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Posts tagged with: characters

Traveling to Open a Writer’s Mind

Happy Friday! What are you up to this weekend? Perhaps you are headed out on vacation? I just returned from our family house on the coast of Maine. We inherited the 19th century home from my husband’s grandparents. It’s bank of wild primroses and lupines leads down to McCollum Beach. From the porch you can look out at the lobster boats chugging along the reach. Much love, sweat and inheritance money have been poured into making the house functional again so that we can spend most of July up where the daytime highs are about 70 degrees. The house and property have become my happy place. Being there “fills my well.”

Do you like to travel? Maybe even locally, to museums and parks. Not only does stepping away from the house help you to remember that there is a big, beautiful world outside, it also helps give you setting details, characters, and plot turns.

Taking any type of public transportation can give you all sorts of interesting characters. Flying home from Maine this last time, the lady next to me seemed to be in a constant state of anger. She wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone, kept her hat on, mumbled to herself and disinfected the seatbelt, tray and chair arms with Clorox wipes. Oh my gosh, I wanted to take a minute inside her brain, but no matter what, she wouldn’t interact with me. If the airplane had lost its engines, and we were barreling to the earth, I wonder if she’d have held my hand (after she Cloroxed it). By the time we landed, I’d created a whole back story in my head about her and the louse who’d cheated on her and taken her cat.

Exploring small towns always gives me rich characters. We stopped at a small pottery store with an open sign out, but no one was inside. There was thousands of dollars worth of beautiful pottery and a note asking people to write down what they bought, add in the sales tax, and leave cash or a check in the lock box. The artist even went so far as to say that people could take the pottery and mail him a check if they only had credit card. We were so impressed by his faith in people! I bought three lovely pieces.

Then there is the old man we drive by each time we go to get soft serve ice cream from our house. He must be in his 80s. He has a hunched back and usually is working in his yard or on top of his roof without a shirt on. He’s quite tan. I think the work keeps him going.

My husband and I attended the University of Maine nearby (a small off-shoot of the main campus). One of our professors still teaches there, and we visit her each summer. She’s about 4ft 10 inches tall and wears two long braids. She just turned 73 yo. Dr. Kraus is also a wildlife rehabilitator. We’ve known her to heal owls, eagles, vultures, moose, deer, bats, rabbits, etc. Her property is like a secret garden with nooks of flowers and flitting dragonflies. This year she is nurturing two baby deer. One is only three pounds. We were able to spend the evening with her and watched her bottle feed them. My daughter is convinced that she is the real

Dr. Kraus with my Highlander

Mother Nature. If I ever go back to writing paranormal, Dr. Kraus will definitely play that role.

Even the different landscapes of Maine, the smells and sounds, call all my senses to awareness. Hiking in the pine and salt-water breeze, tasting the wild blueberries, listening for the snort of a deer in the brush close by, breathing in the cool fog that surrounds us like a sentient being.

Fog wrapping around the islands

 

All of it excites my writer’s blood. I keep my eyes and ears wide open, my mind and camera cataloging as many new experiences as I can. It feeds my spirit and will enrich my stories.

Even if I don’t write about Maine (which I hope to in the future), there are parts that can easily fall into my Scottish stories. In fact, the coast of Maine is very much like the coast of Scotland when we explored the Highlands a few years ago. I’m so fortunate to have visited both.

Have you visited anywhere that opened up your writer’s senses, giving you details to carry home? Even a trip to the town next door can give you fresh details for your next fabulous manuscript.

P.S. We also rent out our two cottages and 3 bedroom house on the coast of Maine during the summer. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested, and I’ll send you the VRBO links. Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com

Hello Death – I See You!

As authors, we birth new characters all the time. Often our offspring (like our flesh-and-blood kids) take on our own traits. Maybe your heroine has a dream to be a movie star like you did as a kid. Maybe your hero tenses every time he hears car tires screech just like you do after your accident. Or maybe your villain fears spiders and dark corners where spiders like to hide, just like you do.

Last week I released my newest book, BROKEN (Woot!), a YA paranormal romance (second in The Guardians Series). There’s a contest to win a $25 gift card going on right now! Contest link In BROKEN, my heroine, Taylin, has lived ten lives and has died painfully ten times. The curse that tortured her, with living loveless lives and then dying violently over and over, is finally broken. But now that she has only one more life to live, fear of death takes ahold of her, creating a new form of torture. Broken

As I wrote this book, I wanted Taylin to learn how to live without fearing death. I decided early on that the theme of the book was “you can’t fear death or you can’t really live.” It sounded like a truth and a great lesson to learn, a lesson I needed to learn myself.

