Please Send Good Wishes!

When I am not wearing my writer’s hat, or my mom hat, I wear a hat for Rowan Tree Foundation. For those of you who follow my blog, you might have heard me talk about the work that I do for bereaved families after the death of a child.

Tomorrow morning we have our annual butterfly release where we have a reading of the names of all the children being remembered and then over 300 people will be releasing 240 live monarch butterflies into the park. Please send good thoughts that the event goes smoothly and all of the butterflies soar.  It is such an uplifting event, but I get very nervous leading up to it.

from our 2010 release.

In honor of my daughter Rowan Johanna, and so many other children who could not stay.

Thank you!

Building Layered Characters

During my workshop of fabulousness earlier this month, I learned a lot about plotting. Part of plotting your story requires important character development work, which I have found to be an enlightening experience. It has forced me to look deeper at how my characters work, uncover the layers of their lives, and see how they work together in their world.

Inside the Pilgrim Monument in P-Town. I climbed all the way to the top.

One of the questions we were prompted to ask was simple enough: What does your character want?

Straight forward, right? I don’t think so anymore.

As I was answering this question for my characters I realized I really only knew (or thought about) what they wanted as it related to the resolution of the problem that happened in my story. That isn’t enough. In order to create a character with layers and depth, you need to know what they wanted before the story started -you need to zero in on their core wants and needs in their everyday life.

What were they striving for before the dragon appeared and stole their magic wand? What were they thinking about and dreaming of in the moments before the car crash that changed things forever?  How will the events of your story affect them and their plans to achieve their goals and realize their desires?

In doing these exercises in character development with each of my characters, I have found so much more just beneath the surface of my characters’ veneer.

Have you done character sketches? What do you do to build a fuller character for your stories?

Being “In Scene” in your story.

While workshopping (Is that a word? I am making an executive decision. It is.)  Where was I?

While workshopping my manuscript this past week, I was made aware of a weakness in my writing. I have a tendency to get lost in narrative summary, keeping my story in the speaker’s head instead of bringing everything into present action and portraying it all in scene.

It wasn’t difficult to identify where it was happening, and it wasn’t hard to transform the scenes into present action, but it was hard to cut some lines and reword things that I was especially attached to in that draft. But letting go of my hold on the lovely images I thought I was conveying through my narrative and reworking the scenes to be present action made for a much more compelling story.  I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

Here’s an example that I have made up just for you!

Narrative Summary:

I stood there looking at Jackson, wondering if all of this was just going on inside my head. Resisting the truth of his words in spite of the fact they made perfect sense was like trying to stop an ocean wave with my bare hands. Could there be another explanation for these voices that spoke to me, through me? The woman with the soft Southern twang who gave words to my every thought and action, sometimes even before I knew exactly how I felt or what I was going to do? I stood frozen in the doorway, gripping the threshold. Could Jackson be right? Could it be that we were both just characters in some writer’s head?

In scene:

“Marcy, I hear a voice, too. She sounds like she’s from Texas or something.” Jackson took my hand in his as if trying to be reassuring. It only made me feel more trapped. “Come on,” he said. “You know it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“No, I won’t accept it!” I cried. “That makes everything I am, everything I am living for, meaningless!” I pulled my hand away and hugged myself, shivering in spite of the midsummer warmth that had forced us into the shade of the screened porch. “I’d rather be told I was crazy than know this voice is some narrator building my life in her head. That some stranger with a Southern accent was writing my feelings and my thoughts for me with such… exactness.”  I pressed my hands into my eyes to stop the throbbing in my brain.

Marcy pressed her hands to her eyes as the truth washed over her.

That voice again. 

The truth of it hit me. It suddenly felt like I was trying to stop a wave with my bare hands. I didn’t really exist. Not in the world, anyway. I was a collection of words on the pages between two covers. I wondered it they were hard covers at least.

—–

So, that is not the most artful story, and it could use its own several drafts before it is polished, but if you overlook another weakness of mine (punctuation), you’ll see how the second “in scene” example is much more vivid and brings you into the action of the moment. You get a better sense of the two characters, albeit brief due to the sample size.  But overall you’ll end up with more opportunities to reveal your characters by their own words and actions and thoughts instead of having the whole thing be told to you from a single character in their head.

I’ve been working through my manuscript trying to cull the areas of narrative summary and convert them to action in scene. I think it makes for a much more enjoyable read.

Do you suffer from the over-use of narrative summary?