Archives for category: Characters

You might be sleeping. Right now.

I’m not talking about in-the-darkness sleeping. Or mid-day naps.
This is about sleeping with your eyes open.

Because we can be awake but not. Conscious, yet asleep to the vibrancy, the joy, and the exquisiteness of life.

I know, I know. This sounds woo-woo, let’s-all-hum-with-the-monks. But it’s not. It’s about that elusive thing called peace.

It’s true: We want peace, love, joy, and goodness. But we don’t want to slow down enough to think in healthy ways, to focus on truth, to take the steps to appreciate, and to embody candid, authentic, correct, reliable, and sincere thoughts. Somehow, there are too many storms within us…too little faith…too much struggle within ourselves.

Who me?

*Sigh. All of us. We all fall into inattentiveness. Sleeping while awake, the lifeboat drifting and rocking and swaying on lapping water, back and forth into the habit of not being present, the habit that takes away the most precious moments of our lives, simply because we’re not paying attention. Subdued into tranquilized numbness.

Fully awake means breathing in life in loving, caring moments, free from angst.

The question isn’t so much do we want to wake, up, it’s
will we wake up. 

And because we’re meant to live fully awake, wake-ups have a way of coming to our door and knocking. Tapping. Rapping. Banging.
I hope the wake-up alarm isn’t through tragedy.
I hope the voice of refocus doesn’t come from pain-filled catastrophe.
I hope the cold water splash of awareness doesn’t come from calamity.
(Because, unfortunately, the bad shakes us and makes us appreciate the good.)

I hope waking up comes from choosing.
Because we can choose to open the door and take a breath of fresh awakening every second. It’s that primal, that integral, that elemental. That simple. (Almost too simple.)

To be intentional.
To listen.
To consider.
To feel. And deal.
To be at peace — and make peace.
To seek to understand, to give, to love.
(I want to be fully awake, don’t you?)

It’s good for characters in a book to struggle to be awake, to sleepwalk through what’s most important in life, to have flaws that keep the hero from being fully present, fully enjoying life. The storyline is the slow-grow wake-up process of the hero from flaw to freedom, and the long, slow unfolding makes for good story.

But in real life, waking up sooner is better. 

* Thup

This post part of a series called “Don’t Do This” aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow. (Because no one has arrived. And all of us can use platinum ideas, to be better at the craft of writing.)

It’s like a book online. Free. Bite sized, motivating, practical bits. You’ll like it because it’s all about what works, the how-to for an immediate increase in your writing effectiveness.

Get every word, catch the take-away to apply, and become a sharper writer, right now…
________________________________________

“drive safe” and reasons.

It’s wintertime in Michigan. That means instead of saying, Have a great day! with a saccharine lilt, we say, Drive safe, with sober sincerity.

Michigan winters bring dangerous roads. Especially with the 193-car pile up yesterday on I-94 that killed people — a horrific event on both sides of the highway involving 76 semis, 117 cars, and a truck full of exploding fireworks. The phrase, drive safe, echoes everywhere.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate us. The crash-crazy event is on everyone’s mind. The reverberating WHOA, THAT WAS AWFUL skitters across social media.

Think writing, now.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate even the smallest phrases on the page. Everything you write must have a reason, a motivation, and a core to why it’s there. 

Because all quality, powerful, emotion-evoking and mind-changing words must exist for meaning’s sake. We simply cannot afford to use words for words’ sake. I know this sounds Duh! but we’re all guilty.

We’re in love with our own words. But we simply can’t be. You and I must Happily. Let. Go. No, I’m not going to burst into the Disney song, but I am going to say this:

For nonfiction writing,
the words you choose 
must
echo your
key intentions.
And…
For fiction writing,
the words you choose 
must
be saturated with
your characters’
 motivations.

Think about it.
____________________

For anything nonfiction.
emails to blogs to books…
(Get this.)
Your goal is to write the most dynamic — and, yes, succinct — piece, with words chosen to equal the diamond of your idea. Forget the frills, the fluff, the foo — we need clear, purpose-filled words. Unless the words drive the reader to your point, you have to let them go (cue music). Edit. A lot. (Keep asking yourself, Do I really need this?) 

