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Introspection

I haven’t posted in a long time. It isn’t Monday. I’m not planning to follow my own poll-and-discuss format. There are exactly thirty-eight bazillion other things I should be doing right now (I counted). But yet, here I am. Maybe it’s because when I struggle with something, I have a need to write it out. Maybe it’s because I think other people might struggle with this too, and reading this post might help. Maybe it’s just to avoid the thirty-eight bazillion other things. Whatever the reason, I’m here. Thanks for being here too.

My writing is in a weird place. After years of working on what I thought was a middle grade series (and still might be, just not how I originally saw it), I have been reworking it. I’m combining the first two books in the series into one book. I’m almost to the point that I’ll be able to tell whether or not it works. Chapter 17. I have most of the plot together, the characters are fleshed out,  but I have a few holes. Most of the holes are scenes of introspection. Apparently, getting inside the head of a character who resides in my head is a little too much for my brain to handle. As a result, those pivotal, essential, entirely necessary scenes are weak. Recently, I even skipped over writing one all together, leaving “insert what character is thinking” in parentheses in its place (I really like parentheses).

So, I’m wondering, do you have trouble writing the scenes that get in your characters’ heads? Have you read a book with really strong introspection? Do you have a trick you use when approaching these scenes? Please share in the comments.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Character

 

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Foster Care

My eyes are puffy and won’t stop tearing. The hives cover my chest, arms, and, I see as I climb into the shower, back. I curl up on the floor of the shower and let the hot water try to wash it all away.

But hurt like this doesn’t go down easy.

After a lengthy hospital stay to recover from injuries inflicted by her mother’s new husband, 12-year-old Carley was placed in foster care. Her new family is loving, kind, and, most of all, cohesive. Everything her “family” isn’t. Knowing she’ll never fit in, Carley keeps her distance.

Before long, they family’s little boy blasts away the walls she’s put up with his super hero powers and tied-towel cape. She becomes Super High Tops Girl and rescues him right back, hanging a bully in a tree by his overall straps. Through their little superhero’s hole, the rest of the family squeezes into Carley’s heart. She becomes the funny, strong, caring, and open young lady she was always meant to be.

But news from her mother threatens Carley’s new self. Her mother, who was never expected to walk again, is about to be released from the hospital and move back to Las Vegas. And she wants her daughter to go with her. Carley has a choice to make: stay with her foster family where she knows she’s safe and loved or return to an uncertain life with her mother, the only blood relative she’s ever known.

I towel off and snuggle into my pajamas. I curl up on the couch and heave a heavy sigh. Then I crack open the book one last time. Despite the tears, I just have to know how it ends.

Carley is the main character in One for the Murphys. An absolutely recommended read.

What book has touched you emotionally? What, if any, lasting effect/affect did it have?

 

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Reading

 

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Backstory

So to finish the Mister story, Husband called the doctor right away and the doctor told us to go get x-rays. The x-rays showed that Mister did, indeed, swallow a penny. And it was already in his stomach. That was a big relief for us since a Google search told us they can sometimes get lodged sideways on the way down. We were told to sift through his poop until we found the penny, and sent home.

The next day, 29 hours from when it went in, the penny came out without issue. I joke that it took Mister as long to birth the penny as it took for me to birth him.

After I told Mister the penny was out, he yelled “I’m free!” I didn’t know if he meant he was free because he had $0.00 in him now, or because he was free of the worry, but it was pretty funny either way.

As funny as this story is, it is probably something in Mister’s backstory that I won’t often reveal. Sure, I may tell it to a girlfriend later in his life to try to embarrass him. But, otherwise, that story is just going to quietly become a part of what makes Mister, Mister.

Just like our characters have stories that make them, them.

And all of those stories don’t need to be told either.

Discovering those stories can be almost as much work, and as much fun, as writing the story.

On expert advice, I started digging deeper into the past of my own character. She’s an eight year old tomboy, named Mabel, who loves baseball. This same expert asked why she loved baseball so much and who was her favorite player. I knew she wouldn’t have just any favorite player. It had to be a woman. And not just any woman. She had to be as good as the boys.

Well, after not too much searching, I found her. Jackie Mitchell.

 

The daughter of a doctor, Jackie seemed to be born to play ball. Her father introduced her to the game at a young age and Dazzy Vance, her next door neighbor taught her how to pitch. Vance went on to pitch in the majors while Jackie played in a women’s league. That is, until she became the second woman in history to sign a minor league deal.

