Category Archives: Inspiration

Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer”

A few weeks back, in a post titled “Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe),” I unabashedly vented my grievances with the written word, or more notably, my desires to be a writer. I knew at the time that my threats were likely empty, but I felt compelled to at least toy with notion of quitting, giving up, or in the formal sense, resigning.

I explained how my personal identity was suffering, and I couldn’t see myself as being worthy if I didn’t write. This is a dangerous game to play when one is virtually unknown, unpublished, and unfinished with a novel two and half years in the making.

Consequently I dared to wonder if my life would be better without the prospect of writing.

Many of my wonderful readers suggested taking a break, which believe it or not was something I hadn’t considered. Others advised me to figure out the kind of writer I wanted to be—another insightful piece of wisdom that hadn’t dawned on me. Some swore that if I wrote for myself and not for publication that I’d find what I was looking for.

So I devised an experiment. Ten days. No writing. More than that actually, for ten days I am no longer a writer. I don’t think about writing, I don’t talk about writing, I don’t know about writing. I will strip myself to the bare essentials and see what’s left.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. The urge to write is difficult to ignore. It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, going grocery shopping, holding my friend’s new baby, or teaching one of my classes, the act of writing still called to me. It’s a subtle, sneaky kind of feeling that makes me glance over my shoulder, as if someone is watching me.

2. The void is vast. I learned that self-identity comes in many different forms from many different sources. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a colleague, and a teacher. But I’m also a writer. And when I deliberately hack off that part of myself, it can feel like I’m walking around with a missing limb—or a hole in my chest.

“There’s a part of me missing!” Melissa Nicklen → in Food & Drink

3. Subconsciously, the writing doesn’t stop. Even though I boycotted my novel for more than a week, I still deliberately drove the past the house in my neighborhood that inspired the setting for my story. Even now, I’m silently categorizing its features, its blemishes, its overall vibe, and the role it plays in the story. In other words, if it’s in you, it’s in you.

4. This respite is likely an excuse to slack off. I’m tired. I work. I clean. I cook. I make and keep appointments. I run errands. Writing can sometimes feels like an added responsibility. I often find myself rushing through more menial tasks so I can attend to my writing. But on days when the writing just isn’t working and I start to lose faith in my talents and abilities, the craft itself turns to work. Worse than that. Extra work. But hey, sacrifices need to be made. I now understand that in truth, my desire to “resign” from writing was based in fear of failure, and hence, a loss of personal identity—which is really silly if you think about it.

5. The real reasons for writing start to emerge. To be the next Danielle Steel? To prove myself to former classmates, colleagues, etc.? To make money? Not really. It turns out my true purpose for writing comes from someplace deeper.

Janis Urtans → in Flowers

 

So, for each day I didn’t write, I came up with one GOOD reason to continue writing:

 1. Because stories are powerful

2. Because I’ve always been fascinated by time and place

3. Because I want to contribute to peoples’ reading

4. Because the human condition is expansive

5. Because we ARE our characters

6. Because our READERS are our characters

7. Because I’ve got something to say, and I don’t know how else to say it

8. Because we all need to escape when we aren’t otherwise able to

9. Because it’s all about perspective

10. Because one day, it’ll be all that’s left of me—of all of us

As it turns out, that whole resignation thing was a fluke. But I’m glad I considered quitting, because if I didn’t, I’d still be stuck in that whirlwind of false hope, delusional motivation, and indulgent yearnings of writing for all the wrong reasons. Real writing is about scratching an itch, answering a calling, and following an instinct.

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

-Red Smith

What are your GOOD reasons for writing?

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Why We Write

Getting Published for a Good Cause

Oh Sandy! An Anthology of Humor for Serious Purpose is now available and I’m honored to be a part of it! Back in December, editors Leigh Beighley, AJ Fader, and Peter Barlow put out a call for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on topics dealing with surviving disaster or being from New Jersey. The twist? Each submission was asked to take a humorous tone (can’t be too hard when asking for stories about New Jersey) to help raise spirits for those who survived (and are still surviving) Hurricane Sandy.

Like most residents of New York and New Jersey, I experienced Sandy in my own way, and it’s something I’ll never forget. I was one of the lucky ones though. Thousands of people lost their homes and possessions in the super storm.

