Thursday, June 30, 2011

Character Development - Love Languages

Have you ever read the book “The Five Love Languages” written by Gary Chapman?  It’s a really interesting read.  I read it some years ago and ascertained that my love language is “Words of Affirmation”.  The other love languages are Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  There is even a section related to identifying your children’s love languages.  (If you’re having trouble connecting with your kids, maybe you’re not speaking their language!)

It was Marriage Enrichment Sunday at our church this past Sunday and it got me thinking about the love languages.  Marriage Enrichment Sunday is an opportunity to stand in front of the church as a couple and restate your vows.  It’s done as a group, meaning all the married couples have the opportunity to come to the front of the church, or just stand in front of their seats, and gaze into the eyes of their spouse and repeat after the pastor and renew their vows to each other and to God.  It might sound hokey, but it’s very touching, and more than one person tends to tear up.  Last year I cried during it and made the organist cry since she just happened to be watching my husband and I renew our vows.  

According to the book, we should understand the love language of the people we love and show our love to them through the language that they speak.  My love language is Words of Affirmation, but my husband’s is Quality Time.  So, to show my love for him, I wouldn’t necessarily tell him what a great job he’s doing painting the deck rails, I would sit out on the deck to keep him company while he paints.  He doesn’t need to hear that he’s doing a good job; he just wants me to hang out with him.  This I can do, and did do on Saturday.  (I admit that I also told him he was doing a good job, I couldn’t help myself.) 

My love language is a tough one for me.  I crave words of affirmation so much but rarely believe it when they are bestowed.  What’s up with that?  It’s just stupid, but it’s true.  In my opinion, it’s just that the people who need words of affirmation don’t think they deserve them.  That’s why they desire them.  So when they’re given, it makes the person doubt.  It’s really a silly catch-22.  And in fact, words of affirmation are hard to come by sometimes.  I give people words of affirmation a lot; because it’s what I wish people would do for me.  But it might not be their love language.  Words of affirmation for a writer don’t always happen very often either.  It’s not an instant gratification type of life.

In fact, writing seems to be contrary to several of these love languages.  Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor, so Quality Time and Physical Touch tends to go out the window when the writer is writing.  And then of course, providing gifts or acts of service tend to be forgotten when you’re deep into your story.  And lastly, you get tons of rejections which are definitely not words of affirmation.

So where do the love languages come into play for the writer while crafting the ms?  The love languages need to be a part of your characters.  If your characters don’t ring true, if they seem to be shallow, it might be because they are not behaving according to their love language or the love language of the other characters in the story.  This is just another facet of consistency for the character.  The building of the characters’ depth.  How would your character behave in a certain situation?  What would they think if something particular happened?  What do they need the other characters to do when the MC is in a certain situation? 

Do you believe the love languages play a role in character development?  How have you expressed the love languages in your story and in your life?  Share with us by commenting!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer & School - Can they go together?

My boys just finished summer school. You might think I’m a tough mom to make them go to more school when they just completed the year but it works for us.

One son is moving to the next grade level at a new school and isn’t great at transitions. This gives him the opportunity to learn the hallways of the new school, the location of the bathrooms and cafeteria, and meet some new kids before it really counts. By being familiar with the new school before school starts, there is no additional anxiety when the fall school semester starts. He can just start to focus on the school work and making friends.

The other son isn’t moving to a new school and doesn’t have trouble with transitions. He’s just a social butterfly and loves the interactions that school provides. He had a blast with all of his friends and built a relationship with a teacher that he hadn’t had an opportunity to before.

But do they learn anything in summer school?
Surprisingly, yes. The theme for my young children’s summer school was Space. As in, “The final frontier”. They learned about the planets, about gravity, about constellations, satellites, and astronauts. It was really interesting to listen to them share about the things they learned in school. My 8 year old went into a long and drawn out explanation of satellites. The climax of his story was when they actually got to make edible satellites from ice cream cone cupcakes, frosting, licorice ropes, etc. “I’ll teach you how, Mom. We can make them at home!”

My 10 year old learned that his troubles with math weren’t that he couldn’t do the work, but that he was so sloppy that none of the columns of his numbers lined up and he was making silly mistakes. Supermom to the rescue! Graph paper was purchased and he learned that he can keep his numbers orderly if he keeps one number to a box on the graph paper. Automatic rows and columns – what could be better? He was concerned the teacher wouldn’t approve of the graph paper but I convinced him he should try it and if the teacher had a concern he could call me. My son was so surprised that the teacher didn’t have an issue with it and his summer school grade went up from a C to an A.

In fact, it wasn’t just the kids who enjoyed the topic of Space for summer school. My husband went to the schools and helped both sons' classes shoot off school-made space rockets. He and the kids had so much fun that when I got home from work I had to watch the rockets they made at home launch over 100 feet in the air. Summer school rocks!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Havana Daydreamin'

After working all day

After watching the kids and the neighbor boys swim

After making dinner

That’s when I got to sit on the porch and look at the beautiful day.  And it was beautiful.  Our weather decided to turn just a little cooler.  The temperature was about 85 degrees and a southwesterly breeze was blowing just enough to ruffle my hair.  I was sitting on the porch planks, legs extended, leaning back on my hands.  We have a large wraparound porch and my husband is in the process of painting the railings, so he was standing there with a paintbrush in one hand and a small paint tray in the other.  Our 12 week old baby kittens had decided to join us on the deck and they were taking little cat naps behind one of the sections of railing that had been removed and is now leaning against the house.  (We’re a work in progress.)