Wordsmith your ideas to get them to the bright, powerful meaning they deserve. Wordsmithing is a cool word, don’t you agree? Tell someone, I’m wordsmithing, and watch his or her face. Your wordsmithed ideas are the ones that  burn onto the page — and into the reader’s heart.

_____________________

For all forms of fiction.
short stories to screenplays to epics…
(Get this.)

In every scene — every paragraph — your character’s motivation is at work. Her reasons surface in her words, her movements, her choices. If it’s not surely tied into her reasons, her internal drives, then rewrite. Edit. A lot.

Wordsmith your ideas to get your story to the enticing, powerful movement with meaning —  burning onto the page and into the reader’s heart.
_______________

Don’t do this:
Don’t fall in love with your words.
Be willing to toss words, lines, paragraphs, entire chapters with gusto.

Do this:
Be flexible — even joyous — at slicing, tossing, and shifting. Expect to reform your page with everything you write. Rarely — if ever — will you get the diamond the first time. Pros take heavy-duty machetes to the page.

______________

Don’t do this:
Don’t start writing without thinking deeply. 
As in jumping into an idea prematurely. He who fails to plan plans to fail. And he who swims in the idea pool with shallow waters doesn’t swim far.

Do this:
Write out your motivation.
* In nonfiction writing,
what response do you want the reader to have, after reading your work? You need a powerful phrase that nails the reader’s reason to read your work. In marketing terms, that’s your reader’s benefit. Have a driving benefit in mind before you write.

But how do you get to the on-fire benefit? 

Here’s how: Before you start, write a guiding phrase that states WHY someone would read what you write. Then write the action that you want your reader to take, at the end of reading your piece. Use that guiding phrase in all that you write. Keep it in front of you. For every paragraph. Every word. Seriously. Everything you write must be tied into that phrase.

* In fiction writing, every living creature in your story must have a clear and guiding motivation. So before you start, write them down — what drives every person to feel what he or she feels, to do what he or she does. Use motivations to guide all that you write. A.L.L. Keep the motivation in front of you. For every page. Seriously. Everything that your character does must be tied into that motivation.

You know, I was supposed to be on I-94 yesterday. Yes, at that exact time, in the exact place where the 193-car pile-up happened. Because of the poor weather, I changed my plans. I took drive safe as a serious, action-inducing motivation — a motivation that changed my behavior. And, boy, am I’m glad that I did.

Find your motivations. Use them.

Oh. And drive safe. Please.
Life is precious.

* Thup
coffee-oct2-14

Exposition kills story.
In your book. And in life.
(Read to the end. It’s not too long, and
this is important…)

There are three kinds of yada-yada words with high potential to turn people off to your story — and your life:

1. Backstory. Backstory fills in the cracks of the past — it’s the words that move backward in the story.

With backstory, we describe what already happened. It’s not about the future; it’s not about the present; it’s about the former.

Characters mull over what happened, rehashing events and recounting feelings. It doesn’t have to be in excess, but often backstory floods into excess — because the character is me-focused. The author is, too — writing from a personal agenda, trying to get more info out in the text than is needed. Most often, backstory serves the writer, not the reader.

Readers want to move forward.

2. Small talk. Small talk is dialogue (inner and outer) that doesn’t go anywhere — words lacking purpose.

Small talk dialogue runs on with weak, unimportant yada-yada. The character isn’t focused, direct, and active. The writer drinking the pablum of small talk isn’t necessarily me-focused; he or she simply isn’t aware, or is inattentive, unknowing, passive, and even careless with the words (ouch).

Writers who have too much small talk in the story need two things: either they need to learn more about how to write with power (learn! grow! get what you need!) — or the writer needs have the self discipline to cut text (practice… a focus on economy). Writing small talk serves the writer, not the reader.

Readers want crisp, forward-moving text.

3. Lack of plot. Lack of plot is the absence of dynamic movement…the deficit of conflict clarity and conflict resolution — in an action plan.

