Character Development: Character Flaws January 25, 2015

If you’re looking for a way to flesh out your characters, check out this site: Character Flaws: The Seven Chief Features of Ego.

What I find fascinating is how  each flaw is exhibited in people, and why.

For example, The Martyr Complex.  Someone with this flaw is convinced that s/he’s persecuted, and believes that s/he’s been robbed of choice. This can be because of childhood abuse, or it can be a coping mechanism a person developed under any number of circumstances. What’s fascinating is that the flaw has a polar opposite; in this case, it’s selflessness.  What I’m playing with is how both poles live in us (and our characters).

My main character’s chief flaw is Self-Destruction. She’s homeless and alcoholic, and she fiercely guards both of these things because she feels like she has control over them. The opposite pole of self-destruction is sacrifice; this ties in neatly with martyrdom, which is her shadow because she is unaware of it.

I find it’s much easier to craft characters by starting with their flaws. Flawed people are more interesting, and we expect them to let us down, so hints of nobility surprise us. I think those hints give us hope for our own selves, that there might be something redeeming in our own persons that makes us lovable.

 

 

 

 

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Joy Dare March 26, 2014

I see that gratitude starts with what you look for–and with the effort you’re willing to expend looking for the good. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have to close my eyes and first refocus mentally before I can see beauty with my eyes open.

I read about the Joy Dare here.
Today’s prompt is to find gifts in something written, something sung, and something painted.

  • A gift sung:

Listen to this and find peace in your afternoon:

  • A gift written:

By Henry Vaughan

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
       All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
       Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
       And all her train were hurl’d.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
       Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
       Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
       Yet his dear treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour
       Upon a flow’r.
(Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light led me to this poem when I was a teenager.)
  • A gift painted:

 

artist: Jill Marie This painting hung on the wall at Michael’s for about five years, and I wanted it from the moment I saw it. I asked if I could buy it when the store first opened, and was told that displayed art in the frame section was not for sale.  So every time I went in to Michael’s– (which was often; it is a crack den) –I stood and stared longingly at it.
One day I saw that the painting had been moved and there was a price tag for $39.99 on it. With some trepidation and a whole lot of wild hope, I found a salesperson and asked if the price was for the painting or the frame, and she said, “Oh, for the painting. You want it?”
I did not squeal, but I think my “Yes!” startled her.
This painting is, oh, yes, a gift.
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People who have lit my way March 19, 2014

I recently decided to connect with other writers because I really need to mix with my kind. I need to be around those people who are obsessed with the craft–talking about it, writing about it, learning about it. And I need to connect with people who want to make a difference in the world in any small way. So I have been posting more regularly on Linkedin and Twitter, and one person made me realize that I was on the right path. She’s made me feel appreciated and valued, which has encouraged me to keep doing my small thing in this tiny corner of the universe.

Kristol, you’re a light in the darkness, and I thank you for nominating me for the Lighthouse Award. You’ve made a difference in my perspective in just the short time I’ve known you. Thank you.

lighthouseaward

Nominees, here are the sweet and simple rules:

  • Display the award certificate on your blog.
  • Inform your nominees of their award nominations.
  • Share three ways that you like to help other people.
  • There is no limit to the number of people you can nominate.
  • Don’t forget to have fun!

3 help-y things I like to do:

  •  I help people find short-cuts. (On the road, I know the route with the fewest stoplights or left-hand turns because I hate circuitous routes. This impatience leads me to find short-cuts in every arena, not just on the road.  This, I realize, is also a sign of laziness. And people do not always want to know these amazing short-cuts. lol)
  • I help people find their voices in writing. I am able to set myself aside–my opinions, my voice, my knowledge, all of that Stacy-stuff–and I help people express what’s inside them in their own words. I thank God for this gift, and I hope to develop this skill to its fullest potential.
  • I help people find THAT book. You know when you’re looking for a book that’s about that one thing, or that book that your sister read to you when you were in 1st grade, or any book that is about [insert your pet subject]? Sometimes I have the book (and give it to you via Bookcrossing) and other times I point you in the right direction, like I did in this post about romance authors’ pseudonyms.