When I heard about Oh Sandy! it seemed like a personal calling. I’m a writer. I lived through the hurricane. And I’m from New Jersey. Plus, I can be funny when I put my mind to it. And so it went. I composed a piece about a hilariously lame weekend my sister, our friend, and I spent down the shore in Belmar. I made sure to weave as many “Jersey” themes as I could–The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Springsteen, Parkway traffic, and more.

What’s great about this publication is that all proceeds go straight to those affected most by the storm.

If interested in supporting me (yay! I got published) the hurricane cause, or perusing a new read, see below:

Purchase the ebook here.

Purchase the print edition here.

Or,  simply visit the website here for more information or to check it out.

Thanks to all my readers for your continued support.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration

Serene Saturdays: Calm-as Kinkade

See what I did there? 🙂

Thomas Kinkade (1958-2012) was best known for his paintings of picturesque landscape, idyllic cottages, and main street images, and of course, for his superb use of “light.” His work was not widely received throughout the art world, due to his simplistic, “unoriginal” depictions of mere landscapes.

But in fact, Kinkade’s work is not simplistic at all—at least not in my opinion—and while I may not be a trained art critic, I know this much is true: his work, full of color, light, and life comforts me on a far deeper level than any canvas portraying nothing more than a red circle. Besides, he created his own kick ass empire.

This post is not a biography on Kinkade, nor is it an analysis of his artwork. This is a Serene Saturday after all, and my purpose is to show why I find Kinkade’s work wildly comforting.

The prints of course, are not cheap, (especially since his death), but I do have a framed painting and tapestry of two of my favorite images hanging in my bedroom.

For the life of me I can't remember the title of this painting! It's lovely though, isn't it?

For the life of me I can’t remember the title of this painting! It’s lovely though, isn’t it?

 

Snow White Discovers the Cottage

Snow White Discovers the Cottage

Kinkade’s work has a lifelike quality to it in the sense that each painting evokes a response from all five senses. When I look at a Kinkade painting, I’m not just seeing it, but hearing it, feeling it, smelling it, tasting it. If there is water I can hear it moving, and if there are flowers I can sense the waft of sweetness permeating the area. I can feel the sunlight on my skin.

It’s as if I am there. Like in Mary Poppins, when she jumps into one of Bert’s chalk sketches on the sidewalk.

I also have two coffee table type books that become my companions during dark periods.

Smaller book on top: "The Power of Light"

Smaller book on top: “The Power of Light”

 

"Masterworks of Light"(see even Ziggy likes it!)

“Masterworks of Light”
(see even Ziggy likes it!)

No joke, I’ve actually felt my body relax as I’ve flipped through these pages.

Below are two of my favorites:

Deer Creek Cottage my.opera.com

How quiet this scene must be if two deer are lurking about. I can make a whole story from this picture. It’s Sunday night. A college professor is about to start a new a semester and is feeling a bit uneasy. He’s alone in his winter cottage making last minute preparations. The sight of the two deer is a positive omen. Life goes on. Nature prevails. It all will be alright.

 

Graceland artofthesouth.com

Graceland! If you look closely you can see Elvis hand-in-hand with a girl, who I believe Kinkade is portraying as Priscilla. Art is a projection of course; we will never have the opportunity to witness to Elvis leaving his mansion, unseen. Only through the imagination of an artist is it even remotely possible.

Which artists comfort you?

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Filed under Inspiration, Self Discovery, Serene Saturdays

From the Psyche: How Archetypal Roles Shape Both Us and Our Characters

Something I find interesting (other than writing of course) is the notion of self-discovery.  Anyone who follows my blog knows that I analyze dreams in great detail. My iPhone is littered with apps for personality tests, color quizzes, handwriting analysis, and mood trackers (my husband once lovingly described my phone as a ‘cry for help’).  But the way I see it, if I want to make the most of my life then I need to know who I am, what I want, and what I was born to do (OK, maybe I have been reading too many Oprah.com articles).

I’m also very interested in the inner-worlds of my characters. Even those without their own narrative voices are important. I want to get to know them as much as I know myself—their creator.

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s I read a book—recommended by Oprah—entitled Archetypes. It was written by Caroline Myss, and let me say, this book greatly enhanced my perspective on inner-exploration. It also opened my eyes to new and exciting ways to better characterization in my fiction projects.

Great Question!

Great Question!

According to Dictionary.com an archetype is as follows:

*2. (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of though, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.

