The Value of Values in Writing

In light of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday, I can’t help but think deep thoughts, and long to comfort others. Is there more to life than just a few shorts years? I believe yes. It is one of the main reasons I write.

I am a fool in society’s eyes when I believe we should aim for the goals of honor and truth and compassion? As I read comments about the news articles concerning the shooting, one reader  ranted how it was just a person making a bad choice, that those who called it evil are “blaming the boogie man” for the tragedy. I sat up at that, since I had earlier named it as evil. It does make me wonder whether this person believes in love and compassion, equally abstract but real. I can hear him saying, “quit giving credit to anything higher for any good things; we made our eyes to see and minds to think and choose and our muscles to walk and put the sun in the sky…” Ah, the stark differences between atheists and Christians.

We cannot control natural disasters. We cannot control what others do. But we can control what we do — how we act, how we react. We writers are taught to get our main characters into the deepest trouble we can imagine, and then have them struggle to break out of it (happy ending) or fail (tragedy). Life is made up of people making choices — honorable, neutral, or evil. In the face of unthinkable disasters, can we (or our characters) choose the value of doing what is right? Will our characters be true heroes or merely people who make good or bad choices? Think of an event, natural or human, to whip at your characters, and then sit back at your keyboard and see how they react.

Birthdays and Heroes — the Real Stuff (my own DH)

Today’s my dear husband’s birthday. It is the first time in thirty-three years that I have not baked him a pumpkin pie for his birthday. I went out this morning and purchased a — o-yuck-o — factory-made-store-bought one. Sure. It’s a name brand, but it still means it’s totally put together by other people (or machines, or both). O-yuck-o! I thought about going to an official bakery, but my pies taste better than even those. I’d probably be feeling really bad about all this if I weren’t on this I-don’t-care medicine for my thyroid. Thing is, I don’t even care that I don’t care. (How did this get back to me? It’s Jeff’s birthday, after all! Blame the meds.)

So the pie may not be “real” but my husband — he’s sure the real stuff.  My hero. I’ve never met a person who is so kind and so wise. And after being with him for more than three decades, I believe I have experience to discern the truth. Jeff is also super-knowledgeable about lots of stuff. I mean, now and then I think that I’m kinda intelligent, but then Jeff will make an off the cuff comment about what’s going on in the world, or after digging into 2,000 to 4,000 year old manuscripts, and my jaw drops to my chest in awe. It’s not at all that he puts me down, but I just feel honored to be in on his rantings and ramblings. But then,because he’s an introvert, most of the extrovert world stomps right over him. But if you’d stop and listen, perhaps you, too, can hear the real stuff.

Can I build a fictional character based on him? I haven’t yet, although I’ve picked some of his character traits to go into my heroes. Is he perfect? Ha. But his compassion and discernment is stuff real life heroes are made of.

So, do you have a real life hero you admire and from which you pick traits for your main character?

(Happy birthday, Sweetie.)

Morality and the Writer – Reader

(Preclaimer: last week’s post had some stimulating discussion both here and on my FaceBook page,. Thanks to all who participated. This week is a follow-up, and definitely writing-related. I will probably go back to my writing challenges in the following weeks.)

Does our society have morals? Should we writers have our characters display morals to parallel today’s society? What and where are the standards? The Ten Commandments from 4,000 years ago only recently were outlawed in public schools, with a quick and dramatic increase in activities counter to those ten simple “rules.”

You would think to not tell a lie is a rather basic moral choice: Truth, good; Lying, bad. Three off-the-top-of-my-head acceptable to society examples of lying today involve cheating on tests to get into schools (e.g., stealing answers or taking drugs to enhance metal abilities) , or not paying income taxes, or fabricating stories in memoirs. Even the leaders of our country do this. What about our doctors or other health care people?

