirituality, your mental health or your physical afflictions, you need to know you are not alone in this grim world.  You need to know that people like you flourish in fiction.  You need validation that you are inherently worthy.

Kids of all ages need to know they are accepted and acceptable.  Not just that they are tolerated, or worse yet, completely disregarded.

I agree with Youngest.  It’s just so hard to be you.  It’s hard to write what we feel.  It’s hard to publicly declare what we believe and it’s damn hard to read what might cause us pause.  

People need affirmation, and I will not stand idly by and watch suppression.  It kills me to picture little boys struggling to tamp down their inner selves so they can chew a piece of gum.  It breaks my heart to think of all the diverse children seeing themselves (if at all) as mere sidekicks and supporting characters in the novels they read.  It absolutely crushes me to think I may have a part in fostering the suppression of someone’s inner-most personality.

Today, I vow to write the story that begs to be written and not be swayed by public opinion.  I vow to support my fellow writers who write with abandon to portray diversity in an appealing light.  I vow to buy books based on the storyline and my connection to the character, rather than based on a character’s traits.  I vow to encourage children, parents, librarians and others to read diverse books instead of leading them down a narrow hallway of white-washed stories. 

I vow to accept my role in reaching all of our youth, not just those like me.  I will not play a part in suppressing the inner you.  Not if I can help it.

How about you, dear readers?  Do you feel that favorable diversity thrives in literature?  Do you believe that all types of kids are represented in the books they read, or do you think writers, publishers and parents can all be more proactive in validating every child?

Which types of books would you like to see more of? 

Personally, I like novels where the diverse trait isn’t the novel.  Rather, I love when characters are simply the sum total of their backgrounds and I can learn about their diversity through connecting with them.

Who’s Driving Your Story?

I got in my truck this morning and my knees scraped against the underside of the dashboard and the steering wheel smashed into my ribs.  You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not–much.

You see, Dear Daughter drove my truck last, and she’s all of five foot nothin’. 

Writing is similar to driving.  One person must steer the car, but input can come from the passenger seat or even from a backseat driver. 

A story is typically about a central MC.  (Don’t freak on me, I said almost, not the absolute always.)  Sometimes the MC has a BFF that helps guide the events or a significant other waiting at the destination as motivation to not get lost along the way. 

Other times, characters and events can feel like a navigation system.  “Turn right here.”  These directions can send our characters on a clear and true path, lead them along the scenic route or nearly drive them off a cliff. 

In my humble opinion, it’s important to realize that stories unfold in a variety of ways depending on who’s behind the steering wheel.  Your MC’s personality plays an important role in how much or how little advice she’s willing to take along the way.

“I know, Mom” is my DD’s mantra when speeding up to a stop light and the car idling just in front of her bumper.  “Jeeze.  Let go of the door handle.”

There is no mistaking who drives the car when DD sits behind the wheel. 

Who drives your story?  Do events dictate your MC’s actions, does conflict detour your story line or does an end goal motivate your MC to push forward despite all obstacles? 

If we’re lucky, we have a healthy balance of all three.  If not, we are on a road trip from hell!

I had a dream: the writing life

Last night I had a terrifying dream.  It was so real my lungs closed up and my limbs became paralyzed.  Even after waking, I couldn’t shake the physical affects of my nightmare’s ghostly grip.

I love dreams–even the scary ones.  I love living in them, directing them (I’m a lucid dreamer) and remembering them upon waking.  I also love writing about them.  In fact, my first paid byline came from a dream.  I woke up, wrote furiously and subbed my short story. 

Sorry for the short post, but my fingers are itching to hit the keyboards and bring my dream characters to life.

And so I ask, dear friends, how do you dream?  Are your dreams vivid and realistic to the point of pleasure or pain?  Do you remember them in full upon waking or do they slip away into the morning mist?  Can you lucid dream?

Fellow scribes: have your dreams ever prompted you to put pen to paper?  How successful were you at this?  What difficulties do you face when translating dreams into stories?