*I used this definition (there was another) because it strongly relates to Myss’s theory on archetypes.

In one of my dream anthologies, there is a section on archetypes (i.e. The Hero, The Evil Mother, The Loving Mother, The Warrior, etc.) appearing in an individual’s dream; analysis can then be based on the qualities each archetype displays.

In her book, Myss surveys ten different archetypal roles that she believes (and I agree) all human beings (and fictional characters) portray. Of course we’re  all mixtures of particular types, but clearly some take precedence over others.

I will list Myss’s archetypes and paraphrase an explanation of each. To get the full effect, you have to read the book!

There it is amidst all my other "self-searching" titles!

There it is amidst all my other “self-searching” titles!

The Advocate: Those who devote their lives to fighting a cause; Myss gives many examples such as human rights activists, animal rights activists, environmentalists, etc. And you don’t have to be Cesar Chavez to fit into this role. You can simply be the neighborhood watch looking to improve safety after a home on your block was robbed.

Myss’s Examples: Rosa Parks, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

My Examples:Blogger & Writing Group Companion, Sylver Blaque

The Artist/Creative: Anyone who is compelled to create art falls into this archetypal role. It may be in the form of visual art, written art, or performance art. But Myss says we aren’t complete unless we can create.

Myss’s Examples: Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, Edgar Allan Poe

My Examples: Thomas Kinkade, The Intrinsic Writer, aka me; all of you reading this!

The Athlete: This could be the marathon runner or the avid sports fan. It’s those who need to be in constant motion. The fitness hounds, the yogis, the skydiver, and the water-skier; the athlete’s focus is on health and nutrition. He or she uses the body as a form of expression.

Myss’s Examples: Michael Jordan, Maria Sharpanova, The Ancient Greeks

My Examples: My Aunt Eileen, star of the YMCA.

The Caregiver: Those who give their lives to serving and protecting others. Myss mentions that often these are the types that need to be told to stop and relax! Do something for yourself! Parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, healers, coaches, and more—these are the ones, according to Myss, who can tolerate to see pain in another human being. They are self-sacrificing, and at time, martyrs.

Myss’s Examples: The Mother, The Teacher, The Sister

My Examples: My mother, father, & grandparents; my Uncle Bob, who cares for my elderly grandfather; myself, as a teacher; many, many of my friends, colleagues, etc.

The Fashionista: If the athlete expresses herself through movement, then the fashionista expresses herself through…you got it…fashion! But this is more than just a professional shopper. This is someone who exudes confidence, prioritizes looking good, and perhaps most importantly, is exploring a sense of identity.

Myss’s Examples: Carrie Bradshaw, Coco Chanel

My Examples: My sister, Victoria.

The Intellectual: These folks tend to go by that old notion of using their heads over their hearts. Intellectuals love learning. They are well-read, researching types. As Myss explains it, the requirement of knowledge is their main life purpose. I imagine they can be rather argumentative as well. Intellectuals take a deep interest in unlocking all the mysteries of the world.

Myss’s Examples: The Sage, The Wise Elders, The Buddha

My Example: Just about every professor I had in college

The Queen/Executive: For all you Oprah fans out there, this one’s for you! The Queen is on top of her game (by the way, for each archetype, Myss has a whole section on the “male counterpart”), and doesn’t take any you-know-what from anyone. She is often in a high-powered position, but a Queen could also simply rule her own household—it has more to do with identity personal ruling style. I think you know the type—Myss says Queens create their own “empires,” and that often comes with a band of followers.

Myss’s Examples: Oprah Winfrey, Queen Elizabeth I, Barbara Walters, and Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.

My Examples: Laura, a former employer

The Rebel: I can’t help but think of a Punk Rocker (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols), but anyway, the Rebel is a reactor, a revolutionary—different from the advocate in the sense that he or she responds (often drastically) to all that is wrong with the world. The truth is, the rebel doesn’t have to be someone who elicits political upsurge—it could just be that kid in high school that skipped the last-day-before-vacation holiday concert—brought to you by the school’s jazz band and choral choir—to go smoke pot. OK, maybe I just went to Starbucks. But it was badass.

Myss’s Examples: Henry David Thoreau, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., The Feminist

My Examples: Elvis Presley. My friend Sara, who back in high school, managed to cut study for entire three-quarters of a year before getting caught.

