The Work of Writing Seven: Authenticity

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By William Paxton (http://www.taller54.com/736.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(Previous Work of Writing posts.)

The recent announcement from a Twitter favorite of mine that she was trans filled me with an unexpected sense of joy. Obviously it has absolutely nothing to do with me, and yet reading about her shopping excursions and seeing her new profile pic with lovely, tasteful makeup made me happy. Not just happy for her, but happy.

So of course I had to poke at it it. To unravel it thread by thread. These emotions are important; these emotions bond us to our readers. How do we evoke them? Why do they happen?

After a bit of reflection and a bit of coffee, the answer came to me. It was the light that comes from someone settling into her authentic self. Someone becoming, completely, the person she is meant to be, without the concern of molding to others’ expectations.

When we start crafting characters (if we craft them; sometimes I feel as though mine live in a parallel dimension) we don’t know everything about them. We might know where they are at the beginning. We might know what they want in that moment. In the words of the incredible Kurt Vonnegut:

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Whatever that thing is, it should lead to greater authenticity of your characters. They should be, by story’s end, more of who they are then they were to start. Without this kind of depth, characters are flat. Authenticity is the layer that adds humanity.

And it doesn’t always have to bring the reader joy to see a character become his or her authentic self; the inevitability of some types of authenticity form the basis for tragedy. You know where they’re going. You know who they really are. And this reveal of character will take them there.

Whether you’re currently writing or squirreling away for a writey day, collect these moments. Examine them for clues.When you can pinpoint the source of your emotional twings, you can do the same for your readers.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

 

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#AtoZChallenge: The Name is Ida. Aunty Ida.

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As Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) counts down its final hours of the the $0.99 price, it seemed like a good time to talk about characters. Specifically one character. Because today is I and her name starts with an I and–

Ahem.

Anyway, when it comes to writing, characters simply come to me. Sometimes I get a line; sometimes it’s a name; sometimes it’s a situation. I rarely know anything about my characters when I first meet them, so readers and I are in the same boat.

Aunty Ida sprung, wholesale, from the title of the book, which I had long, long before there was a book. I didn’t know what to make of her the first time Margaret meets her; she simply appeared, this odd, brilliant scientist, sweeping the upright Judge Margaret Hamerton-Simpary into her brightly-colored and very off-kilter world.

Though Margaret drove the story — how I fought that character for control every inch of the way! And in the end, she was right — Aunty Ida shaped it, every watchful.

Sometimes, as much as this will make me sound like I’m in need of Ida’s services myself, it feels as though I’m tapping into people who exist somewhere else in the universe. And I think, when it comes to writing, that’s the key.

If your characters feel real, feel weighty, feel like they could exist somewhere to you, your readers will believe in them too.

TV Talk: Death Death Death

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TV-T&PC (1)As usual, there are no spoilers!

There is an epidemic. They’re dying in record numbers, one after another after another. I am, of course talking about TV characters.

There was a time that a death of a character on a show was a big deal. We grew attached to our fictional friends, and yes, that friendship was a little one-sided, but when they disappeared into the great Television Beyond, it was sad.

Now we know better.

I couldn’t even begin to give you a death toll for my week so far in television viewing. And that’s just the Real Housewives of New York! (Just kidding. Only lady parts seem to be harmed in the making of that show, because they talk about them. A lot. A kind of Vagina Dialogues, if you will. And no, that joke didn’t do well on Twitter either).

Seriously, though, the deaths come so quickly and so meaninglessly that they’re starting to have nearly zero impact. And that’s bad for the shows, that’s bad for television, and it’s bad for society as a whole.

The best thing you can have for a television show is a completely engaged audience. Loyal fans who will go out and spread the word, who will tweet with the show, who will attend events and generally show support. And while possible death of favorite characters is a good way to build tension, it can’t be your only way.

Here’s the thing with that: if you keep teasing it, eventually you have to make it happen, or else that element of tension is lost. Some shows don’t care, and actually trade on the safety of knowing that one of the main characters is never going to die. Early “Castle,” for example, allowed fans to enjoy the peril and, more importantly, enjoy seeing how the characters would escape it, knowing that they would.

But if you constantly kill off characters, instead of engaging fans, they tend to disconnect. Why? Because who wants to be broken up over someone who never actually existed ceasing to exist? There’s no point in getting attached to characters who are only temporary.

Not all shows are guilty of it. But the problem is that watching so much TV death on some shows inures us to death on others. And, I think, makes us less sensitive to real-life tragedy.

Yes, TV death allows dramatic, tension-filled scenes with lots of bloody gore. But constant death and constant gore only creates a gulf between viewer and show.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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Cracking Characters to Push Plot

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By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s so humid here today, it’s like sitting in a sponge. I have to run the air even though it’s not that warm.

Sorry, planet Earth.

As you know, I’ve been having my writing struggles this week. I’ve gotten some fantastic tricks and hints from everyone, though (thank you!) and amazing support from others who know what it’s like to try to chip your way through a writing wall.

And I think I know where the problem is. It’s my characters.

