Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Characters Look for Acceptance #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


            Just as real people want to be accepted by others, either into various communities or accepted by one special person, so too do our characters wish to be accepted in one way or another. Most people want that sense of belonging. Depending on our genre, as writers, we either make that sense of belonging happen for our characters or show why it does not. Of course, it can never be easy for our protagonists, whichever outcome we choose. The protagonist needs to struggle to make it happen or be forced to accept that it was never meant to be. And the reader wants to see that struggle. 
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So how do we show our protagonists longing for acceptance and receiving it or not? It’s all in the specific details we provide through story or memoir, both internally and externally.

Let’s briefly look at two classic characters who long to be included.

Harry Potter wants to belong to a family, to be loved, to have friends. Through the story, the reader [or viewer] comes to realize why he doesn’t have these connections and through thoughts and actions [events] how he comes to gain them.

Luke Skywalker longs to join his friends, to move on with his own life, to be accepted into the rebellion as a person who matters. And as the story unfolds, the viewer comes to understand why and how he obtains what he wants.

            In memoir, remember, you are looking for real life details to tell the story. In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria looks for acceptance in the academic conversation at Penn. She yearns for a sense of belonging, not the feeling of being an outsider with nothing intelligent to say. She is a non-traditional, older student attending a school of highly intelligent students. She gets in, but constantly feels the need to prove herself in class. To show this struggle unfolding for the reader, I include thoughts and actions, events that demonstrate how Victoria fails, and how she feels about it, and eventually how she succeeds at her task.

More importantly, Victoria wishes to be accepted by the writers’ community at Kelly Writers House on campus. She wants her writing topics to be important, to make a statement about her experiences. Yet obstacles, both internal and external, hold her back. She has children; she doesn’t have the time the younger students have. For the story to move forward, she needs to take action. Victoria attends lectures and seminars at the House. She submits poetry in a university-wide contest and receives honorable mention for it. But she feels ignored during the celebration. A setback. She submits again to a larger writing community, the West Chester Poetry Contest, and wins second place with a haiku. This community welcomes her into its fold, if only for a short while. 

In memoir the story is told through the lens of the narrator. The reader can only be in the head of Victoria. It is she who interprets the reasons for what other characters do in the memoir. Writers cannot get into the head of other characters in memoir because it is truth—not fiction.  

            Of course, writers can’t dramatize every scene of struggle in a story. However, writers should choose larger scenes that show the most challenge to our protagonist and summarize the lesser scenes or actions. Writers need to remember to show the outcome—good or bad—to any action or scene. These outcomes do not need to be lengthy, but rather precise. I am still learning which scenes to dramatize or summarize and which scenes appear to repeat the same feelings or outcomes and are not necessary in my manuscript.

As writers we need to show progression in our characters. If the story is all struggle with no change in the protagonist, no change in the character’s mindset, readers could feel cheated. I still think that readers are looking to see how our characters handle challenge to perhaps learn how they might handle a particular situation. Readers want to learn something new even while being entertained by your story. At least this is why I read.  

Please feel free to offer any insight or ask any questions regarding Victoria’s struggles in finding acceptance at the University of Pennsylvania. It would be truly appreciated. 

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Please note that I will not post in August of 2019. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading my Adventures in Writing blog posts and sharing your insight. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?


            Memoir aside, the biggest traits I offer my characters are a love of nature and adventure. Now these traits can be good or bad for characters depending upon the plot. Loving nature can lead a character astray; get him lost, both physically and mentally. And seeking adventure can always lead into danger, especially with young protagonists.  
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            Stories are nothing without tension, remember. If we think externally, a love of nature can be defined as anything or any place outside of the protagonist or character. Adventure can be had on any quest or journey to either discover the self or the character’s surroundings. To discover the good or bad of society or the world. And these two traits can come into conflict in any genre.

            While I set many of my stories in national parks where a love of physical nature and adventure can combine, the setting for story can be anywhere. If you strip Star Wars: A New Hope down to its bones, the story could be considered a young man’s discovery of his abilities on a quest for adventure outside of his known space or world. In the beginning of this epic, Luke is a farmer on a desolate planet living with his aunt and uncle. He dreams of adventure in faraway places of the universe. His friends have left to find their place in the world. Luke wants to do this. It’s not until other characters enter his life that he is afforded the opportunity to try. Luke’s love of adventure sends him all over the universe. But inside, Luke is still trying to understand his own sense of worth, discover his own abilities.

