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, 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.

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.

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.