Jackie-Mitchell-shaking-hands-with-babe-ruth

Jackie was on the Class AA Junior Lookouts Roster when the new York Yankees came in to town to play an exhibition game. She took the mound against the greats: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. And she struck them out. Perfect hero for a tomboy.

 

And I admit that I’m tempted to squeeze Jackie into the story. She has a great story all her own. But I know that if I’m going to use it, the timing has to be perfectly right, or it will feel forced. And if I don’t use it, then it will just be part of what makes Mabel, Mabel.

 

Related Links:

http://www.cowansauctions.com/itemImages/d5378.jpg- an article researching whether the strike outs of Ruth and Gehrig are a myth

http://blogs.babycenter.com/mom_stories/09192013-the-sad-story-behind-i-love-you-forever/- The story behind the children’s book Love You Forever

http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/what-you-can-learn-about-writing-from-childrens-books/- what you can learn about writing from children’s books (including that no one wants backstory in place of plot)

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Character

 

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I Won’t Tell You

“I won’t tell you, Mom,” my 3 year-old, Mister, said as I walked into his room.

“I won’t tell you what happened.” He paced around the room, holding his chest and groaning.

“Bud,” I knelt down in front of him, “I need you to tell me what happened, especially if it is something not good, so I can help you.”

He covered his eyes with his hands and whispered, “I put a penny in my mouth and it went down my throat in to my esophagus.”

I felt my eyes get as big as quarters. “It did? Do you feel okay or does it hurt you?”

“It hurts me, Mom.” He held his chest.

“Bud, I’m so glad you told me,” I said, and started to call the doctor.

Mister didn’t want to tell me what happened to him just like we don’t want to tell everything about our characters to the reader. What is in your character’s(s’) back story that you are keeping secret from your reader?

penny

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2014 in Character

 

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Impact

“Welcome to the National League Division Series. Here are your Pittsburgh Pirates,” the announcer booms. “Starting in center field…”

Through wells of tears, I watch a blurry Andrew McCutchen turn to point to the fans before high-fiving his way down the line of coaches to take his space on the field.

As my other favorite players are announced, I can’t hold back my tears. The city has been waiting a long time for this. My family has been waiting a long time for this. And it is finally here.

Looks like the rally towel give-away is going to come in handy in more ways than one.

Okay, so it might not exactly be normal to be moved to tears at a baseball game, but, if you’ve been paying attention to sports at all lately, the Pirates making it to the NLDS is kind of a big deal. What is something you’ve experienced lately that has had a particularly strong emotional impact? How can you draw on that emotional experience to enhance your writing?

 

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Emotion

 

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Brains on Paper

Experiencing emotional situations and narrating them at the same time, isn’t exactly a super power, but it does come in handy for writing. There are a few things that I do that are a little, well, odd in the context of real life that also work really well for writing.

For example, I picture most people I meet, and even some I just see in passing, as picture book characters. A man with long, curly hair and sunglasses became the saxophone player for an audience of cats. A smiling older gentleman in the post office became a neighbor who teaches a young boy about imagination. A librarian who helped with a stuck door was…a librarian (funny how some people just fit, isn’t it?). A little weird, maybe, but there might be some picture book ideas just walking around out there. I’ll never know if I don’t look around.

I also steal physical traits, body language or ways of speaking from real people to later use for my characters. A teen girl walking with her hands in her sleeves and shoulders slightly slumped I’ll give to a character with self-esteem issues. And I’ll take a little one’s tendency to always walk on tiptoe and give it to a picture book character who is filled with wonder and curiosity.

I even revise my own speech. I’ll say something and immediately think of a better way to word it. It’s like living with the curse of a delayed comeback all of the time. Odd? Yes. Good for writing? Definitely.

All of these things mean that even when I’m not sitting down and writing, my brain is thinking about writing. It’s almost like having a sixth sense: a writing sense. And all of the above examples help to keep mine active.

I’m not sure if all writers do the things that I do, but I do know that writers’ brains work just a little bit differently. They have to. After all, most of our effort revolves around trying to put our brains on paper.

Related Links:

Sara Jane Townsend’s reflections on a writer’s brain: http://dianedooley.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/a-writers-brain-guest-post-from-sara-jayne-townsend/

Blog post by Caleb Pirtle III about where two novelists get their stories: http://venturegalleries.com/featured-vg-blog/where-does-the-mind-of-a-writer-go-for-a-story/

Daily routines of famous writers: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Character

 

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Not Normal

So I tried something new this week. Water Pong Wednesday. And it flopped. Granted, I think I chose too hard of a challenge. As much as I love palindromes, it is hard to come up with them off the top of your head! I would like to try another Water Pong Wednesday next month, because I do think it could be fun, but I’ll just have to choose a better challenge. Thanks salsanpeeps (otherwise known as Husband) for thinking of the palindromes. You win! And Mary, the Keep Calm and Paddle On (answer: KAYAK) magnet is yours if you’d like it.