With lack of plot, the reader is served words upon words upon words — all without action. Characters sit with a drink, rather than get up and move.

Writers lacking plot haven’t spent the time developing a story plan — so because the plot doesn’t exist, the writer can’t carry it out. Then there’s the issue of actually doing the plan. Once the plot is crafted, there’s only so much time permissible in the War Room. We have to step onto the battlefield. Action is critical.

Readers want a pressed-forward plot, intensifying with swift, sure movement.

Okay. Here’s the deal.

If you don’t cut backstory, eradicate the small talk, and dig into a forward-moving plot, your story dies. Readers leave.

It’s that serious.

Now. In real life. This applies.
And it’s that serious, too.

There comes a time when words fail.
Talking only goes so far.
Action is critical.

The three Story Killers are also Relationship Killers.

* Focusing on the past kills forward movement in a relationship. Going backward only goes so far. There comes a point — sooner than later — where we have to get out of me-focused recounting and craft forward-moving life story.

* Excessive small talk saps the power of forward movement in a relationship. Small talk can be (no, often is) avoidance. Small talk lacks power, dynamism, and passion for life. There comes a point where we have to get out of yada-yada conversation and dig into life with passion.

* Lack of a planned plot with specific action points — a dynamic plan for life that’s lived out — ruins a relationship. I know I’m being strong here. But it’s the ignored, the neglected, and the head-in-the-sand day-by-day plodding that takes people to the proverbial end of life, death-bed moment that says, Why didn’t I do more? Lack of a plan — and of action — is the father of regret.

So if we want our story to be a good one (whether on the page or in life), it’s time to take action.

Get out of the past. (Focus on crafting a beautiful present.)
Kill the small talk. (Use powerful words.)
Make a plan. (Take action.)

* Thup

coffeeNov3-14

Well. I’m letting you (and me) off the hook.
This isn’t about our personal character. (You know, the interior part of us, the part where integrity sits.)

And I’m not going to ask you where you’re from — your physical geography — the point on the map where you lay your head at night (as in the state of Michigan, where I live in the US, called “the mitten state” because it looks like a mitten).
Michigan
This is about your story — your characters in that story.
Their personal, emotional states.
As in how we feel at any given moment.
(Emotions.)
(Feelings.)

Oh — and if you’re not a writer — keep reading, because
there’s something important here…
(it all makes sense when you read to the end).

There’s a not-so-secret secret to help you create compelling characters (and a compelling plot line, too).

(You ready?)

TRUTH:
State doesn’t come from outside influences
(what people say or do “to” you).
Your personal state comes from you.

That’s right.
You and I create our own states.
(And your character will create his or her state.)

Like this…
eat computer or this happy at the computer

You create state in three ways (and they’re very cool, by the way):

1. Your focus. Answer me this: At any given moment, what are you thinking about — and what are you doing? Wherever you place your thoughts and energy on feeds your state.

2. Your language. And answer me this: What do you say to yourself, day after day, in your mind and out your mouth? Words are uber-powerful. What you think and say to yourself, in your head, matters. What you say toward others around you matters. Even what you say to objects — things — in the world around you matters. It all feeds your state.

3. Your physiology. One more question: How are you moving your body? Are you slumped and breathing shallowly — or are you sitting tall and taking in deep, full breaths? How you sit, stand, walk, breathe — and how you look on your face — it all feeds your state.

Your focus, your language, and your physiology.
All three ascribe meaning to your life.

(how you interpret the world)
(what you believe in the world)
(what you do in the world)

The coolest thing is this: Master your emotional state, and you can master your life.