            The best stories have internal and external struggles—even in memoir. Giving characters traits that the writer may possess is a beginning. From there, the traits of characters, both good and bad, need to be finely tuned to the story you are telling.  

What personal traits do you give your characters? Are they used for good or bad? Thanks so much for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  


Please note that I will not post in August of 2019. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading my Adventures in Writing blog posts and sharing your insight. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Endowing Your Characters with Traits to Solve Story Tension #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

            The characters you create need to be given certain knowledge or abilities in order to solve the story tension. Whether characters need to conquer self-fears, solve mysteries, get out of danger, or survive day-to-day traumas, writers need to choose specific qualities that would help their characters accomplish this. 
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Knowledge is a big trait in many stories. In one of my short stories, my teen protagonist needs to help her younger brother who’s having an asthma attack in a cave. But as writers, we also need to explain how the protagonist obtains any knowledge. In my character’s case, she learned how to control her brother’s asthma from watching her mother do it. In another story, my young teen needed to understand how to back away from a wild animal on a mountain. Again, the knowledge was explained through story. The teen listened to park ranger talks.

Character abilities are another trait. Think of the superheroes’ abilities to fly, create fire, or shoot webs. Each of these traits helps the hero accomplish something important in the story, whether they are protecting the world, snagging the criminal, or saving their own skin. Everything that happens in a story needs to be there for a specific reason. It needs to move the story forward. Whether we endow our characters with the knowledge of the life cycle of bats in a cave or the ability to become invisible, the traits must be given to help the character solve the story tension. And they need to be specific.

Character traits must also solve the tension in memoir. In memoir, many times the protagonist is finding a way to cope in a particular situation. In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria is finding ways to accomplish the foreign language requirement at the Ivy League level. In the pages just submitted to my editor, I’m up to 140 pages now; Victoria takes a twenty-page French placement exam. Believe it or not, she places into French 120 [French II].

In three semesters of French at Penn, two three-hour classes per week, Victoria deals with discussing racism and genocide, social and psychological issues and politics in class, writing weekly essays in French, creating blog posts and oral and video presentations, writing research papers, attempting listening and speaking tests in French. She is grossly out of her comfort zone and desperately searches for ways to cope in French class because she needs at least a B average to keep her scholarship.

To accomplish this she studies French vocabulary constantly, obtains a tutor through the university, seeks the prof before class to be able to explain in English her difficulties with learning the language, [you were not permitted to use English in the classroom]. And when all else failed, Victoria asks the younger students in class what the professor is talking about—when the prof is not looking of course. Tears of frustration are shed. Then Victoria learns about being able to take the language requirement as pass/fail, but she still needs to turn in and pass all the work required. Many times, her husband finds her asleep at her computer five minutes before the midnight deadline to post the work.

So what are Victoria’s traits at this time in the memoir? Perseverance. And when the last professor tells Victoria she does not pass the language requirement because she is not fluent in French, Victoria finds the courage to stand up for herself and speak with the Dean of Romance Languages. In doing so, she passes the language requirement at Penn.   

Our characters are unique. They require specific traits in order to solve the story tension. And as writers, we need to remember to explain how the character came to acquire that knowledge or ability, no matter what genre we are writing in.

So what character traits or abilities do you give your protagonists to be able to solve the tension in the story you are telling?

Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s struggles learning French at the Ivy League level. It would be truly appreciated.  

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?


I love to read both memoir and fiction. I enjoy discovering the insight provided by the memoirist when she makes her point in the slice of life story she is telling. In fiction, I enjoy the more plot and action-based stories of adventure, cozy mysteries, and romance. 
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But to write, I think writing fiction is far easier than writing memoir. Because in fiction, the writer can make up whatever she needs in order to make the story work, to make it intriguing. Is it easy? No. Not for me. But I can do things in fiction that I can’t do in memoir. Let’s say the protagonist in a fiction story needs some deep-seated reason to be fearful of relationships or to be afraid of bears. The writer creates the circumstances. Let’s say the writer needs an informant. Created. An antagonist? No problem. The characters need to be three-dimensional to appear real? Backstory can be made to order in fiction.