If you’re curious, here are the five-, six-, and seven-letter palindromes (if not, scroll down for the Friday post on discovering new characters):

Five-

civic

kayak

level

madam

radar (this one actually has an interesting history, starting as an acronym, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radar

refer

rotor

sagas

sexes

shahs

solos

tenet

Six-

pull-up

redder

Seven-

deified

repaper

reviver

rotator

Now on to the response to Monday’s post.

My characters introduce themselves to me. Sound nuts? It probably is. And I love it. Here’s how it works:

Usually while my hands or my brain is busy with something else, I’ll hear an unmistakable voice from somewhere inside my own head. I rush to grab something to write on and with and write furiously. I try not to think or move, except for my hand on the page. I’m not even sure I breathe until the character is “finished.”

My first character, Mabel, introduced herself in a college course. I wrote this in the margins of my class notes:

Sometimes there are rules.  They aren’t written down or hung on the wall, but you still have to follow them.  One is not using your school scissors to cut someone’s hair.  Also, girls like pink and dolls.  I don’t follow that rule.  I don’t follow most rules actually.  I’ll tell you more about that later.

I am a tomboy, and you can spot a tomboy from a mile away.  I’m always the one in what some moms would call play clothes: comfortable pants with room to move around; layered shirts for hot and cold control; tennis shoes ready for a race at a moment’s notice; and never, ever any tights.  The tomboy uniform helps me do things like move with lightning fast speed, hit a home run, or climb a tree.

I held on to this introduction for three years before trying to write the story. So even after the character is introduced, the hard work isn’t done. In fact, I’m still revising this story.

After I wrote Mabel’s book, I was afraid that her voice might be the only one I’d ever hear. Then Biz came along. Here is her introduction: 

My name is Elizabeth, but as long as I can remember, everyone has called me Biz. Not Liz or Izzy or Beth. Just Biz. My mom says it fits because I’ve always been busy and Biz sounds like busy. I try to tell her that doesn’t work because busy is B-U-S-Y and Biz is B-I-Z. She tells me I’ll understand what she means someday. I don’t know when someday is but I’m already tired of waiting. Someday my slightly used little sister will be old enough to do more than drool in my books. Someday I’ll be able to ride the bus to school like a normal kid and I won’t have to vacuum the ants off my sister Marcy’s front seat before I get in. Someday, if I’m lucky, I might get to use my brain to do something more than just ace history tests. But it isn’t someday. It’s just Tuesday and I’m just Biz.

I think Biz is becoming the main character of a mystery I’ve been taking notes on and finally just started (I’m 139 words in! Only tens of thousands more to go!)

And just last week, another character introduced herself. As I told my husband, she is a tough one (I deleted her profanity for the sake of the blog):

It is bad enough that I’m a teenager with a baby sister. It’s worse that she was born nine months from my birthday. Exactly. Like I can’t count. I can just picture my parents being all like “aww remember when she was conceived and now she’s a young lady.” Puke. What’s even worse is that my mom thought the occasion would be a good time to have “the talk.” Yeah. That talk. About eight years too late, I think. And she kept using words like “beautiful” and “holy”. She wouldn’t last ten minutes in the back of the bus.

This was the first character whose introduction came more in the form of question and answer. I still have a lot of questions to “ask” her and I have no idea what her story is, but I think she’s got a lot of potential.

It amazes me that all three of these voices, and all three of these characters, came from me. And, at least in the case of Mabel so far, that I can keep “hearing” the unique voice for the duration of an entire manuscript. Maybe I’m not normal. Then again, maybe I am.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “Writers aren’t exactly people … they’re a whole lot of people trying to become one person.”

And E.L. Doctorow said: “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

Well, at least if I’m not normal, then I’m in good company.

Related Links:

An interesting pondering about writing and voices from Vivienne Courtoise: http://viviennecourtoise.blogspot.com/2011/10/i-hear-voices.html

A guest post from Susan Bearman on the Write it Sideways blog on harnessing the voices: http://writeitsideways.com/hearing-voices-maybe-youre-a-writer/

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Character

 

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