Curious minds want to know.

Psychological Writing Series: Honesty and Truth

I know, I know.  You’re learning way too much about moi through this series, but please bear with me.  And promise not to hold any of my childhood naughtiness against me, as I have learned some restraint in the intervening years.

Honesty.  Or rather the lack of it–as my story goes.

I was the world’s biggest liar as a kid. 

“Did you lose your earring?”  Nope.  Really, that’s not it in the heater vent where I dropped it two days ago.  Even if it looks exactly the same as the one in my ear right now.  Even if I spent hours trying to fish it out before you noticed it was missing.

I lied my way into and out of things.  I also lied myself into the corner more often than I could count.  Seriously.  I might as well have had my name on the living room corner for all the time I spent with my nose in it.

According to Merriam-Webster, honesty is “adherence to the facts: sincerity.”  I could argue this point, as I was very sincere in every one of my lies.  But if I don’t try to twist the definition, it really comes down to this: honesty equals the truth. 

 Or does it?

I’ve worked as a child advocate for many years and the most eye-opening thing I’ve learned is this: there is no such thing as absolute truth.  Instead, we all bring our experiences to the table when we interpret and remember the facts of an incident. 

Example: ask five witnesses to a crime the same exact question and you will get five variations of the “facts.”  Sometimes these factual accounts can differ so tremendously as to ring false.  Yet each witness is providing the absolute truth–according to them.

Confused yet?

I’ll simplify.  Remember back to the last disagreement you had with your significant other, parent or friend.  Now, what happened?  That’s right, really think about what happened.  Try to remember the exact words that were used. Where you were standing.  How you crossed your arms over your chest or tapped your foot. 

Now what does that look like from your adversary’s perspective?  Will s/he remember the exact same words, the places you both stood, how you looked and what you did?  Maybe they didn’t watch your toe tap, but noticed the ear tug and scrunching eyebrows.

Did someone see or hear this conflict?  I bet s/he remembers something else as well.

And yet when recounting the incident, you will all swear your version is true because that’s what you remember. For realsies, people cannot recount the absolute truth.  Our personalities, past experiences, moods and focus all affect how we see and feel things at any given time.  I call this personal truth.

Conflicting personal truths can make navigating relationships extremely difficult both in real life and in fiction.  Especially when each party is sincere in his/her version of the truth.

Often, however, confused is what we want our characters to feel.  In romance novels, it benefits us to have our characters misinterpret intentions.  In thrillers, we need to plant seeds of doubt in our MC’s mind about what is happening and how it happened.  This confusion creates conflict.

As writers, it is our job to know the facts of our tale.  Only then can we effectively allow our characters to bend the truth to fit their life experiences and personalities.  When each character is sincere and honest in their version of events, our stories retain natural conflict just like in real life.  And this, my fellow scribes, is the absolute truth.

Does recounting a personal truth make someone a liar?  How do we, as writers, learn to see all the variations one truth has to offer?  How do we reconcile this for our characters and, in real life, for ourselves?  Can the ability to understand the inherent falsity of truth make us more honest?

Curious minds want to know.

PS: my spellchecker isn’t working at the moment, so please forgive any typos!

Reading Style Impacts Writing–at least for me.

Like all things in life, I’ve come to realize there is more than one way to skin a cat read a book.  Not that I ever…okay, yeah I have, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

I tend to read from first page to last page.  I skip description and passages of serious character introspection.  Don’t shoot me, but it’s true.  I think I read this way because my imagination is quite stubborn and requires very little outside direction.

Tell me there’s a garden and I immediately picture the entire thing, laid out and ready for use.  If the ornamental, miniature, purple-flowering hedge bush is integral to the story, drop it in there.  And nothing more.  When you do this, my brain files away the item that was special enough to be mentioned. 

When you fill in the garden with every single plant, every scent, every color and every texture, I’m guaranteed to skip over your words.  Then if there’s something important in the midst of all that detail, I’ll miss it and won’t be happy at the end of the book when the ornamental, miniature, purple-flowering hedge bush was the source of the poison. 