In memoir, the story the writer tells is true. There are demonstrative facts showing it to be so. The writer can’t, or shouldn’t, make up a memoir story. The writer can’t change when things happen or where they happen. She can’t create fictitious characters or change the beliefs of a real person whom she includes in her personal memoir story to make the story more exciting. She can’t add scenes that never happen to increase tension.

In memoir, the writer needs to find the story in the slice of life she wishes to share with the reader. She needs to find her point to be sure she knows what it is so she can relay it to the reader. Then the memoirist proves her point by shaping the true story in an interesting way, by creating scenes with true details and populating them with real people who matter to the protagonist in her journey. Then the memoirist interprets these scenes and happenings for the reader, to show the reader the insight gleaned from what really happened, to demonstrate the shift in mindset of the protagonist.   

That being my understanding between the two genres, I like to write adventure story. I’ve had the most success creating young adult adventure story, “man or woman versus nature” adventure. As some of you know, I have camped with five children for years. You can discover our adventures camping across the United States and up into Canada at Camping with Five Kids

Most of my YA adventure stories begin in a location we have visited while camping with kids. But as many of you know, any children’s writing needs to have a child protagonist who saves the day—not an adult stepping in to “fix” things. This is where the fiction comes into play. In fact, the first story I sold to Cricket Magazine had my teen protagonist with her younger brother lost in a cave. I needed to give the protagonist the backstory to be able to get them out of the cave without help from an adult. After I’ve sold several stories to Cricket, my editor did ask me in a confidential e-mail if I’ve ever let my children go explore a cave by themselves or hike in a national park by themselves and meet a mountain lion. The answer, of course, is no. That’s where the “fiction” comes in. But my editor does check out my Camping with Five Kids blog to see where we’ve been and the photos of national parks or the difference between the sugar cone pine cone and the redwood and sequoia pine cones.

My family and camping adventures are my inspiration—especially for my YA adventure stories. Where do you find inspiration to write in your particular genre? Thanks so much for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Make Your Characters Vulnerable #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I’m 100 pages into my memoir about attending college as a mother of five and at the point where I’ve won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and am about to begin. I’m scared to death!
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Were you ever too eager to please someone or a group of someones? A boss? A hopeful romantic interest or co-worker or editor?

Like in many stories or movies, this is where the protagonist usually messes up. At least in her first few attempts at acquiring the desired goal of pleasing those in charge. This can happen for a variety reasons; i.e., not thinking before you speak, doing inappropriate actions, or not consciously listening to those around you.

At this stage in my college memoir, I felt the need to prove to those at Penn that I could be an Ivy Leaguer. I wanted them to see that they did not make a mistake in granting me the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship. I needed to make a good first impression at Penn, and of course it backfired on me.

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Transfer students had a summer reading project, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and I needed to interpret a connection to one of the topics in the book. A lively discussion had ensued that hot August afternoon in a packed College Hall. While all of the other incoming students connected to topics through academia; sociology, psychology, and business practices to name a few, I connected to teaching preschoolers through the use of the Sesame Street television show. This topic in the book talks about how small lessons can make big improvements in the education of children.

Yes. I heard everyone else speak. In fact I was almost the last student to speak. I was afraid to speak because my connection was from life experience, not academic study. I thought possibly these academics hadn’t had the experience with Sesame Street I had raising my five children. I thought they might appreciate my insight because it was so different from all the intellectuals in the room. So while everyone else received comments or questions or further discussion into their topics from the panel of Penn administrators, my topic crashed into the floor like a lead balloon. No discussion. You could hear the air conditioning unit cycle on again.

Just like characters in stories, our protagonists need to make mistakes, need to feel defeat, anxiety, or humiliation in order to be real to the readers. Readers want to connect to our characters, especially our protagonists.

So while our stories are unique, what our characters do is unique, there needs to be some base feeling or action that our readers can connect to. Embarrassment is a good one. So is fear of the unknown or hurt from someone we love or trust. Characters need to be vulnerable at one time or another in our stories to be real, no matter what genre we are writing in.