On sexual behavior (or some who use moral standards like those 4,000 year old guidelines may call misbehavior) — what are the consequences of our actions? And bottom line, who pays for said consequences? If one engages in sexual activity outside of moral laws, of course, that is one’s own choice. But if said person insists that others (e.g., the government or insurance companies) pay for the consequences, who owns the individual behavior?

So my question comes down to, if we can no longer use ones which have worked for thousands of years, then what are the moral standards today?

I challenge you to make your own list. Even thieves and murderers have their own standards they follow. Can we writers for children and teens agree that there is such a thing as morality today, and if so, what are those new standards?

Your Character’s “Super Power” — Intravert or Extravert

After watching “The Avengers” this summer, I turned to my introverted son and commented, “Your super power is silence, which makes you invisible, or in the least, camouflaged.” For, even though he doesn’t speak much, when he does, it’s powerful — either highly insightful or subtly hysterical. Interestingly enough, he agreed with my assessment, with the amendment of non-verbal communication for silence. I agree. After all, as a super hero he is a man of action, not passively silent.

Most of society are drawn to extroverts. Most extroverts want to change introverts to be more like them. And isn’t it also true that most of our protagonists are extroverts — people of action, moving the plots forward. People like to laugh out loud at quick comments or actions which easily flow from extroverts (along with lots and lots of  irrelevant babble).

One time my husband described the different between an introvert and an extrovert as this: an introvert thinks before s/he talks and an extrovert doesn’t. Therefore, you will never find an introvert slapping his hand over his mouth and muttering, “Sorry. Did I say that out loud? Yikes. Sorry.”

So, is there a place for introvert main characters in our stories? I respond with a hearty YES! As a bona-fide extrovert who has a husband and one son who are introverts, I know how often their subtle humor soars over extroverts’ heads, for their presentation is quieter and deeper. If you care to check out a very funny blog post from an introvert, you may do so  here .

Giving Your Character the Willies

Noticing the bird netting (to keep deer away) all bunched up over my carrot plants, I started gently pulling the netting away from the carrot tops. Concentrating on gentle twist by gentle tug, I discovered the white belly-up dead chipmunk laying in my hand. Ah ha! The reason for the bunched up netting. But rather — AHHHH! A dead chipmunk in my hand! I dropped the corpse in the twisted plastic and danced my way into the house to wash up, wiggling every muscle in my body along the way. I shiver now just remembering it.

The willies. I got them. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Admit it. We all get them. I get them at other times, too, more than about unexpectedly finding dead critters in my hands. So, how about you? Give it a moment. What do you get the willies about?

Now let’s turn to the what-if with character development. Imagine the boxer Rocky just finishing his first big fight and everyone is cheering and suddenly and unexpectedly a spider drops  onto his shoulder, and imagine that this powerful hero who reached his goal is also deathly afraid of spiders. I suppose giving Rocky the willies would have taken away from the joy of victory or the focus on a strong hero-type in the movie, which would defeat the Hollywood set. On the other hand, it sure would have rounded out his character, which is exactly what novelists do.

So go to your hero or heroine. Give him or her something to have the willies about.  Make your MC more real by also laying a creep-factor on him or her.

Disaster — Stuck on a roller coaster ride POV

Last Sunday, some park attendees at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California, became stuck on a roller coaster ride for two hours.

Been there. Done that.

Really.

In the recent California incident, a fire truck raised a crane with water for the stuck people. They finally got the cars to roll backwards to ground level where the people safely climbed off.

In the mid-1960’s, Alison and I were celebrating our end-of school “field trip” to a Cleveland amusement park, when we also got stuck on a roller coaster, also for two hours. However, back then no one brought us water. We just sat there in the hot sun at the top of the last hill — oh, so close — waiting and wondering how and when we’d get down.