Nominees:

Tammy, my critique partner for 18 years.  She inspires me and helps me stay focused.
And Mandy Eve Barnett. Oh, what a blog. Get your coffee or tea and go browse. Time well spent.

 

 

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A Day in the Life of a Writer: Wisdom from McKee February 27, 2014

I’m reading McKee’s Story along with one of my writing partners, and we’re both finding gems. Sure, screenwriters are the intended audience, but story structure is story structure. My favorite lines so far:

“But fact, no matter how minutely observed, is truth with a small “t.” Big “T” Truth is located behind, beyond, inside, below the surface of things, holding reality together or tearing it apart, and cannot be directly observed” (24).

Reminds me of quantum physics. Y’know how an electron seems to know when it’s watched? And it won’t move if you’re looking at it? At least, that used to be the case, but now they’ve found a way to trap an atom in a vacuum so they can watch it jump. Kind of sad, really. No more mystery. But Truth–now that is not something you can trap in a vacuum.

Sometimes little “t’ truth can magnify big “T” Truth, but the writer must lay those words down lightly, respectfully. For example, please don’t write an overwrought scene between a victim and her abuser and expect the reader to take away anything but a grimace. Seriously. Knock it off.

If you want to portray abuse, and you want to use “accurate reportage,” as McKee puts it, show everything but the victim, and refrain from telling your reader what those facts mean.

For example, a living room snapshot:

A clear glass ashtray sits neatly upside down on the rug, empty, but Shelly smells cigarette smoke. No, it smells more like a barbecue, she thinks.  It’s a distant scent, like it’s coming from the patio down the street, wafting through the window. The front door slams and she ducks in reflex, and suddenly the scent is up close. She hears a car peel away from the house at the same time she realizes she is sitting, naked, on a small pile of burning cigarettes.

That needs tweaking, but it should give you an idea of how you can give small details without hitting your reader over the head with angst. I think the angst is inevitable in a rough draft. Just eradicate it in your rewrites so your reader doesn’t want to stab his eyes out.

 

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A Day in the Life of a Writer: Back to GMC February 25, 2014

I’ll be writing about how I’m using GMC, which I got from GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon  (Clean link)

I’ve begun working on my novel again, and recently had a breakthrough because of an app I found online that utilizes Dixon’s GMC. I dumped what I knew about my heroine into it, and came out with something I can work with. (I am waiting for this writer to get back to me with feedback. *ahem* ps: You did ask what character issues I’m having, Ms. Tammy.)

The GMC wizard was created by author Shawntelle Madison, and it’s on her site:
GMC Wizard
(http://www.shawntellemadison.com/writer-tools/gmc-wizard/)

Plug your info in and go. Here’s what I got for my heroine. This is a work-in-progress, particularly the internal goal part. For some reason I wrestle with understanding that.
GOAL, MOTIVATION, AND CONFLICT GRID
Name: Diana
Age: 35
Occupation: homeless. Previous occupation: ?
Basic Information: Sober b/c of dog Bart. Son died a few years ago & she is beset by guilt.
Eventually she will save Pax, hero’s nephew, which will release her from her self-imposed guilt-shackles.

INTERNAL EXTERNAL
GOAL forgive herself for the death of her son. own her own house where Bart will have a yard to play in.
MOTIVATION she will die on the streets if she doesn’t. He’s been beaten before and shot after she claimed him. She wants him to be safe so she doesn’t have HIS death on her conscience, too.
CONFLICT she keeps falling back on alcohol to drown out the pain. She has no job. She’s been out of work for years. She struggles with sobriety. She has no place to shower, even, and has no idea if she even HAS any skill sets. No confidence.

Another link I found useful has a blank GMC chart found here: http://www.midmichiganrwa.org/gmc-charts.pdf — 6 pages of character-building here.  RWA stands for Romance Writers of America, and it is one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my writing.