The Spiritual Seeker: Oh, I love this one. Here we have people who want to know things by the end of their lives. They strive to find that sense of Nirvana inside and out. Myss explains that the true spiritual seeker isn’t someone who vows to buy a ten million dollar home; instead, he or she looks inward to find that true sense of knowing. He is a master of forgiveness, and is willing to turn his life into an odyssey of gratitude in the pursuit of helping others.

Myss’s Examples: The Mystic, The Buddha

My Examples: Deepak Chopra

The Visionary:  Myss says the visionary is the person who can stand back, look at the world, and see clearly, what it needs. Then, he or she sets about putting those changes in motion. Visionaries are idea-makers. They are creators. They have a deep understanding of the human race.

Myss’s Examples: Rachel Carson, Gloria Steinem, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs

My Examples: John Lennon

By the way, you can find out your archetype by taking the quiz @ www.ArchetypeMe.com

Such a great book!

Such a great book!

My results were a mixed percentage of the following four archetypes: 1) Artist/Creative 2) Caregiver 3) Intellectual 4) Spiritual Seeker.

Also, while Myss goes into A LOT of detail about the types mentioned above, she also includes a glossary with other common archetypes such as: The Victim, The Warrior, The Storyteller, The Slave, and more.

By reading this book, I have a better sense of my life’s purpose; furthermore, through the process, I was able to discover my characters’ archetypes as well. It has turned into a great characterization tool. I even went in and took the above mentioned quiz as some of characters. Trust me, it will give both you and the tiny people who live inside your head much needed clarity.

What Archetype are you? What Archetypes are your characters?

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Filed under Books and Literature, Characters, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life

They Call Me The Wanderer: A Letter to My Readers

To My Readers:

There’s been a common theme running through my dreams the past several nights: Losing My Way.

In one dream, I was going the wrong direction on a busy highway. People blasted their horns, yelled curses. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to turn around. Readjust myself. Find my way.

Last night I dreamt of being at a cousin’s house down the shore. I went for a walk and couldn’t find my way back. I stood on a hill and could see the house. I saw where I wanted to go, but I just couldn’t get there. I walked in circles, losing my breath, my feet aching, only to find myself back in the same place that I started.

Finally I came across a stranger—a short woman with a cropped hair cut—and asked her for directions. I followed her instructions and it led me to a shallow swimming pool with clear blue water. Apparently, it seemed, it was necessary that I walk through this water in order to arrive home. I dreaded getting my shoes wet, but saw no other alternative. When I eventually made it, a black dog the size of a pony was there to greet me. He leapt onto his hind legs and hugged me the way a human would. I laughed and laughed.

"Beyond the horizon"Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, July 2010

“Beyond the horizon”
Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, July 2010

So what does it all mean?

Well, for one thing I am directionally impaired. My inner-navigation system is shot. In fact, I’ve been known to get lost even with the GPS. My husband likes to joke that the Dion song “The Wanderer” was written about me: They call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer, I roam around and round and round and round…

But dreams often carry more metaphorical interpretations. Perhaps I’m mentally lost? Emotionally lost? Spiritually lost? Psychologically lost? Answer? All of the above.

It’s a rare person who knows exactly what she was born to do. I was born to write. Does that mean I’m destined to be the next Danielle Steel? Of course not. But during these past two months I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, and realized, with more certainty than I’ve ever had in my whole life, that if I don’t write in some shape or form during my time here on earth, I may never feel complete.

You may have noticed that I’ve all but disappeared since the holidays. I truly have lost my way. Things happened. Life got busy. I went through a very weepy, “blue” period. I lost track of my writing life. Maybe it was burnout. Lack of confidence. Mixed up priorities. There’s no real good explanation for it—though I imagine any writer out there reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a compulsion that has the ability to make us miserable, yet we can’t resist. We aren’t physically able to.

We lose our way sometimes. We ride the wrong direction. We know exactly where we want to be, but can’t seem to get there (Hmm…sounds just like my dream).

That being said…I’m back! And I’d like to share with you my plans for The Intrinsic Writer 2013:

Saturdays: I will be beginning a new feature called “Serene Saturdays” where I’ll share new and different ways to “relax.” A life goal of mine is to achieve that oh-so-elusive peace of mind. I’m no Deepak Chopra—which is partly why I’m doing this, to teach myself to relax—but I’d love to reveal the small, everyday things that help me cope with stress.