So. Writers.
We want our characters to struggle, right?
If you want your character to wrestle with demons big time, then have him or her…

  • focus on past mistakes and hurts
  • focus on how they’ve been wronged, whether imagined or real
  • focus on impending doom in the future, whether imagined or real
  • focus on how someone will supposedly hurt them (imagine the worst)
  • focus on how everything will be bad, or go wrong, or have no solutions in the future (pessimism)
  • speak out negative imaginings
  • speak angrily, with disdain
  • curse people, things, and events
  • rehearse what went wrong — and what could go wrong
  • imagine the worst case scenario, then make decisions based on fear
  • sit still — don’t move
  • breathe shallowly
  • slump, hunch, slouch, drag, look down, sigh, frown, be static, stare, and stay in one spot

And if you want your character to gain momentum and grasp onto triumph, then have him or her…

  • focus on the present
  • focus on personal responsibility and personal growth
  • focus on the positive possibilities
  • focus on responding well him- or herself, not on how others are responding
  • focus on a faith-filled vision
  • speak out positive outcomes
  • speak with kindness, from though-based discernment
  • speak words of hope and faith over other people
  • rehearse what will go right in the future
  • imagine the best outcome — and all the other positive possibilities
  • move — act — get up and go
  • take deep breaths, with their eyes upward and smiling
  • stand tall, stride, grasp the sword, bound, be alert and quick, grin, be active, meet others’ eyes, and get going

Hmm.
Maybe this isn’t just about the characters on the page, after all.

* Thup
coffeeSept13-14

PS. Thank you to my dad (Hugh Brown) and Tony Robbins (who I’ve followed since he and I were young) for bringing these ever-so-cool life truths to my attention at an early age. Sure has made life easier and more enjoyable — and helped get through life’s ever-changing story arc. hugs to you both.

My friend and mentor, Russell, recounts the story of sitting in a bar with George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones guru-author). Russell asked, What’s your secret?

Martin’s answer?
“I don’t give the characters a meal. I give them a banquet.”

My first thought was, Oh! I get it! Make it “big”!

But then I realized…
it’s not just about big.
It’s about making it memorable.
And memorable doesn’t come only in one size.

Decidedly different can be memorable, too.
Something so different, it shakes us out of our complacency.
Or so different, its desirability draws us in.

A character’s incessant quirk. (memorable)
A dash of yellow in a key area on the canvas. (memorable)
An unexpected light source in the photograph. (memorable)
A bold line on the Manga character’s hair. (memorable)
A shift in scene through one unexpected line in the dialogue (memorable).
(you get it)

(And if you’re a motivator, speaker, instructor/teacher, or leader of any kind, you see how this applies.)

Be purposeful. Make it memorable.
If it works for George, it just might work for you and me.

* Thup
CoffeeAug16-14

 

Let me show you how Neurolinguistic Programming — NLP — is oh-so interesting…and useful for your writing.

I saw this in someone’s Linked In profile:
“My name is Erin — Remember me”
(with someone else’s name, though).

That phrase — Remember Me — is an embedded command
(part of NLP).

Embedded commands tell our brains exactly what to do:
You’ll enjoy reading this.
It’s something you’re going to like and use.
You’ll remember it, because it’s important to you.
(Each of these phrases makes your brain say, uh-huh. Okay.
If you say so
.)

Defined
You’ll find a ton about NLP on the web, but basically,
NLP takes how we think (neuro) and communicate (linguistic),
studies the info,
and then uses it to influence ourselves and others (the way we act).

Though some believe it to be highly controversial and even manipulative, it doesn’t have to be. Ideally, NLP is about transforming. Teaching. Leading.

Because, hey,
It really can work.
“My name is Erin — Remember Me.”
(ha)

What does this have to do with writing?
Aside from the marketing implications for getting your name out as an author (or artist, or photographer, or poet, or screenwriter…etc.) and selling your stuff,

writers,
you can use NLP techniques within your characters:
Antagonists with NLP in their dialogue can be influential…and scary.
Protagonists finally falling into their intended leadership positions can use NLP to lead.
In the language of archetypes, Heralds and Gatekeepers can use NLP to direct.
and so on.

Dialogue. It’s a great place to use NLP.
First person POV. It’s a great place to use NLP.
(The first chapter of Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid is full of NLP.)

Read about NLP.
It’s cool.
(And useful.)

* Thup
coffeeAug7-14

 

Public service announcement:  Writers of fiction, this post is for you.

Warning:  Contains embedded content and conclusions for the Average Joe and Josephine’s life.