The key is to know your characters, which means you have to sit down with each one and listen to them. If you don’t, you risk writing your character into an unbelievable situation, or you risk pushing your character into unbelievable action.  For example, I know that my heroine, Diana, loves books, so while it is believable that she would be found digging in a dumpster to rescue a book, there is no way she would burn one to keep herself warm on the streets. She would burn a building first.

What would your character do/not do?

 

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Best Year Ever. Still. February 16, 2014

Nothing like committing to do something in public to make you see your own flaws.

My best year isn’t done, and it’s still the best I’ve ever lived, and I’ve been busy living it. Eh, but I’ve been busy procrastinating about all sorts of things. Like posting here. Seems as soon as I give myself a rule it makes me want to break it. Makes me wonder if there’s an app that’ll impose deadlines that make you unable to post after a certain time. (I do this for my students on Blackboard, and as a fellow procrastinator, I understand the value of having a deadline with consequences.)

So.
Some of the best things right now:

  • I’m rediscovering Jesus. And praying every day that it doesn’t turn me into an annoying conservative twat. I’d annoy myself. Gag me.
  • I am learning a lot about my absentminded habits. Thank God my husband is so laid-back. Couple days ago he said, smiling, “Honey, do you not like bending over?” I gave him a wtf look and he said, “When you lay something down, it stays there.” I–ah–well. That explains a lot. What amuses me is that now, because of that tiny, indulgent smile of his, I catch myself when I lay something down, and I remember that my actions affect someone else. And I don’t lay it down.
  • I am writing! I am noodling about scenes, I am plotting, I am creating characters I love, and I am regularly in my writing corner.
  • I am actively growing as a teacher. This semester I’m implementing a couple of tools I developed last semester and the feedback I’m getting from students is helping me to make them more user-friendly. (A worksheet on thesis statements and topic sentences, and an online workshop on developing a solid thesis.) Geeky, yes, but fun for me.

From Notes from the Universe:
“The absolute, most sure-fire way
of physically moving in the direction of
your dreams, on a day-to-day basis,
without messing with the “cursed hows,”
is living them, now, to any degree that you can.

And you can.

My dream is not only to write, but to create a space for others to explore writing, so I’m committing to starting a group for writers here where I live. Instead of waiting to move to somewhere green and cool (O! Vermont!) I’m going to do something now.

Funny. No one really cares what you can do, only what you do.

 

 

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Shrinkage January 1, 2014

 

Note: Shrinkage is not gender-specific, and it’s not limited to body size.

Anyone who has ever tried to take up as little space as possible with his belongings, for example, knows this shrinkage problem.

Anyone who has shrunken her personality to suit the comfort of others.  Each smothered laugh shrinks the space she takes up. Every careful step lessens her sound wave ripples.

Heck, I wonder if hoarding is both defiantly taking up space while crushing the person smaller to minimize the space s/he takes up….

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The appearance of things December 8, 2013

The appearance of things change according to the emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.  ~Kahlil Gibran

Be ugly, see ugliness.
Be merciful, see mercy.
Be deceitful, see deceit.
Be joyful, see joy.

Whatever we see out there is true within us.

My husband taught me something about love today.
We had a heated argument yesterday in which we showed all our dark colors.
You always!  You never!
This morning, upon awakening, he mumbled, “Prayer works.”
I thought he was referring to the fact that I had relented and cuddled up to him in the middle of the night, but that wasn’t it.

He said, “I prayed that something would happen to make me let go of my anger because I knew I was the problem.”

Note:  He was not the problem. We both were.

What surprised me was that he had not prayed for God to move my heart, or to change my perspective. He hadn’t prayed that I would relent.
He’d only prayed about his own attitude.

That little act was a mirror:  I could see my own culpability, my own inflexibility, my own pride.

I don’t know how all this relates, precisely.

My goal is  that the humility and mercy that reside in him will be evident in  me when he looks at me.

 

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A Day in the Life of a Writer: Excavation via fresh hurts September 29, 2013

Sometimes I only have a scent.  Ivory Soap. Pine sap. Old Spice. It’s faint, like an afterimage, as Atwood writes in Handmaid’s Tale.

Other times, I catch a memory when I noodle about something peripheral, like the weather of my childhood.