Sundays: Old School Sundays will continue!

Tuesdays: My featured posts on the life and craft of writing fiction and more!

It’s a new year for all of us. What I’ve learned during my brief reflection period is that it’s OK to hide out for a while, to lose your way, so to speak; so long as you come back regenerated and stronger than before. I’m grateful for my life, this blog, all of you followers, and of course, that special knowledge that tells me to do what I absolutely need to do to survive.

-Katie

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write

Straight from the Gene Pool: How Sibling Relationships Mold Your Characters.

tom vogt → in People “Lollipops”

I want you all to take a minute and imagine life without your siblings. Would you be the same person? For better or worse, I’m guessing that no, you wouldn’t. What if your birth order were reversed?

Whether we want to admit it or not, our relationships with our siblings shape our personalities, goals, desires, and motivations. Don’t believe me? Read this article from Psychology Today

Still don’t believe me? Watch this video from TED Talks. It’s fascinating: Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond

I apologize to all my “only children” readers out there, because I’m about to get real about sisterly (and brotherly) love—that is, in both life and in literature.

I’ve written posts in the past that detail rather unconventional methods of characterization. Sibling relationships are my latest illustration.

I can think of many examples where these kinds of dynamics are the basis of the story. Other times they are simply part of the backdrop. As a writer there some methods you can use to establish the sibling bond. The following, I think, are among the most typical. Of course being the talented scribes you are, you can fill in all the unique details later on.

1. Sister Spiteful: The classic case of the jealous sibling. I believe it works better when the protagonist him or herself is the spiteful one. That way, as readers, we see the larger-than-life genealogical specimen from the underdog’s eyes. Often in these cases we find that the protagonist is struggling with her own identity. Her perceived perception of her perfect sibling only worsens this. Generally these relationships work out, as the envious sibling discovers her sister or brother has insecurities of his/her own.

My favorite literary examples: The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkenan & True Colors by Kristin Hannah
My favorite non-literary examples: A League of Their Own & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

2. Brother Burden: This is a sibling bond that often carries sad undertones. In these cases we see a brother or sister who must care for his/her sibling. Perhaps the sibling is sick, mentally ill, addicted to drugs, etc. The caretaker is burdened by his brother or sister. His own life is greatly affected. He deals with such debilitating emotions as guilt, blame, remorse, and responsibility. But despite the drain, he can’t leave his sibling behind. If the writer is merciful, he relieves this character at the end.

My favorite literary examples: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
My favorite non-literary examples: Love Actually

3. Pals of Progeny: Maybe they bit each other’s heads off when they were kids. Fought to the death over who got more ice cream, or who was next in line to take a shower. But now they’re grown up and they appreciate each other. In fact, they’re pals, friends, buddies. Brothers who take fishing trips together. Sisters who borrow each other’s clothes. Brothers who protect their sisters, and vice versa. It’s a bond that’s tough to break. In literature these types of sibling dynamics can go both ways—horribly right or horribly wrong depending on the nature of the story.

My favorite literary example: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott & Ramona and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
My favorite non-literary example: Friends (Monica and Ross) & The Parent Trap

4. Opposing Offspring: These are competitive types. Or perhaps distant types. In these relationships there was always something that wasn’t quite right. It could be based on jealously, but often in the ‘opposing offspring’ dynamo the culprits consider themselves equals. Maybe they’re simply too different from one another. Perhaps at one time, one backstabbed the other. Either way, the conflict is deep and rich; the path to finding solace in one another is an arduous journey.

My favorite literary example: In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner & Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My favorite non-literary example: Practical Magic

A word on birth order:

To take this further, I’ve compiled a list of commonly accepted characteristics based on birth order. This knowledge may further aid your characterization:

Oldest child-people pleasing, bossy, organized, punctual, natural leader, controlling, ambitious, expected to uphold family values, caretakers, financially intelligent, responsible

Middle child-flexible, easy going, independent, sometimes feels like life is unfair, sometimes will engage in attention-seeking behavior, competitive.

Youngest child-silly or funny, risk-taking, creative, sometimes feels inferior, easily bores, friendly, outgoing, idealistic

Only child-close to parents, demanding, leaders, spoiled, self-absorbed, private in nature, may relate better to adults to kids their own age, independent, responsible

Where do you fit in with your siblings? How about your characters? Who is your favorite sibling pair in either literature or pop culture? As usual—looking forward to your responses!

