Archives for posts with tag: Character arc

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…
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“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

Stories are messy.
(on purpose. designed that way by the author.)

Life is messy.
(not on purpose. it happens TO us. ugh.)

We can make something good of the mess*
*in the story
*in life

(I “traveled” to the UK for this series. Come join me for a sec.)
Read part 3 of my guest blog with James Prescott right here.

* Thup

coffeeOct25-14

Hey, friends. Check out my guest blog for James Prescott in the UK…

http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/blog/10-life-messes-part-1/

See you there.
* Thup
coffeeSept17-14

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.

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

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try,
you can’t hide it.
The everyday camouflage isn’t working.

Like this.
coffeeMar1-14
(“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”)
<<Pay no attention to the scone beneath the lid.>>

Who are we fooling?

Writers.
In good story, your Hero’s shoving down the Capital-P Pain.
In good story, your Hero thinks he’s okay.
He thinks he has this handled.
(“No worries. It’s not that bad. I’m okay.”)

But we all know.
<<he’s not okay>>

If our Hero doesn’t take care of whatever it is,
it’s all going to come crashing down.
(As I always say, good for story, bad for real life.)

We all have things we hide,
under the big bad umbrella of Capital-P Pain.

People walk all around us, sit next to us, talk to us…
(maybe it’s even us)…
All trying to cover up Hidden Pain.

What Hidden Pain is your Hero trying to cover up?
(And what-cup-lid-circumstance is he trying to put on top,
but it isn’t big enough?)

Write that.
That’s your character motivation. That’s your character arc.
Maybe that’s even the root of your plot twist.
(Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.)

Oh. And, friend.
We all carry Capital-P Pain. Yours. Mine. Ours.
Pulling back the curtain and looking it in the eye
is a good thing.
(Don’t let it get you. You’re bigger than that.)

* Thup

This morning,
the blinds in the reflection in my cup aren’t really wavy.

Look carefully at the picture below.
(The reflection distorts reality.)
coffeeFeb19-14
Too many times, we reflect distorted thinking to others.
The reflection looks real. But it’s not.

Let me explain.

Events happen. (good and bad.) We see, hear, and feel the event.
But then we interpret the event. We give the event meaning.

The meaning may be true.

Or, because it’s filtered through a reflection of our thoughts, the “picture” in our minds might be distorted. Not real. False.

Distorted thinking messes with us.
Distorted thinking makes something that’s straight look bent.

Writers.
Your Hero has some distorted thinking, doesn’t he?

He goes through an event, interprets the event (“What meaning does this have to me?”) and comes back with an idea.

Make it a wrong idea.
(ooh.)

The best story-grabbing-can’t-put-the-book-down happens when the reader KNOWS that the idea is wrong, but the Hero DOESN’T KNOW that the idea is wrong.

Our Hero heads out and on his merry way and, all the while, we readers start waving our hands and shout, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t go that way!”

The Hero’s distorted thinking disturbs us.
(And it should.) Because when you let readers in on the distortion, it HOOKS them in. (YEAH! Exactly.)

But.
In real life.
Drop the distortions.

No one wants that kind of drama.
(Think Straight. Get to the truth.)

Don’t let distorted thinking get the best of you. Because, if you reflect the distortion into your relationships, it can destroy them.
(sobering)

(Good for story. Not good for real life.)

* Thup

If you’re like me,
you’re always looking for the sweet deal.

It can be a sweet deal at the store (80% off)
or a sweet deal at the pump (20 cents less)
or a sweet deal at the coffee shop (a free taste of a sweet treat. mmm).

More so,
we look for the sweet deal in life
(the school experience)(the job)(the relationship)
with our happily-ever-after.

But. In real life.
Sweet deals are hard to come by.

Let’s talk character and story.

Your Hero wants the sweet deal, too. What is it?
(be sure you know)

And.
When the sweet deal doesn’t come
(because it needs not to come, you know),
BAM,
you have a disappointment.
Or two.
Or three.
Or ten.

(Now we have a story.)

How will she deal with disappointment?
Wait for it.

Do you have an idea?
Write another.
And another.
And another.

Sweet deals are nice.
But what happens to us when we don’t get the sweet deal,
and we change. Good. Or Bad.

Now that’s story.

* Thup
coffeeFeb18-14

Writers (and any artist, of any kind, in any place)…
It’s our job to keep ’em on the edge.

On the edge means that the tension holds its little fingers outstretched, not quite touching but wanting to touch, its eyes widening and heart beating with the angst, waiting, waiting for the moment to connect and feel that everything’s okay.

Musicians, it’s the suspended 4th or 7th that doesn’t resolve.

Painters, photographers, it’s the image in the mist that one can’t quite make out, making the viewer squint his eyes and imagine, or the line of intricacy pulling the viewer in to the canvas to peer more closely.

Manga artists, illustrators, it’s the image the partial picture obscured from view, half on and half off, running away from the page,  pulling across the storyboard, eeking across squares and rectangles, seeping toward the turned page.

Screenwriters, it’s the image with a twist, the dialogue with a bite, the words left dripping with meaning before the cut to.

Writers, it’s the bits of story that keep adding up, still confusing yet beginning to make sense, making the mind search for the why of the scene that rolls and rises and crests into the climax, where the hero gets the external goal and experiences the internal change.

Yeah.
On the edge.
Waiting for the resolution.
It’s a nerve-wracking place to be.
(For the writer, because we have to meet expectations.
For the reader, because it’s downright emotional.)

We actually want this?
Another Yeah. Go figure. It’s curious to me that, in art, readers want nerve-wracking, enticing experiences. As long as the tension is rising, the reader/viewer is with us. We want to push the limits of adrenaline and angst. Readers want to be pulled along, with a thread of constant tension that doesn’t go away but builds into a CRASH. But there’s a good reason. It’s so that when resolve washes over us, it’s more satisfying. Relief.

On the edge works because it’s a universal experience. I contend that it’s a spiritual experience, the God desire for resolution in the deepest parts of who we are. We all wait for the resolution, the clarity, the ability to sit in peace and enjoy, within the senses and within the heart.

BUT (and that’s a BIG BUT)…
In life, the experience of on the edge doesn’t work well, especially if the limits are pushed and pushed and the edge is ignored over and over. If the coffee cup gets too close to the edge, it will not only spill but in the fall the ceramic shatters…perhaps into pieces that can’t be put back together.

Bottom line
In crafting on the edge in art, if we push the edge too far,
we lose the audience.
In life, if we (or someone else) pushes to the edge too far,
we lose much more.

(All the more reason to cherish and live life with care.)

* Thup
coffeeJan19-14

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