Sometimes the Tee-shirt Gets It Wrong

Personal Note: As you may imagine, I am a serious lover of words. I've got so many of them crammed into my head-even some in other languages-I have no room in there for numbers. Numbers make me cry, and words make my soul sit up and take notice. So, it's really, really odd to me with all this wordage in my system I totally, totally suck at Scrabble. I can kick butt at Balderdash and no one has EVER taken me in Scattergories, but put the most classic, most famous, possibly simplest-form word board game in front of me and I can't win to save my soul. No kidding.

Now, about that slogan business . . .

The other day while I shopped for a few things for my oldest's birthday party (Go eight, baby!) I came across a tee-shirt printed with the admonition, Inspire Those You Love, which I find to be a lovely sentiment.

However, I feel it's rather easy to inspire those you love. You love them and therefore you are naturally inclined to want to be the best person you can for them. Wanting to inspire those you love isn't something you think about. Don't mistake me, I got what the tee-shirt meant. Yes, yes, be the kind of person your loved ones aspire to be like, the kind of person they are bursting with pride for. Certainly a beautiful goal and one we should all hope to reach. I'm all for it. I practice it myself. I've got an amazing, sometimes-jerk-but-always-just-what-I-need husband, and three indescribably cool sons, all totally individual to inspire. My oldest little beauty, Gabriel, is old enough and adult-in-a-child's-body enough to understand what it means that Mom is a 'writer', how it's important. He knows how much I like to read, and while he's a math person and reading comes slowly to him he still pushes on with it because he wants to make me proud and to be like me. Dear heaven, you don't know how much that swallows my heart whole.

So, understand I'm not downplaying inspiring those YOU love.

But I think it's just as important, neck and neck, with loving those you inspire.

I am more honored than I can ever describe to have people who test read for me, read my blog and get something helpful from it, to have young women (and yes, even a couple of young men), peers, others in this 'writer wannabe' boat, feel encouraged and take hope from my thoughts and scribblings. When my own faith falls short it's their hope for me that brings me back. I can't give up because what a horrible misuse of their belief in me would that be? Somehow, in ways too mind-blowing and obscure to understand I, stupid, boring, scared me, inspired them so how could I justify letting that inexplicable blessing fade away?

Nope. Can't. Because, you see, something in the transfer of hopes between us has done more than bond us as advisor and students. It has given me the most genuine of love for them. Like the love I have for my own children, who were born of my body, I have love for them, born of my passions.

Sometimes I forget why I wish on stars. They remind me.

Multiple Personality Disorder

Personal Note: I write really hard, by which I mean I'm probably much harder on writing utensils than I need to be. My penmanship has this sort of thick-handed girly grace that looks like the overweight cousin of my mother's handwriting. See below.

Now, onto the subject matter, in a majorly biased sort of way.

As with any other person who enjoys reading, I'm all for fantastic setting, rich world-building, and plots that just won't stop being awesome. That being said, if I don't think you did your characters justice I probably won't like your book, no matter the elevation of its higher points. If you've read my work you could probably have guessed that about me, as I write from a very character-driven viewpoint. I'm sure it doesn't help my lack of objectivity that I also believe getting your characters right has a domino effect for all the other aspects of your book. My opinions are cannibalistic; they feed on themselves like that.

So what are some things you can do to make sure you stay true to your people? Obviously any advice I can give comes from my own research and personal experience, but I'll take a shot anyway.

  • It's basic, and for those of us who weren't blessed with a natural abundance of patience or traditional organizational skills, writing a fully-fleshed-out character biography kind of sounds like cleaning your room, but wow, does it actually do some good. I hate writing summaries and bios and outlines. My level of hatred for these things is right up there with cockroaches and making check-up appointments. I fight with myself constantly about that kind of stuff, but in the end I finally give in to the pressure of my literary conscience and do the freakin' things. Sometimes it's purely an exercise in making factoids easier to locate and sometimes it's a real eye-opener because suddenly motives and events stare back at you from those pages, screaming about themselves to make sure you get it right.
  • Decide from the get-go what kind of person the character is. What are the most important things to this person? Not his motorcycle or that she's constantly craving strawberries; those are quirks, little things that round your character out. Does honor matter most? Greed? What hurts them the most? Being alone even in a crowd? Examine your character's core motivations and build from there. A person who feels as if he's the only one of his kind isn't going to be a social butterfly. The people who make socializing their main goal in life are the ones who feel too ordinary and hate it. If you can pin down the WHY of your character it will be much easier to write believable WHAT's for him or her (what she does, what she says, what she thinks) and it will certainly be easier to stay committed to WHO your character really is.
  • Back to those quirks. Even thousands of years ago the Biblical-proclaimed wisest man on the earth, King Solomon basically said the King James version of 'there's nothing new under the sun' and the same still holds true. All the big, basic storylines and characters have already been written. What you start out with is a big, bland cardboard cut-out, a literary paper-doll, and you have to decide what sort of personality outfit goes on him or her. This is where you tread the dreaded line of Mary-Sue-ism. Make your character too perfect or too imperfect (with no redeeming, sympathetic qualities) and you've got a really bad case of BLAH! Nobody really likes perfect because perfect is unattainable and unrealistic. So, give your characters faults, fears, a few traits specific to them. Color that freakin' cut-out up, kids! Personally, I'm a big fan of paisley. *grin*
  • But back up! You can't go too far in the "Unique!" direction, either, because then you end up with more than one character in a single body, which really only works in a very small sliver of circumstances (such as body-snatching or schizophrenia, in which case, hey, have a ball). Always apply the "Who am I?" test to each conversation. Are you making your character say something, maybe because you really want to get a point across and are afraid your audience might lose it in the shuffle? Would your character really fidget that way while nervous, or are you amping that up when it's not really called for?
  • And last but not least, remember that everyone morphs and grows. In Silver I always thought TRISTAN had the wicked temper, but I'm learning it's actually his brother, SEBASTIEN. In the beginning I considered JOSS too weak and broken to stand up for herself, but she's surprised me; turns out she's stronger than everybody else and plays the most significant part in the ensemble cast making it out of a certain situation alive, and even better, while everyone else underestimated her (including me), she never underestimated herself. So, while the balance is difficult, you can't hold your characters back. The trick is learning everything about them beforehand so you know just when and where they'll grow.

So, there's that. Sorry about the long, long silence, but I had some inner demons to deal with. And some outer kindergarten T-ball games.