Archives for posts with tag: 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

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

See you there.
* Thup

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


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

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.”

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,

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


At its base, art is about the complexity of life.

For example.
Sometimes, we as people are just not enough. We miss the mark of someone’s expectations. Always. At some point.
It’s the way it goes.

And when we’re not enough for someone.
They may ignore us.
They may turn on us.
(They may do both.)
Oh, people. So human. So flawed. So completely uugh sometimes.
(All of us.)

A few may extend grace. But that’s rare.
(unfortunately. so unfortunately. rare.)

Writers, in your story, your hero has to get to the place where he or she is not enough. He doesn’t meet expectations. He gives up.

In other words.
Nothing works.
Nothing matters.
(A moment of death.)

It’s the hero’s decisions at that point that make your story run its fingertip along the sand of humanity.

Story is complicated.
(So is life.)

Artists draw or paint it.
Photographers capture it.
Dancers express it.
Writers write it.

Perhaps that’s the way we, as a people, can deal.
As in understanding.
As in catharsis.
As in simply being human.
Through art. Creativity. Expression.


* 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

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.

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.)

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

* Thup

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

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

Who are we fooling?

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

In story, bland characters get lost.
Lose a character’s unique qualities, and you’re left
staring down at a conspicuous, gaping hole.

What goes into creating a dynamic character, intricately intertwined and imprinted into the story with passion and clarity?

I have some ideas.

* Make the character memorable. Okay, nothing new here. But how?

Most writers take the make it memorable part as giving your character the proverbial big nose, scar on the cheek, or limp. Memorable is not just a physical characteristic written into your character’s introductory description and never seen again. Something enduring has to stand out, to create individuality continuing across the page. There’s nothing worse for me than a reader saying, Now who’s this guy, again?

* Make the character quirk. I know, quirk is a noun. But I’m talking about exercising the quirk. (Let’s make quirk a verb, shall we?)

We all quirk. We say and do things that are, truth be told, a bit off. Whether it’s an OCD behavior or a slobbish moment…whether a way of speaking or a habit of pausing before we speak…we all have a “thing that we do.” Quirk away. But don’t get too bizarre. Use normal quirks. We all have ’em.

* Make each character speak differently. I’m not talking about giving your character a southern accent or broken English. It’s more.

I’m talking about short phrases vs. long phrases.
Formal vs. informal speech.
The line ending on a strong verb or ending on a preposition.

Speech tells us about the character, too.

* Give your character an object to interact with. I’m not talking about Gandalf’s staff. Think subtle. Objects tell about the person, and objects we carry often can show values and motivations.

What do you carry? I have the ever-present coffee cup. What does that say about me? Many things. Yes, I love the taste. But coffee is also part of my routine for waking, for writing, and for traveling back and forth with kids to dance lessons. I can’t stand to be cold, and coffee keeps me warm. More importantly, coffee is a part of my family’s culture.

Personal backstory…
I’m going to get personal, to make a point.

As a small child, I remember sitting with my mother at the morning table;
the just-perked silver pot of coffee on kitchen counter, poofing its breath of steam,
my mother cupping between her hands the mug of the just-poured syrupy black;
placing the cup with care on the freshly-wiped plastic tablecloth,
then scooching her chair tight to the edge,
her eyes stayed on the hot liquid
as if her intent gaze kept the cup in its place;
pouring cream from the skinny waxed-cardboard box that reminded me of school lunch milk
and stirring slowly,
deep in thought of things my small mind never knew (and will never know);
as I filled my cup with an inch of coffee, feeling grown up,
then adding milk to the rim,
then pouring sugar from a height too tall for her comfort,
making a miniature waterfall of granules wisping off the teaspoon;
stirring in movements echoing my mother’s slow arm,
creating “coffee milk,” to sip and savor.

As an adult, I remember standing in the kitchen
— always the kitchen —
with my oldest brother and siblings
at family events, at holidays,
between laughter and philosophy,
cradling various ceramic cups in hands, brewing pot after pot,
stretching time;
my oldest brother’s laughter rippling between the “ha!”
his head thrown back, smile wide, head nodding, eyes split-second closed
to a silent laugh so infectious it brought tears to the corners of our eyes;
of his carefully-chosen words between sips, tasting lips,
his mm-hmms and the crinkled corners of his listening eyes, intent.

The last time I saw my brother, before the accident,
it was in a kitchen, with coffee mug between his hands.

You see, for me, coffee is more than a drink.
Coffee embodies meaningful relationship.

Your character has something like coffee,
doesn’t he? Doesn’t she?

A characteristic.
An action.
An object.
A connection to history particular to him, to her, creating depth and intrigue
(most likely simple,
yet filled with meaning).


* Thup

We all need [[support]],

whether it be strong pillars
or a light hand for a moment
[[support]] is critical for Life.
(capital L)

We don’t have to go far
to find an axiom, aphorism, or apothegm
about the value of support:
surround yourself

Support toward us.

But. There’s more.
(isn’t there always?)

Look outward.
Move [[support]] around.
BE [[support]].
Because when we become [[support]] to another,
something magical happens.
(imagine. act. it’s big.)

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations
in life,
that no man can sincerely try to help another
without helping himself.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

(what goes ’round comes ’round)

BE [[support]].
(it’s magical)

(drum roll…WIP time)
Who is your Hero’s bestest most wonderfulest and greatest Ally?
(Does your Frodo have a Sam?)

Someone who is
a dreamer,
a doer,
a thinker,
and a see-er of greatness.
(we all want it.
and since your reader “is” your Hero when he/she reads,
then we want that kind of Ally)

Switch it up.
Let your Hero
help your Ally.
(for by giving, he’ll help himself)

(what this season’s all about)
The swirling dance of relationships.
Who we want to be around and who we want to be.

“One friend sharpens another”
(Proverbs 27:17, The Message)

“Non nobis solum nati sumus….
Not for ourselves alone are we born.”


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