(Read on.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mounded foam on my latte is good.
(No question about it.)
coffeeJune2-14

But are bubbles good?
coffeeJune3-14

I mean, both the latte and the black coffee came from reputable shops.
But somehow, the bubbles bug me.
I’m used to a smooth, black surface on my coffee.

Something doesn’t seem right.

Fiction writers, at the opening of your story, this is the feeling you want your reader to have.

Everything seems fine.
(There’s nothing bad happening, really.)
But something — just one little thing — is off.

It’s subtle.
But it’s there.
(trouble lurks)

Even on your first page, before all breaks loose, your hero’s Ordinary World has bubbles.

In my current story, I’m in the process of putting bubbles into the story. Story outline in hand, I’m deliberately placing (“planting”) little, bothersome pieces in earlier chapters that, if you’re really paying attention, simply don’t seem right. Later on, those plants give the reader an, oh! I get it! I knew something wasn’t right! confirmation (so he/she can pat him/herself on the back for “catching’ it).

Bubbles entice the reader, prepare the reader, and draw the reader further into the story’s web.

We should pay attention to bubbles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But in our lives, we often don’t pay attention to the bubbles. We pass over the bubbles, brushing them off as outlier thoughts with no impact on our lives.

Brushing off bubbles can be dangerous.

If something doesn’t seem right, paying attention might be the thing to do. (Just sayin’.)

I’ve been caught in bad situations because of not paying attention to bubbles.(Haven’t you?)

Sometimes premonitions give us warning (as in this article, on the possibility of a sixth sense).

(By the way, fiction writers, you can get away with creating premonitions in some stories. But back to reality….)

Bubbles are more than premonitions. They’re our brain catching inconsistencies. We simply need to pay attention. Because there’s something in our brains going on all the time, where the parts of the brain work together to signal, to alert us to potential danger.

Some call it gut instinct kicking in (even Oprah puts in her two cents on gut instinct). But there’s something more.

Referring to his bestseller, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell states, “When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.”

Those “instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.”

We notice the bubbles. Our brains are smart. But, then again, we can blow off the smart signals our brain is sending to us.

FBI, CIA, and Special Ops persons are trained to pay attention. They’ll be the first to tell you how much the Average Joe and Josephine miss, on a daily basis.

(By the way, I ADORE Joe Navarro’s book, What Every BODY is Saying: An ex-FBI Agent’s guide to speed reading people. Paying attention to body language is one way for us to notice bad-bubbles people. And as a writer, it’s full of practical description for us to “show, don’t tell” our characters.)

So.

While it’s cool for your main character to blow off the bubble-event or clue (it makes good story), in real life, blowing off the bubble-event or clue brings us trouble we could have avoided.

Sometimes we simply need to pay attention. Because though bubbles look harmless (and even fun), and we may brush them off as non-important, bubbles can spell danger.

If something in life seems off, we need to pay attention.
Don’t go on as if nothing’s wrong.
(Take care of yourself.)

* Thup

 

There are three kinds of out that shake up our lives.

Out of commission.
At some point in time, all of us are thrown out of commission. We’re absent: either slipped out or torn out of what used to be.

We face challenges, trials, and off-the-grid events that pluck us from “normal life” (whatever that was). And the new day-to-day that results, in this intermediary land of out of commission, is downright weird. Bizarre. Unsettling.

Some pull back. Some lash out. But no one stays the same.
(All have some kind of response.)

Outside the norm.
At some point in our lives, we get a jolt: Something that we thought was okay is not.

We face new challenges, new ideas, and in-the-face reactions that spin us into “fresh perspective” (whatever that is). And the new day-to-day glimpse at the nuances of this revealed life, in the land of outside the norm, is downright disassociating.

Some pull back. Some lash out. And some reject the jolt — and stay the same. They avoid change, purposefully or by default (ignoring).
(And, someday, the jolt will rise up again…most likely, worse.)