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Forever Young: How Age Influences Character Development

I turned thirty this past October, and realized, with some degree of pride, how differently I view the world now than I did ten years ago. It’s a fact of life: as we age, our view of the world shifts, broadens, and at times, flat out changes—hopefully for the better.

In life—and in writing—age does matter. Not in terms of intelligence, metabolism, or crow’s feet, but in our perceptions and natural cycles of the human lifespan.

Old woman sitting on bench
Merelize → in People

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure how this notion applies to fiction and characterization; in fact, all it actually takes is a conscientious writer. A fifteen year-old protagonist will have different priorities than forty year-old protagonist, and vice-versa.

And it goes beyond levels of maturity. It’s about experience and life stages. What would be a realistic goal for a twenty-five year old woman? A sixty year old man? I believe the human experience is more collective than we realize, but age does play a major factor.

A character’s mindset, desires, concerns, and agendas should be “age-appropriate.”

Maybe this will help…

I came across a psychology book entitled Introduction to the Lifespan by Spencer A. Rathus. It is a Cengage Learning textbook that is used in the school where I teach.

In one section of the text, it lists the results of a survey taken that asked participants to match certain attributes or personality traits to particular age groups. The results were as follows (I have left out the percentages):

Ages 0+ innocent, unruly, adorable, naïve, endearing, cute

Ages 10+ impolite, manner less, disruptive, insolent, complex, young, aggressive

Ages 20+ in love, ambitious, sexy, young, romantic, daring, attractive

Ages 30+ competitive, hard-working, enterprising, impressive, capable, efficient, strong

Ages 40+ hard-working, slogger, organized, capable, efficient, punctual, tempered

Ages 50+ respectful, cultured, hard-working, organized, provident, methodical, rational

Ages 60+ respectful, cultured, beneficent, humane, benevolent, conciliatory, honorable

Ages 70+ nostalgic, tired, cultured, humane, peace-loving, nice, honorable

Ages 80+ isolated, nostalgic, tired, mourning, sick, unwell, solitary

Ages 90+ dying, isolated, old, alone, sick, solitary

*Source: Gruhn, D., Gilet, A-L., Studer, J., & Labouvie-Vief, G. (2010, December 13). Age-Relevance of Person Characteristics: Persons’ Beliefs About Developmental Change Across the Lifespan. Developmental Psychology, doi: 10.1037/a00213151-12

Obviously there is room for argument here, but much of it makes sense. I’ve found that my characters do fit the characteristics of their age groups. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, but it may help to structure your characters’ conflicts around the stages of their lifespans.

Another interesting note: I’ve found that most major characters in literature tend to fall between the ages of ten and sixty. It’s rare to come across protagonists who are mere children (middle grade excluded) or elderly persons.

Two exceptions:

Room by Emma Donoghue. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year old boy.

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller. This is a two-protagonist story, where one of which is a woman in her seventies.

Both stories are magnificently portrayed.

How about you? How old are your characters? Do they fit the descriptions from up above?

How important is age in fiction? Does it aid the characterization process?

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Four Current TV Shows that Influence My Writing Life

Despite the mudslide that is reality television, rest assured that there are some high quality programs for your viewing pleasure.

But before you tell me to turn off the TV and start writing, hear me out.

These four shows are magnificently written, superbly portrayed, wonderfully directed, finely detailed, and case in point, remarkably thematic.Like literature, these four ongoing series leaves room for debate, discussion, and analysis. They reveal a small piece of the world. They are allegories for a larger purpose, representing a larger idea. Plus, they’re wildly entertaining.

Here are four of my favorite shows on television today, and why they’ve made me a more insightful person, and as a result, a more insightful writer.

Mad Men (AMC)

Set in Manhattan and surrounding suburbs during the 1960s, this show exemplifies America’s (so-called) “Golden Era.” Sleek fashion and  flowing  libations are common motifs. At the center of the show is Don Draper, the greatest “Ad Man” on Madison Avenue (hence, “Mad Man”) there ever was. Don plays other roles of course: Husband.Father. Philander. All the other characters seem to filter in and around Mr. Draper (if that’s really his name!)