Why?  Because, in my mind, it got lost.  My attention, that is, not the bush.  That was always there waiting to be used during the “ah ha” moment. 

Ironically, Eldest just informed me he likes when authors fill in the voids of his imagination.  “I love when everything is described so I can see what people look like and what, exactly, is happening.”

He would hate me as a writer.  I don’t describe much at all.  Case in point, in my YA (that I just finished editing last night, go me!)  I barely describe my MC at all.  She has blonde hair–unlike her parents–and her eyes are the color of the sky just before it snows.  That’s it. 

Pretty ambiguous.  Yet, I visualize her perfectly.  Likewise, none of my critters have complained that they don’t know what she looks like.  Because of this, I assume they, too, have also visualized her based on her actions, emotions and carefully placed commentary along the way.

For instance, she pulls her hair back into a pony tail when she doesn’t have time to shower in chapter 2.  Her hair can be anywhere from a sleek, chin-length bob to a butt-brushing cascade of curls.  I never say. 

Personally, I don’t care–at least until they cast her for a movie.  My readers can see my MC any way they want to envision her.  She can have wide, child-bearing hips or be super slim.  Her skin can be pale as cream that rises to the top of the milk, mahogany brown or any shade in between.  It really doesn’t matter to me. 

Except the eyes and hair.  Those two details come into play waaaaaay at the end of the book.  Which is why I took the time to describe them.

Why do I hate long passages of inner musing?  Because I like to read between the lines.  I like to feel so connected to a character that I intuitively “get” them and why they do things.  When I am told, again and again, what the MC is thinking, deciding or feeling, I get bored with him.  He becomes less three-dimensional and morphs into a teacher. 

It’s as if the author is telling me to pay attention.  “Now, get ready, here comes something important.”  and “Oh yeah, in case you didn’t get it the last time around, here’s what is really happening now.”

And the villainous explanation at the end, when the MC is tied to the railroad tracks with a 9mm gun pointed at her head?  Those I skip on principle.  If a writer didn’t show me motives and opportunities along the way, I have no interest in getting them in dialogue just to wrap up the ending.

Because of my cosmic dislikes when I read, I’m uber careful not to pen them into my own novels. 

How about you?  How do your reading likes and dislikes affect the way you write?  Can writers become too stubborn in this mindset?  If so, how?

Curious minds want to know.

Too Much Noise

This morning we set out to participate in a fundraising walk for Cystic Fibrosis.  As a group of about 75 adults and kids milled around before the shotgun start, the sky darkened and the wind picked up.

A quarter mile into the walk, thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the sky.  We returned to the park shelter just as the rain began. 

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a park shelter during a hail storm, but I can tell you it is way over stimulating.  Rain drops pounded on the roof, the wind howled at about 35 miles per hour and nickel sized hail pelted trees, cars and the tin walls.  Trapped inside the confines of the shelter, all 75 people waited out the storm by shouting to each other. 

It was utter chaos.

Like some books I’ve read.

The characters shout over each other to be heard.  Plot lines howl, side by side, competing with each other.  And on top of it all, we are pelted with thinly disguised “messages”. 

I just finished such a book.  Ironically, I started it on the way to the CF walk and finished it on the return trip home.  It was loud, obnoxious and chaotic.  I can honestly say I was glad when it was over.

Much like the storm.

Usually I love a good thunderstorm and find them soothing.  The pattering of rain and the rumble of thunder calm me.  In fact, before kids, DH and I used to pop in a thunderstorm CD before bed every night and crank it up.  Sleep was never so magical.

Some authors are masterful at weaving together complicated plots and introducing seemingly unrelated characters.  They are natural story tellers.  Their writing crescendos as a storm peaks and tapers off to leave the reader satisfied and oddly comforted.

Lesson learned.  Pay attention to the overall rythm of our writing.  A thunderstorm is soothing.  A hailstorm is anything but.