At the end of our two hours, park officials instructed us to climb out of our cars and walk down the track. Fearless-stupid me waited impatiently for our turn to finally come. Each person was offered the helping hand of a park employee. Ha. Sure. Right. Not I! I wanted to dance and twirl the entire way down. This was SO cool! However, I’d only bounced about half-way down when I looked back and realized Alison wasn’t following. She was too petrified to even climb out of the car. What? The rails were too close together for skinny little us to fall through, and there was a narrow wooden walkway right next to the track, nice and sturdy, sort of, if you didn’t mind the wiggles or creaking. Of course, I suppose we could have gone sideways… That was probably  what gave Alison hesitation.

When I realized her predicament, I started back up to help, shouting encouraging words like, “See! Look at me! No hands. This isn’t scary at all! You can do it!” And wouldn’t you know, the rescuers yelled at me to move on down the track. Geeze! I was just trying to help my friend out.

Way back in the day, it was all about trill, adventure, and survival — and the stories we’d be telling later. Well, for me, it was. But what if the same thing happened today. Oh. Right. It did. And in today’s attitude, with 36% of the USA’s population being lawyers, and 34% of the nation’s population  on welfare (who doesn’t want more money?), I’m wondering if there will be a follow-up story to the recent California roller coaster happening, dealing with emotional lawsuits. (Did you get an owie? No? Were you scared? Okay, then. We’ll give you lots of money so you won’t feel scared any more.) (I also know a women receiving month medical disability checks for years from our military, but owns and rides horses. Life is not fair.)

Back to my own roller coaster story. (And my son says I even speak with parentheses.) Foolishly fearless or terrified? Adventure-filled or greedy? Concerned or amused? Which point of view in my own story do you find the most emotionally tugging for a reader — either of the girls’? a rescuer’s? the park owner’s? an anxious parent’s? Pick your era. Pick your characters. Pick your amusement ride of choice. Write away.

Villain, Heroes, Cowards — The Aurora Factor

I was not present at the Aurora, CO, theatre shooting this week, but through abundant social media, various stories of human character are emerging from the tragedy. Just hearing of the incident was shocking enough to pull at any heart.  The focus first fell on the facts — a stranger entered the theatre and randomly murdered a dozen children, women and men, and over fifty others. Then came the survivors’ tales. A man escaped the theatre after leaving his four-month baby in the aisle for fear the babe’s crying would attract the gunman, and drove away.  A writer friend in Denver knows a woman who was in the theatre who remained while the bullets flew in order to tend to her two friends who were shot; one friend survived, one did not. (The degrees of separation tightens.) Each person present that night — the villain, the cowards, the heroes — have their own tales to tell, who they were before entering the theatre, their time in the theatre that night, and the physical and emotional aftermath of the incident for years to come. And everyone hearing of the tragedy must be affected in some emotional way. We are human.

To the Aurora theatre victims: No one will be forgotten.

Writing the Bunny — on Characterization and Plot

Literature Blogs

The other day I looked out our picture window to see a small bunny lopping down our garden stepping stones. THERE IS NOTHING CUTER THAN A BABY BUNNY! A feeling of “aww” swept through me, followed with peace, joy, love. I then wondered why it was alone, and thought perhaps our neighborhood hawk had claimed its family. Oh, no! An orphan! My heart melted even more for this adorable, helpless creature… and then (enter another side of conflict), I remembered that the day before, I planted eight lettuce transplants in my backyard.

Attitude change!

I rushed outside to secure the netting around my tender transplants. I saw the furry creature by our picture window. It froze. I froze. It turned its head. I spoke: “You are welcomed in my yard, Little One. Eat all that yard clover you wish. Just don’t touch my lettuce!”

After our talk, it went back to eating the clover.

Okay. Writing the Bunny.

Characterization: an adorable, starving orphan, minding its own little business in this big, bad world.

Plot Conflict: Hungry hawk who can spot an easy appetizer from several houses away, and one 100 x larger gardener, not named McGreggor because that name’s been taken. You could add larger conflicts like a tornado, or smaller conflicts like mites.

Writing Challenge: Describe your MC, and list possible and impossible plot conflicts (a.k.a. what ifs).

Happy writing.