I’ve written before about how plotting nearly always comes back to character. What do your characters want? What will they do to get it? Who are they? How do they see the world? What are their secrets?

My WIP is wall-to-wall with characters, but I haven’t taken the time to get to know them. Bad writer.

In a cozy mystery, someone has to want something or not want something or want to hide something enough to kill over it. How can I get to the heart of it if I don’t know my characters well enough to see what motivates them?

I repeat my self-scolding: Bad writer.

So I’m going back through my cast of characters to get to know them a little better. And for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, with a plot that won’t resolve, it’s never a bad idea to go back to the source of all plot points.

Your characters.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

Some of Aunty Ida’s Wisdom

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Don’t have a lot of words today for some reason, so I thought I’d share some of Aunty Ida’s insights. She’s highly qualified. No really. Seriously. You can stop laughing now.

Your mind is like a highway. (1)Books are an excellent way to open the brain corridors for a course of eavesbraining. A lot of people don't know that.

Copy of Books are an excellent way to open the brain corridors for a course of eavesbraining. A lot of people don't know that. OK, that last one was more of an attempt to drum up business. Things are slow in the mental health world.

Have a great Wednesday, all, and remember: you only get one brain, two tops. Feed it well.

In or near Chicago? Check out our sketch comedy revue, Me Inside Me Presents: “Neurotrash.” Saturdays at 10 pm, May 7, 14, 21 & 28 in Donny’s Skybox Theater. Tickets $13; Students $11 SCTC Students: $7  Click here for tickets.

Want to know what happens to Jane Storegoer before everyone else? Sign up for my spamless newsletter, and get new episodes in your inbox on Fridays!

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 

Reflecting on Characterization

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20160502_174723So I went for a walk, and spring is definitely springing. We had rain the other day, and as you can see, there were soggy triangles of puddles reflecting a cloud-mottled sky. The grass is here, and the leaves unfurling.

I wasn’t the only one; the park was packed with cyclists and joggers and strollers; the tennis courts squeaking under use; the softball diamonds sending up soft wafts of sand as players did drills.

But my idyllic interaction with the great outdoors darkened along with the sky when a man ran past me wearing shorts. I caught sight of the tattoo on his calf.

It was a lightning bolt.

Now, I don’t know this man, and I have no idea of his process in deciding on that particular tattoo, but as you may or may not know, a lightning bolt is often a symbol of the so-called white power movement.

On the other hand, maybe he felt it was a symbol of how fast he runs. Though he was really only running medium-fast, but that’s not the point.

It made me wonder about a person who — if indeed it was a loud’n’proud symbol of his contempt for anyone not like him — felt the need to put it out on display. My mind turned, as it often does, to writing.

Let’s be clear here. As I had no conversation with this man, and I had nothing more than a glimpse of his leg as he passed me on a running path, he’s really little more than a person I’ve constructed in my head. But if he were a character in one of my novels, I would find that tattoo far too much “tell” and not enough “show.” With one symbol, you put his essence right out there.

Sometimes you might want that. If you have a character with a bit part, and you want to establish him in few words, that’s a really quick and easy way to do it.

On the other hand, if he got that tattoo without understanding the larger possible implications, that’s a potential source of humor and conflict, which works for both minor and major characters.

But if it’s a character with substance and a penchant for racial superiority, take the longer route there, and let your readers notice the reflections.

Want to know what happens to Jane Storegoer before everyone else? Sign up for my spamless newsletter, and get new episodes in your inbox on Fridays!

In or near Chicago? Check out our sketch comedy revue, “Me Inside Me Presents: Neurotrash.” Saturdays at 10 pm, May 7, 14, 21 & 28. Click here for tickets.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Introspective Letter I

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Some of us break down and scrutinize our thoughts and actions, searching for motivations and causes and understanding. Sometimes this process is called “navel-gazing,” which I never really got as a cliche until I started doing yoga and realized that you literally gaze toward your navel now and then. Is this the origin of the phrase? Who knows. Well Google does.

No, no, don’t get up. I’ll get it. According to the grand internet, the answer is: maybe. Let’s contemplate that for a minute.

Just kidding! See what I did there? I was talking about deeply scrutinizing and–

What’s that, hypothetical reader? Yes, yes, you get it? Good. So as I was saying, some of us go for that kind of introspection, and some of us plow through life, never really considering any of those interior-kinds of things. And that’s important.

Why, hypothetical reader? I was getting to why, wasn’t that clear?

Yes, hypothetical reader, that last line did sound awfully Aunty Ida of me. I think she’s leaking again, but that’s not the point.

Just like there are people who endlessly analyze their thoughts and feelings, and people who never even conceive of doing so, fictional worlds have to be populated with all types. And interestingly, this character trait is one that will absolutely structure your plot.

Is your character a Hamlet-sized hesitater? Inaction, as Shakespeare taught us, can be just as heavy as action. Is she an unrepentant risk-taker? Danger, falling complications ahead!

Characters are just people who have never existed. To make them real, they should be as varied as the rest of us.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!