Out from under.
At some point in our lives, if we’re lucky or blessed or smart enough, we realize we’re free to choose how to respond. No one can make us (on the inside) think or believe anything. And no one can make us (on the outside) react in any way. No matter how an event presents itself in our lives, we alone create the meaning of the event. We frame an idea, and our perspective comes on the heels of our beliefs. Our actions, then, follow.

No doubt: We’ll face people, places, and events that challenge.  But (again, if we’re grown-up enough), try-as-they-might, those events (or people) won’t be able to push us down, hold us back, or mold us into something we’re not. And the new freedom, in this fresh understanding of how we are free to choose our response — no matter what happens — is downright grace-filled.

Knowing when to change and when to stand in your boots is the definition of wisdom.

Authors. Screenwriters. Storytellers of any kind.
These are the realizations that your Hero goes through, in story.

Your Hero will be thrust out of commission. He will be pushed outside the norm. He will be faced with ideas and actions and decisions that make him question his core. I hope. And, at some point he will emerge, out from under someone else’s indictments. I hope. Because “out” is part of the character’s arc.

(It’s in our arc that we grow.)

* Thup
CoffeeMar13-14

When you first meet someone,
what makes that person memorable?
(What’s unique?)

I met a woman this morning. At the bank.

I stood in line. She sat in a chair, off to the side,
waiting for assistance.

She wore a beautiful black felt hat, its curve soft,
with a small buckle tucked to the side of the black ribbon
wound round the hat’s base.
(The hat caught my eye.)

Then I saw her white hair, waves set with care,
flowing to frame her face.

Then her glasses, petite and silver-rimmed,
and her eyes, smiling in half-almond arcs beneath.

Then her scarf, flowers wound in loose layers of silk
falling down to her hands, folded, in black leather gloves.

I smiled back. “What a beautiful hat,” I said.

“Thank you.” Her words were measured,
her tone as one cultured, with a slight Asian accent.
“It keeps me warm.” She paused, lips pressed,
her grey eyes looking straight into mine in a way that didn’t carry threat.
“I have Parkinson’s. A coat is difficult. So a hat is necessary.”

It’s then that I noticed: she didn’t wear a coat.
Instead, she wore a thick sweater.
(I could only imagine the physical struggles she faced.)

“Well,” I said, “it is beautiful.”

With a smile that made more wrinkles, she closed her eyes and leaned with a slight nod forward, as if to honor me.
(It’s I who should honor her.)

The hat made an impression. But the way she responded, in her words and actions, told me so much more. I wanted to ask her to join me for cup of tea or coffee and hear her life story. I suspect I’d find a woman of grace, through joy and pain.

In the book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that our first impression is a true one.

Writers.
Your character intro (the first time we meet a character on the page) is critical.

A student asked me this week, how do I create a character introduction that’s really great? My answer: Check out successful authors’ works. Study the first time a character walks onto the page. Some authors have a pattern, a formula (check out Rick Riordan’s character intros for this).

And there’s more.
As with the woman in the bank, look. Really pay attention.
(Write in the hat. And see beneath the hat.)

And.
For life.
Oh, that we could all see beneath the hat.

* Thup
CoffeeMar11-14

“Plan B”
Just the sound of it rings disappointment.
(“This is SO not what I wanted.”)

Your Hero will face Plan B.
(He will want Plan A, and Plan A will fall through.)

He will struggle.
He will doubt himself.
He will question his decision making.
If he made a mistake, forcing Plan B into his life, he will beat himself up a little bit.
(This is what we do in real life.)

This is all good.
(in story)

So, yeah,
when your Hero is faced with Plan B, all is not peachy-keeny.
Give him angst.
Bad dreams.
Anger.
Depression.

And, finally, resolve.
(Firm resolve, to make Plan B work.)

Because we all face Plan Bs, and it’s good to have a Hero who’s like us.

Oh. And, by the way.
When I face Plan B, pull up the bootstraps, and walk forward,
it’s nice to have friends nearby.
(Do you feel that way, too? I thought so.)

So give your Hero a friend.
To listen.
To nod.
To simply be there.
(Or to play a big role.)

Support.
Care.
Love.
(That’s what being together in the big, messy world is all about.)

* Thup
coffeeMar5-14

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