I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. In fact, as I write this on April 5th, four years ago today I was just waking up from surgery to hear “you have cancer” – words that change your life forever. I fought against this quiet, yet vicious disease with major surgery, 15 months of chemo and another 6 months of recovery. It was the hardest battle of my life, but I was determined NOT to leave my three kids and my wonderful husband without fighting with every ounce of scrappy, tenacious, mental and physical muscle I possessed. Some days were harder than others. Some days I felt like I was dying an achy, stomach-twisting, slow death. Luckily though I responded to the life-saving poison and have been in remission since.

McCollumClan - Copy

Remission is bitter-sweet. Yes, it is fantastic that the cancer is gone. However, the fear that it will return (something ovarian cancer is known for) haunts me. Nerve pain, nausea, bloating from steroids, torturous insomnia, bleeding and sores in my mouth – all from the chemo. And then the biggest fear of all – not surviving it and leaving my kids. Getting poked

Sometimes that fear grows so large, it blocks the beauty before me. And that, my friends, ruins living.

 

 

Half way through writing BROKEN my creative words and tapping fingers slowed and then stopped. I couldn’t figure out what would make Taylin learn her lesson. The theme, you can’t fear death or you can’t really live, seemed impossible to achieve. After dying ten times, Taylin was afraid of dying again, this time for good, no more reincarnations. For days I dwelled on her problem and dredged my creative well for a way to make her stop fearing death so she could enjoy life.

When I went to see my therapist (I highly recommend therapy for pretty much everyone), I told her how I was stuck in my book. She is also a writer and has great insight.

“How can I make my heroine not fear death?” I asked.

She tilted her head. “Why should she not fear death? Fearing death is a very human thing. If she didn’t fear death at all, she wouldn’t be human.”

I blinked. I stared. I inhaled. “If you fear death you can’t really live.”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t fear death, and a lot of people live wonderful, happy lives. They just don’t dwell on death.”

Holy moly! I had the wrong theme. Holy moly! Taylin and I both had it wrong.

Fearing death is natural. It is the dwelling on death and always feeling fear that puts a dark shadow over living.

Not only did I suddenly get how to fix my book, I learned that it was totally okay for me to fear the return of my cancer. It is normal for the thought of my demise and what it would do to my children to sadden me. But Taylin and I must stop giving fear of death power over us. We can’t let it stand in front of us or we will miss the whole beautiful parade.

As a writer, I am very fortunate to have an avenue to explore my inner craziness. By creating Taylin and helping her deal with her fear, I’ve been able to deal successfully with my own. Oh, some days I falter, like when I’m waiting for test results (while you’re reading this, I’m having yet another CT scan, so I’ll have to beat fear off of me with a mental bat). But both Taylin and I now redirect our thoughts away from the grave, outward to the beautiful world around us. It’s not a permanent fix, but it is a healthy, soul-filling step in the right direction.

Have you learned anything from your characters or the characters in books you’ve read?

For more information about Ovarian Cancer, you can check out the OC Page on Heather’s site or go to http://www.ovariancancer.org/. Heather blogged throughout her cancer journey. Those blog posts can be found on the OC Page on her web site.

For info about BROKEN and The Guardian’s Series, you can click here: Amazon Buy Page

Also find Heather here: Heather on Facebook, Heather on Twitter, Heather on Pinterest

 

Using Archetypes To Find Your Story

I write romance, and that means my stories are, by necessity, character driven.  That doesn’t mean I ignore plot or story — my books have plenty of plot, and storytelling is my favorite thing about writing.  But in a romance the story should grow out of the struggles of the characters.  More important, the love story in every romance requires the characters to grow.  The hero and heroine need to learn something by the end of the book that allows them to have their happy ending.  The bigger the transformation the more satisfying the ending.

Coming up with ideas for that inner character arc is not easy for me.  I can come up with ideas for situations and story lines and conflict, but figuring out what a character has to learn before he or she gets to the end of the story is really hard.  I need all the help I can get. 

Otherwise I’m liable to find myself in the middle of a story and suddenly realize that the characters are two-dimensional and don’t really have any significant barrier to their love story.  When that happens, major revisions are usually required. 

I hate major revisions.  Like the plague.  Unfortunately, when I was first learning how to tell a story, this happened all. The. Time. 

MyssCardsAnd then, one day about ten years ago, I went to a plotting workshop put on by my local RWA chapter.  And, of course, the instructor started out by telling us that we needed to know our characters in order to tell a good story.  I knew this, but I was clueless as to how to actually accomplish that. 

And then the instructor did a remarkable thing — she brought a bright red box out of her bag that looked like a box of tarot cards. “These might help,” she said.

They weren’t tarot cards.  They were “archetype” cards developed by the self-help guru, Caroline Myss. 

I don’t know a whole lot about new-age self-awareness, but I recognized a good thing when I saw it.  Right after the workshop I rushed right out to my local bookstore and found a deck of these cards for myself.  I’ve been using them ever since.  (Follow this link to a full listing of all of the Caroline Myss archetypes, along with detailed explanations of each of them.)