What books have you read that fall in the thunderstorm category?  Which ones mimic the chaos of a hail storm?  Which type of story do you prefer?

The Final Curtain

This weekend marked my DD’s last performance for our local children’s theater.  In the eighth grade, she is too old to act in next year’s spring production.  Over the years, she’s been a swamp monster, a gansta, a maid a wife, a jitterbug, a…well, you get the picture.  She’s been there a while and is a natural performer.

Sunday was tough.  True to my usual, emotional self, I cried when that final curtain closed.  It is an era I will greatly miss. 

This sense of finality is the same one I get upon finishing a good book.  I lament the loss of the characters and wish I could follow them for just a bit longer.  Just one more play, please.  A line or two to make departure not quite so harsh. 

I don’t want to watch my characters disappear behind a curtain, knowing I will never hear from them again. 

However, writing on and on long after the climax peaks is never the right answer to maintaining a relationship with favorite characters.  Nor is trying to resurrect them in sequels, trilogies or series after the story is spent. 

Instead, we have to learn to graciously dim the lights and let the curtain fall.  Hoping, praying, knowing that a new character will take the stage, and with it, our hearts.

At least I know that’s the case in real life.  You see, my Middle Son has been in plays for the last two years.  Youngest wants to join him in the spotlight next year when he comes of age (1st grade).  They will bring new humor, drama, animation, character and talent to the theater.  Different?  Definitely.  And that’s a good thing.

I shall gladly welcome in the new cast of performers. 

Both on the stage and in my books.  For the last curtain never truly falls as long as we live with fertile imaginations, task-master muses and prolific plot bunnies.

By ending each story at–well–the end, we can keep our favorite characters vibrant and alive in our minds.  These successess pave the way for ferreting out the next generation of actors.  Our stories will not get dulled by hanging on to our favorite MC’s with unrequited love.

I have often heard aspiring writers talk about their sequels, trilogies or series.  The next eight books….  Even I am guilty of fostering a love affair with a particular pirate family and have scads of ideas for a series.  The second book is already half written.  I don’t want to release them.

So how do we know when The End is really the end?  When do we drop the final curtain on a story? 

Ar you guilty of adding scenes, chapters or epilogues because you simply can’t say good bye?  Or, do you cut off the action immediately after the climax, leaving readers to feel cheated out of a standing ovation?  How do you wrap up just before typing the end?

Introducing: Miss MC

Last Saturday night at a banquet for DH’s work, I was told that I was intimidating to approach.  I snorted water out my nose, slapped the table in front of me (with my head) and laughed until I couldn’t breathe. 

Me, intimidating?  In whose world?

Granted the young lady who said that is so teeny I could fold her up and put her in my back pocket.  So, in the physical sense that might be the case.  Yet her reasoning was, “You just have it all together.”

Repeat the first paragraph and add choking to the list of reactions.  In case you’re new to my blog, I am a hot mess.  If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you are well aware that I am an entire-stick-of-butter-on-a-hot-frying-pan mess.

Petite&Adorable continued, “But once I met you, you’re the sweetest person ever.”

This entire conversation got me thinking about characters and how we introduce them in our writing.  My MC’s come to me with attitude.  Sometimes I like them.  Sometimes I don’t.  I would equate this to the initial perception that P&A had of me.  First impressions are vital to character/reader connections.  It’s the reason readers turn pages.

If I don’t like the character, I quit reading on page one and don’t buy the book.  However, if said MC has a quality I like, I will continue reading as enthusiastically as our Geriatric Lab chases after pheasant scent. 

In writing, our characters must be multi-dimensional.  They need to have layers of personality that overlap and sometimes contradict, but always make sense.  If they don’t, they will feel false and be unreadable.  Yet we can’t put all this into the first page. 