Why I love it: As a country we sacrificed—hard—for prosperity. After the war we had the world at our fingertips. Our homes were manicured, our cars were enormous, and our families were flourishing. Yet we still wanted more. Mad Men reflects this notion. The life we  fought for became stifling, stagnant. Spiritless housewives. Cheating husbands. Alcoholic bosses. Despite the wealth and power there’s an undercurrent of desperation that exudes from each character.  They’re  enmeshed in their own making. Stuck in their own traps. Perfection is desired, but it’s a long way off. And none of them will be the first to admit it.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Set in current day New Mexico, this is a dark world; the powerfully efficient, yet overwhelmingly private underbelly of meth ‘cooking.’ Protagonist Walter White (aka “Heisenberg”) is a brilliant chemist, and former high school teacher. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, he fears leaving his family  in financial crisis. So he teams up with a former student and spawns one of the biggest, most coveted, ‘blue meth’ operations in the area. The fact that his brother-in-law is a high-level DEA agent is just part of the fun.

Why I love it: To go from a mild-mannered high school teacher to an elusive, murderous drug dealer may not seem plausible. Or does it? The show captures the notion of the stranger (Billy Joel song here) that lives inside us all. It begs the question: what we are truly capable of? How deep is our ability to surprise ourselves? In some ways it turns into a question of nature vs. nurture. What lies beneath us verses what the world has led us to believe.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Based on the comic book and set in Georgia during a post-apocalyptic world full of “walkers” or “biters” or for the non-viewer, “zombies,” the show portrays Rick Grimes and his band of followers. Rick, who was in a coma during the onslaught, woke to find his world in disarray. Finding his way back to his wife, son, friend, and a group of surviving strangers, Rick leads the gang in an odyssey of terror, fighting off walkers and other violent types along the way.

Why I love it: You don’t have to be a comic book fanatic to appreciate the human will to survive. In times of turmoil, people ban together. We become both afraid of and tender towards the existing human race. The Walking Dead represents a world in horrific conditions. Death is an everyday occurrence. Modern luxuries have all but disappeared. People betray one another. No one—except those you’ve invested in—are to be trusted. And yet, amazingly, it’s simply fear of the unknown that keeps us anxious to stay alive, despite the circumstances or situations.

Speaking of comic books…

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Set in modern day California, super nerds Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh, and their sprightly neighbor, Penny, keep the canned sitcom laughter rolling. All four guys are scientists employed at a local university. They struggle with girls, friendship, and family. They favor Star Trek, Star Wars, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and various video games. But in the end, their hearts are as big as their brains (except for Sheldon, perhaps).

Why I love it: It is 2012, going on 2013. Face it. Nerd culture has exploded. There’s no longer a stigma. We all love the internet, we all love cell phones, iPads, etc.  The more special effects, the better the movie.  The nerds are the new heroes. What’s sexier than a guy who can fix your computer? In truth, if the future continues to unfold the way it has (who am I kidding, of course it will) the nerdy guy will forever perpetuate the scape of land.

Related video & article:

Amber Case on TED Talks: We Are All Cyborgs Now

Lev Grossman’s Time Magazine article:  The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

How about you? Any television shows make you think a bit harder once the credits have rolled?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life

Into the Depths: Characters and Their Dreams

“Sleeping Cat”
2happy → in Cats and dogs

Each night before I fall asleep I will myself to dream. If I’m lucky the next morning, I’ll remember them and record the details in a journal. Then, I’ll dissect what I wrote and analyze each symbol separately. Dreammoods.com is my savior. It’s more complex than that of course; dream interpretation remains a mystery, even today.  Nonetheless, I love dreaming. I love talking about my dreams. And I’m probably alone in this, but I love hearing about other people’s dreams.

That being said, in literature, when characters dream, it’s a sublime reading experience.

Not surprisingly my main character dreams throughout my novel-in-progress.  I don’t overdo it; he only has maybe two or three noteworthy dreams in the story. These nightly visions aren’t longwinded three page descriptions of unconscious rigmarole. A good dream sequence should probably last five to seven sentences at the most. And, let me say, the weirder the better.

After examining both my own writing and that of others, I can relate three simple rules-of-thumb when it comes to a character’s REM cycle:

1. Like I mentioned before, keep it short. The general public tends to get bored while listening to a friend, relative, or co-worker’s nighttime adventures (I’m the exception), so assume that they’ll get “sleepy” while reading about a protagonist’s overactive subconscious.