There are many archetype systems that authors can use, but I love playing with my cards.  They make it fun.  But they are also so useful because each of of these archetypes comes with a list of positive and negative attributes.  The negative attributes are particularly helpful when it comes to figuring out what lessons a character needs to learn before he or she can find love.

Let me give you an example of how I used these archetypes in the novel I started writing yesterday. 

MyssBeggarMy heroine is a “beggar.” The card gives me a few clues to this archetype, but a further exploration on the Caroline Myss webpage leads to the understanding that: 1) a beggar is starving for love and attention, and 2) a beggar doesn’t feel self-empowered.  She has to rely on others for sustenance for her self-esteem.

Okay, that immediately gets my brain working.  What kind of character would match that archetype?  I came up with a woman who set off to change the world only to have the world throw her back.  She’s lost her job, her home, her life savings.  She’s come back to town to live with the mother who never really gave her the attention she craved.  And she has to face a community who expected great things from her and who now sees her as a failure.  There is a job opportunity in town, but she’s going to have to beg someone for it.  She desperately craves validation from the people around her, but of course they are not going to give her what she craves.  (But they might just give her what she needs.)

Okay, so far so good.  Now comes the fun part.  What does this archetype need to learn in order to have a happy ending?  The answers come pretty quickly:  1) confront and/or reconcile with the mother who neglected her in some way, 2) take control of her life in some way by finding a job that no one expects her to succeed at, and 3) develop a relationship with a hero who refuses to do the one thing she thinks she needs — validate her existence.  (To be a fully realized person, she’s going to have to validate herself.)

See what just happened?  Not only did the card help me find a character, but it gave me the beginning of a story line, complete with built in conflicts.  Of course I’m not done yet.  I need a hero for my beggar.

MyssHermitOff I go to the cards again, and I find the one for “hermit,” an archetype that has withdrawn from the world because of his own fears.  A hermit also refuses to help those in need.

Wow, that immediately generates a ton of ideas.  I used this archetype to come up with a hero who has withdrawn from society because his wife has died.  Now he is intently focused on trying to keep his dead wife’s memory alive at the expense of everything else in his life, including his daughter.  (Who is starving for attention, which harkens back to the heroine’s own backstory.) In withdrawing from the world, the hero has turned a blind eye to the people around him who are in need, especially his young daughter, but also other members of his family.  There is a business that requires his attention, or it’s going to fail.  His friend is in the middle of a legal battle, and the hero is a lawyer.  And since he doesn’t give a darn about anything but his own sorrow, he’s not terribly interested in helping any beggars who ,might show up, especially if the beggar in question is his wife’s best friend from high school.

Obviously my hermit needs to have something my beggar desperately needs (a job perhaps, or money to accomplish some end, or legal advice).  They are going to fight about this for the first third of the book.  (I’d tell you what it is but that might spoil the read.) The bottom line a beggar heroine a hermit hero immediately generate conflict, which is always good for storytelling.  Equally important, I can now brainstorm a list of things that could happen that would either 1) force the hermit to deal with the people around him, or 2) force the beggar to fend for herself and improve her self-esteem, or deal with her residual issues with her mother.  Believe me I have a long, long list of what ifs now — many more than I need to tell a good story.

So, how do you come up with characters who drive your stories?  Since we’re all feverishly writing as part of the Winter Writing Festival, I’m sure that brainstorming ideas would be welcome by all.

Listen Up, Grasshopper

BalancedrocksSM

 

Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

 

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

 

I like to think about life in four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with a foot and hand in each color.)

 

How does this translate into my writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they try to restore balance through action, or, in the case of the villain, often through unconventional or illegal means. The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or decide they’d rather have oranges.

 

As a reader, and as someone who strives for balance, I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life plan…better them than me, I say.

 

For instance, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life. In Deadly Bonds, everything’s going smoothly for my heroine, a director of a school, when a parent promises to make trouble for her because she won’t get with his program. In fact, my whole Mindhunters series was the result of an imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

 

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

 

What are some of the imbalances your characters face, or in the books you’re currently reading? What areas of your life are you working to balance, and how?

 

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

(*This post originally ran on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog on June 12, 2012.)

Waters Run Deep but It’s ALL About the Shoes

Yes, Yes Yes! It’s another Ruby Release Day! And I’m hosting myself…just giving the sisters a well-deserved break because they’re tired of asking me about my inspirations and ideas and blah, blah, blah. This is my 6th release day on the Ruby Blog, and I’m not going to interview my characters or talk about how I came up with an undercover nanny.

I’m going to talk about shoes.

The Latest Comments

  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: Conference was amazing – seeing the Rubies, watchig Darynda emcee for the fabulous...
  • Elisa Beatty: I really hope we’ll see you there!!!
  • Tamara Hogan: What amazing pictures! Everyone looks like they’re having such a great time. I tried to enjoy...
  • Bev Pettersen: So nice seeing these pics. But my heart gave a little twinge at seeing the Omegas and knowing it was...
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