We can’t act as the go between and say, “Hey, have you met Miss MC?  Even though she’s beautiful, smart and funny, she is insecure about herself.  She likes dogs, hangs out with her friends and eats anchovies on her pizza.  In the summer she water skis and swims in the lake, but won’t sit around the bonfire because she’s allergic to mosiquitoes to the point where she gets physically sick and swells up like a water balloon.  Did I mention she’s the sweetest girl ever?  You would love her.  Oh yeah, and she has a really great story, so I hope you stick around.”

The question becomes: how do we introduce our characters to our readers? 

Roz Morris explains how to make readers root for our MC from the get-go.  Once you get started, Lynn Price sheds some light on keeping our characters in character.   

And for more opinions on the subject at hand: how do you introduce your characters?  What traits ensnare you and entice you to keep turning pages?  What are introductory no-no’s that keep MC’s aloof, unapproachable and unreadable?

Connected

“Can you hear me now?”

Cell phones could possibly be the most annoying aspect of our mobile society.  What with their dropped calls, pockets of poor reception and unbreakable contracts.  Every time we leave our home and head north, we cross the ridge.  Inevitably this is about the length of time it takes for DH or me to think of something we NEED to talk to somebody about.

Inevitably poor reception ensues and the calls are dropped after a series of crackly, “Can you hear me now”s.

Sometimes when I pick up a book, my connection is similar.  The characters are crackly, the plot drops away altogether or the contract (my hard earned B&N gift certificate) is too expensive to walk away from it.  Even if the connection is so painful I would rather pluck my armpit hair out with a tweezers than keep reading.

As writers, it is our duty to provide good service.  While we can’t be responsible for all mismatched reception, we still need to strive to make the connections between our words and our readers as strong as possible.  To do anything less is to risk losing our readers–forever.

My DD started reading a book last night, The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore.  She picked it out at the book store over the very busy weekend and didn’t start reading until we were on our way home.  I can tell that Ms. Moore mastered the connection because DD hasn’t put the book down.  She brought it to breakfast this morning and even read it on the five minute ride to school.  That says a lot.

I can’t wait for my turn, when I will have the opportunity to learn what grabbed DD.  Was it the characters, the plot, the romance, the mystery?  What did Moore do to connect with her readers and her story?

While I almost hate to admit it, I’m a shameless reader.  I read virtually anything.  Mystery rocks my socks off, but a bad mystery where the pieces are forced to come together with the antag spilling his guts to the tied-up protag makes me want to rip my toenails out with a plyers. 

Romance is good.  Slutty scenes for the sake of padding a word count make me a little anxious, and I actually skip over the throbbing members to get back to the good stuff.  Too many gratuitious scenes in a row and the connection is irrevocably lost.

Another thing that makes me disconnect is language usage.  It gets tiring to read the firetruck word every other sentence.  To me, this is a big turn off and makes me think the writer is Lazy.  Yep, with a capital L.

So when is the connection strong?  Characters I can relate to.  I don’t like perfect size sixes with gorgeous tresses and curvy curves sans saddle bags.  That’s my biggest curve and I like others to share my pain sometimes.

Characters with a strong voice.  Not loud, but strong.  Ones who experience a wide range of emotions and react realistically to their situations.  I love humor (that’s the main reason I married DH–okay, that and his good looks) and find myself drawn to MC’s who share my sense of the absurd.  Wit and charm go a long way in my book. 

Plot is less important, as I’m as likely to read a chick lit, a western or a techno-thriller as a picture book–and love them all equally.  As long as there is some semblence of realism and continuity.  I just finished a book that was written in the MC’s POV all the way through–except the one small section where the MC was knocked out cold and the details needed to be filled in.  There was a quick POV switch, then back to the MC when he regained his consciousness.  I felt like I had multiple personalities and it made my love for the book drop about three stars.

To all my readers: what types of things make a strong connection between you and the books you read?  What breaks those connections?

To my writers: how do you create a strong connection with your readers?  What types of elements are important to you in creating your fiction?  What do you concentrate on so you’re not constantly wondering “Can you hear me now?”