And other times, I am knocked into a pit by something that happens, like my son telling me he will not be seeing me again.  As of this writing, I am 18 hours and 40 minutes from that revelation, and all I can think is, ‘if I’d known it was the last time I’d see him, I’d’ve lingered over dinner. I’d’ve drawn out the conversation, which would have been easy because our conversations have always been interesting. I’d’ve found some way not to be the mother who drives him crazy.’  Okay, nix that last one.  I actually don’t know how to do that.

(He is not suicidal.) (And he doesn’t read my blog.)

There’s more to it. There always is. But that is not what this post is about.   This post is about how present events harken back to old wounds.

I often identify old hurts by rooting around in the new ones (when I have the clarity to do so.)  Today, in this fresh hell, I can identify the pain of many old things, but I will name only two:
1) giving my son up for adoption almost three decades ago, and
2) my mother washing her hands of me when I was 11, and again when I was 19.

So my next question for myself is, which pain am I feeling?
Here’s the thing: I have seen enough of life to understand the cycles of life. The grownup in me knows that nothing stays the same. So the enormous pain I feel is not just about my son walking away.

So what does this mean? How does the current issue illuminate the past hurt?
Well, I see that by linking them I am telling myself the old story of abandonment, and that’s a story I’m done with. Being abandoned means I have no power.  I’m not an abandoned waif, I’m a grownup, and I will not be undone by grief.  I do leave my arms open for him should he return. But I also accept that it could be years, even decades, before that happens, if at all.  My mother was dead ten years before I understood some things.

I’m writing this because I am devastated and I have to work through this or go crazy. I have to be back at work on Monday and I can’t be dissolving every time something reminds me of my son. I have to see some meaning.

Still working on that.

What I do know is that I can model the grace I now recognize for myself.  I can be thankful that he has new-found faith and that he is seeking his own right path. And I can trust that everything will be okay. Mostly.  Still working on that, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve recently joined a memoir writing group at San Diego Writers, Ink

 

 

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Shadow work September 3, 2013

“According to Jungian Jolande Jacobi, in psychic inner reality the archetypal Shadow is a symbol for an aspect of the self (1959).    When we cannot find a way to work with our shadow through our dreams or in other ways, it becomes a symptom in our outer world. ” From http://www.eupsychia.com/perspectives/defs/shadow.html

In the compilation of shadow essays called Meeting the Shadow, M. Scott Peck writes,

“If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them?  The answer is by the consistency of their sins.  While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent….
A predominant characteristic, however, of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them.  They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection….
Scapegoating works through a mechanism psychiatrists call projection…. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad….
Strangely enough, [they] are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil…” (178-79).  (see here for more info on the book)

 

I think that when we cannot accept a certain aspect of our selves, we are then on hyper-alert for that aspect in others. This is why politicians and other public figures should shut up.  I’ve lost count of how many prominent figures have loudly decried sexual misconduct and then have been found guilty of that same “sin.”

We are loudest about what we hate in ourselves.
And the only way to combat this effectively is to accept those parts in our selves which cause us to be ashamed.

But we can’t if we don’t have a safe space to be vulnerable.
So not only is the accusing person hiding secret shame, he is in an environment which fosters such deceptiveness.

Where is grace?

Why is grace so difficult to give?

I’m noodling on grace because my mother was unable to receive it.
And because of that, she couldn’t give it.

I wonder if that is true across the board. If you haven’t ever received unconditional acceptance of who you are, right to your marrow, can you give that to anyone? If so, how?

I am also still formulating what my definition of grace is.

I experience it on a daily basis from my husband. I make mistakes. I get psycho/neurotic/depressed–and there he is, accepting that I am in a particular space, but I am still the beautiful girl he adores. This means, usually, that he walks with me through that valley all the way through to the other side.

Humility. That’s the key to grace.
And you can’t be truly humble if you don’t accept all parts of yourself, and you can’t accept them if you can’t see them, blinded by pride as you are.

So.
This week I’m reflecting on all the ways I experience grace, and I’m looking for it in Mama’s life, too.

 

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