2. It should reflect what real dreams are like: ethereal, nonsensical, and at times, jarring. Taking this a step further, it works best when the underlying meaning of the dream is more obvious to the reader than the character him or herself.

3. It can’t be random. It must, in some ways, reflect the bigger picture of the story.

Expanding on number three, I’ve broken the concept down into the three categories:

1. Distorted Foreshadowing:A character dreams of walking through an unfamiliar rose garden. All flowers are flourishing, except for one brownish, wilting bush at the perimeter’s edge. Two weeks later a phone call comes: the character’s estranged mother has passed. At the wake, the funeral home is decked out in roses—the once vibrant mother’s favorite flower.

2. Jumbled Reflection of a Character’s True Feelings: A female protagonist has a recurring dream where she is stuck inside an old haunted hotel. There are ghosts in each room, and she fears they will come out and get her. There seems to be no exit to the terrifying building, each door she tries is jammed, the phones don’t work, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because when she tries to speak, no words come out.

In this character’s real life situation, she is invested in an abusive marriage, and despite the warnings she receives from her friends and family members, she feels too weak to break free. There are many, many truths she has not acknowledged about her life and situation. However, at least in the early parts of the story, she is utterly confused as to the meaning of the ominous dream.

3. Mish-mashed Symbolism:A wronged male character dreams he is on the beach when a giant wave crashed over him. Later, when he finds shelter in an abandoned house, he can barely step inside because the entire place is flooded. In dreams, water is reflective of emotions, particularly emotions which have gotten out of control; hence, the man’s anger over his past is actually “leaking out” and “overwhelming” him. The water symbolizes his torrid emotional state.

Each story will lend itself to a different kind of dreamer.  As the sole creators of our stories, we understand our characters better than they understand themselves. Their dreams are simply attempting to clue them in.

Some tips? Check out dreammoods.com here. It has a comprehensive dream dictionary, as well as simplified theories from renowned theorists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Understanding the basic nature of dreams will aid you in your writing.

How about you? Do your characters dream? Excited to hear your comments!

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Writing Tips

The One Lovely Blog Award

Better late than never! Today I accept The One Lovely Blog Award granted to me (um, two weeks ago) by fellow blogger, Eva Rieder. Eva’s blog exudes enthusiasm, so if you’re ever down in the writerly dumps, I’d suggest stopping on by…she’s just a click away! Eva gives practical, positive advice, and is quite the prolific writer herself.

Like other awards swimming through Blogdom, this one comes with its own set of rules:

1. Thank the nominator (Thanks, Eva :))
2. Mention several random facts about myself
3. Nominate fifteen other bloggers

Here we go…

Seven Random Facts:

1. I love Thomas Kinkade paintings. I realize Mr. Kinkade is not taken seriously in the art world, but I find his work soothing. When I get stressed out—which is often—I like to flip through his coffee table books, and relish in the places he creates. Somehow, he engages all my senses. I have two-framed pieces and a stitched canvas hanging in my bedroom. RIP Tommy K.

2. I was named after my great-grandmother who died just a few days before my birth. She had wanted so badly to meet me 😦

3. There is a set of five sisters on both sides of my family. My paternal grandmother and her four sisters, and my mother’s first cousins.

4. Until I was twenty-five years old, I had all four grandparents in my life. And the two couples were such good friends! I realize now how rare that was and feel very blessed. I still have two left.

5. I have a gumball machine in my “office” (a spare bedroom in my house). It’s about half-full and takes pennies.

6. I used to be terrified of driving on the highway. Only when I got a boyfriend from a town where highway travel was necessary, did I bite the bullet and burn some rubber. I was about twenty-three years old. Laaaame.

7. My earliest memory is the day my Bichon Frise, Louie, was hit and killed by a car. I was three; I remember my mother running down the driveway with a pink towel.

And now for the nominations…

I’ve decided to take Eva’s lead, and nominate just one, very special blogger. Abrielle Valencia. Abrielle’s blog is like listening to Alicia Keys’ “Superwoman.” She’s empowering, inspirational, and one hell of a writer. Abrielle knows exactly (as she puts in a favorite post of mine) what it means to be a lady.

Thank you again to Eva, and all my followers. Keep writing.

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Filed under Awards, Inspiration