Three Steps to Complex Characters (Part I)

face 5Last week I shared Pixar’s 22 Rules of Phenomenal Storytelling, and I’m going to be honest and say that when you’re at the very beginning of writing a story, it can be overwhelming looking at that list and knowing where to start. But as promised, I’m going to walk you through the process as I go through it myself, and these past two weeks I’ve started firmly with character, loving every discovery and where it’s leading.

Check out some of Pixar’s rules that have to do with character:

#6 What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#13 Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable characters might seem likeable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#15 If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

When I wrote my first novels, I had no idea how to figure those things out. I muddled through it in the dark, as if blindly trying to distinguish characters’ features by mauling them with my hands. It wasn’t until several (okay, six) drafts into my second novel that I hit on three secrets that have turned character development into a straight-forward science.

You can utilize these three secrets at any writing stage, whether you have no idea what your story will be or you’ve already completed six drafts. I’ve done it in both cases (as mentioned) and found these three steps invaluable either way. Read more

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Becoming a Storyteller

“I’m a writer” is a statement I avoided for a while. After all, it takes courage to admit you’re lacking the more validated “I’m an author” (read: published). It’s safer for our fragile egos to be closet writers, querying agents and editors in secret until we can make the grand social-media announcement that our book is coming out in actual print with actual binding and have everyone comment, “Oh! I had no idea you write!”

But at a certain point I said to hell with being a coward and laid it out there:

“Yes, I write. Because I have to. Whether or not any of it is ever published, I write novels because I love it. When I’m not writing daily, I feel grumpy and lost.”

However, there was a second distinction I bypassed longer: being a storyteller. Read more

The Plague of “Right” Answers

I’m laughing to myself as I compose this post. It’s sort of like walking through a huge puddle of glue and hoping to get to the other side without (a) getting stuck in the puddle or (b) spreading the glue farther or (c) tripping on all the other people already glued in place, hahaha.

When we’re all so entrenched in something together, trying to describe it is like trying to lift your foot out of that puddle without the glue sticking to the bottom of your shoe. Yeah. I’m covered in it too.

See, I figure that’s what makes it a plague: It’s widespread; it’s infected all of us. Read more

Can Marriage Be Easy?

The first wedding dress she put on was it. She glowed with the perfection of its fit while the rest of us cheered our approval. It was already the first Saturday in November, not much time before my youngest sister-in-law’s January date, and we all left the store with the happy vibe of a good sign. Plus a quick decision left plenty of time for lunch!

At Blue Lemon my mother-in-law asked a woman sitting nearby to take a picture of us, mentioning the upcoming event. The woman held up the camera and said, “I want you all to think of the love that you feel for each other today!”

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A buzzing sensation tickled my ear—the kind that signals fateful interference. Something important was happening. Read more

Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part II

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(Click here to read “Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I”)

When I transitioned to herbal remedies in place of drugs four years ago, I remember thinking, “Good thing we aren’t in the medical profession!” If I were a pharmacist or married to one, for example, I’m not sure how well that switch would have gone over for all involved hahaha.

But as a college writing teacher married to a tax accountant, I figured we were safe from such life-altering displacement. Taxes are as certain as death, they say; and everyone believes in education.

Insert corny sound effect: ba-dum tshh.

This past summer at the most recent adjunct-faculty meeting I attended for the English department at Salt Lake Community College, I made my big confession: “Guys, I’m a traitor. I’ve converted to unschooling.”

It got the laugh I’d intended, but also lots of questions. “Unschooling? What’s unschooling? I mean, I get that it’s not doing school, but what does that look like?” Read more

Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I

It doesn’t look like school anymore . . . because it’s not.

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I still tell people we “homeschool” since most inquirers just want an explanation for why my kids are home every day. When they ask follow-up questions, like what time we “do school,” I have to take a deep breath and hope I’m not judged as a weirdo—especially in a brand-new neighborhood where those next door are just getting to know us.

“Oh, we used to have a set schedule, but we don’t anymore. Now I’m letting my kids follow their own interests instead of me teaching lessons.”

The word I haven’t tossed around much—not yet, not until I get a little braver—is unschooling. Read more