So how do you make your characters seem vulnerable to the reader or other characters in the story you are telling?

Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s summer reading project scenario. It would be truly appreciated.  

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?


            For me, it was simple. I was a communications and English major at college. This particular community college didn’t have a journalism degree at the time. Once I became editor of the college newspaper, I discovered how powerful my words were in covering the news on the college campus. While the monthly newspaper had come out sporadically before I took over, maybe once a semester, I made sure it came out every month. And I organized it into sections and put substance in it. I discovered I liked sniffing out news stories for the paper. I became an advocate for the student body, finally finding my college voice at the community college level, investigating life on campus from why the administration closed the pool to why some buildings became a lake each time it rained.
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Anything that affected the student body and college campus found its way into the student-run college newspaper. Where the administration had been all excited about the new look and content of the student paper, department heads and vice presidents soon started to glare at me and hold their tongues until I made them understand that I was going to report on an incident whether they spoke to me or not. I permitted the administration equal space within the article to inform the student body what was being done about certain situations.  

But how did I know administration was upset with my coverage of events at college? Once a semester, all leaders of student organizations met with the president of the college and the provost and vice presidents. We students introduced ourselves and reported to the president what our organizations were doing around campus. We also brought up any concerns students may have. I had no problem with this, as I was doing it already in the newspaper. The president zeroed in on me and relentlessly drilled me as to why I kept harping on any problems the college was having. If it wasn’t for the provost reminding the president that I was only doing my job, he was a college reporter in his time too, I thought the president was going to kick me out of college. I really got under her skin.

 But the important issues in life need to be brought up, need to be discussed if we’re ever going to make things better in this world. That’s why we need honest and moral writers to bring the issues into conversation to help those in charge see the importance of addressing the issues.

I can’t wait to see how you learned that language had power. Thanks for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  



Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Chicken Soup for the Soul Mom Knows Best #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


My mother has been my guiding light all my life. She believed in me when I didn’t. She told me that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. These are the types of positive people writers need around them as they struggle to accomplish their writing goals. Unfortunately, I lost my mother to cancer at the end of the summer. Mom may be in Heaven now, but some of her sage advice lives on in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul Mom Knows Best issue released on March 19, 2019.  
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Have you ever had an essay included in a Chicken Soup issue? Which one? Was it your first attempt, or did it take a while for them to accept one of your essays?

For me, it took quite a while for Chicken Soup for the Soul to accept one of my essays. I have been trying to break into this niche on and off for years. Several friends in my South Jersey Writers Group have been published in Chicken Soup. They gave me courage to try again and again. There is no charge for submitting to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Here’s the link.  

            Like any other writing project, it’s always best to begin by studying the market. Read other Chicken Soup for the Soul books to see what they are publishing. Break down the essay to see how the writer put it together. Notice how tightly the prose is, how specific the details about place are. Notice there are no extra words or throwaway dialogue and thoughts. Then check Chicken Soup’s website to see what topics they are currently looking for and start drafting your essay.  

Although the editors at Chicken Soup give you lots of guidance on how to prepare your story, nothing beats a critique partner, especially someone who has already been published by the market you wish to enter. Ask to see their document of the essay they submitted to the market. This will be what they sent in as opposed to the one that was edited by the publisher before publication. It helps to see how they structured their essays.   

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I was ecstatic when I saw one of my own stories in the
Chicken Soup for the Soul Mom Knows Best issue.
And keep the essay simple. This was my biggest problem. I could study issues from Chicken Soup, strip down the essays, study the language used, and feel I have created just what they want, and receive silence for all my effort. Chicken Soup for the Soul will contact you ONLY when they want your essay. Otherwise you don’t hear from them.

And God knows, be persistent! Like I said, it doesn’t cost anything to submit to Chicken Soup, so why not follow these steps and send in your best advice on a topic they’re looking for. Good Luck!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Mom Knows Best is on sale now. You can find it in bookstores and online here. My particular story, Evening Things Up, will be featured in a podcast from Chicken Soup on April 29, 2019. You can listen to the podcast for free by going to Chicken Soup's website and clicking the podcast tab. 
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My beloved mother, Elaine McDonald


Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here