As I was sitting on the porch, playing “spotter” in case my husband fell from his precarious perch on a ladder on a second story porch with no railing, a Jimmy Buffet song played from the IPOD connected to our radio.  Jimmy Buffet’s song Havana Daydreamin’ really resonated with me at that moment.  The wind was softly blowing; the grass was green and lush, the pool so clear, the sky so blue.  The closest neighbors live several acres away.  Paradise.

The song Havana Daydreamin’ has this line in it:

 “Havana Daydreamin’… oh he’s just dreamin’…. his life away.” 

This was one of those evenings when I didn’t dream my life away.  As writers we typically live in our imaginations, trying to make our stories come to life.  Some also dream about making it big one day.  We dream about writing the best book ever, finding the dream agent, and becoming a NY Times bestselling author.  It’s a good dream.  An honest dream.  But we need to make sure we don’t dream our lives away.  Don’t write to make it big.  Write because you love the art of writing and have a desire to share your story.  And don’t just dream for yourself.  Have you looked around you today?  Have you recognized how fortunate you are for the people in your life?  Have you realized what a wonderful and miraculous world we live in?  How every action and decision defines our lives and who we are and who we can be?  Did you help someone today?  Don’t dream your life away, choose to LIVE it.  Embrace it.  Enjoy it! 

How have you lived your life today?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chocolate Meme: Writing is Like....

I finally got tagged for the Chocolate Meme that Green_Woman started!  Thanks to Eli Ashpence for tagging me.  You can find her blog here. 

Here’s the Meme beginning:

Forrest Gump’s momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I suppose the same could be said of writing, but . . . since we’re writers, we feel compelled to come up with our own silly comparisons.
Hence the creation of the Box of Chocolates Writing Meme–in which you may compare writing to anything but a box of chocolates.
How does it work? Take the phrase “Writing is like . . .” and finish it. Post it on your blog. Tag three others to do the same. That is all.
See how easy that is?

I would like to acknowledge the wonderful website for the fantastic information about the ingredients that I wanted to compare to writing.  So here is my take on what writing is like.
Writing is like baking a cake.  A cake requires certain ingredients to perform in specific ways in order to make a cake that is delicious.  In some instances, all the ingredients can be there but the cake will not be as good as it could be.  It isn’t as moist as it should be or the flavor isn’t my favorite.  There could be a lot of reasons why I’m willing to try it but I won’t go back for a second piece. 

This is true for writing as well.  A story requires certain ingredients to perform in specific ways in order to make a book that is appetizing to the reader.  You can learn to bake and you can learn to write.  Practice is important, but practicing without understanding the ingredients and the job they have to perform just means the cakes (stories) never have a chance to get better.  You just do the same thing over and over.

Creating a story requires 3 Acts.  Baking a cake does too.  Act 1:  Mix the ingredients together, Act 2: bake the cake, and Act 3: Assemble the cake and apply the frosting. 


In Act 1 of baking a cake, it is necessary to bring the ingredients together and mix thoroughly.  Flour, for example plays a critical role in the creation of a cake.  Flour provides the body and structure.  It binds the ingredients together and supports the batter.  In writing, flour is the plot.  It’s the driving force behind the story.  It’s pervasive throughout and is necessary to cause changes.  Without a plot, it’s just a jumble of words.  Without flour, the cake doesn’t rise.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  You can have a flourless cake just like you can have a story with no plot.  It’s just really dense!

Sugar is the ingredient in the cake that adds volume, texture, even tenderness and color.  It also acts as a preservative.  In a story, details are the sugar.  You want just enough but not too much.  The details bond you to the characters.  The details enrich the story, providing volume and texture.  It helps you to understand the reasons for the characters behaviors, feelings, and actions.  It brings the location of the story to life.

Eggs are needed in a cake and are structural in purpose too.  They help bind all the ingredients together.  When eggs are beaten and then added to the other cake ingredients, they incorporate air into the batter.  The air bubbles that the beaten eggs create in the cake batter rise in the oven.  In writing, the backstory is the eggs.  You only need enough to flesh out the story and the characters.  As you get further into the story, you might see additional backstory information grow.  This is like the air bubbles rising in the oven.  You only need enough to raise the story to the heights you want.  You have to be careful that you don’t overdo it and it falls in on itself when the cake comes out of the oven.

Baking powder and baking soda are like conflict and resolution in the cake batter.  These ingredients help to enlarge the air bubbles when it rises in the oven.  The baking powder does most of the leavening but the baking soda is needed to neutralize the acids and add tenderness.  So too with a story, there must be conflict that makes the characters grow and stretch themselves.  Sometimes to the breaking point.  That’s the baking powders job – conflict.  Then there is resolution, at least partially.  That’s when the baking soda comes in and neutralizes the acid that’s been created.  The conflict and resolution continue to act throughout the baking of the batter just like they do in a story.

Butter is necessary in a cake to keep it fresh.  The temperature of the butter can actually make a huge difference when baking.  Room temperature butter allows the maximum amount of air to be whipped into the batter.  If your butter is cold, it isn’t absorbed as much by the starch and causes flakiness.  I consider butter to be the pacing of your story.  Is the pacing too slow?  If so, the reader may not get absorbed into the story and flake out by not reading the whole thing.  If your butter is room temperature, the pacing in your story is right and it draws the reader in and allows for the maximum amount of conflict and resolution in the story.  It helps keep the reader interested.  It keeps the story fresh.
The oil added to a cake keeps it moist.  In a story, the oil would be those hooks at the beginning of the chapters and the cliffhangers at the end of chapters.  They whet your appetite for more.  The cake is moist and the cliffhangers in the story help you slide from one chapter to the next without wanting to stop reading.
The last ingredients to discuss when making a cake are the flavors that are added to make the cake unique.  Is it a chocolate cake, a coconut cake, red velvet?  These ingredients that add flavor are the characters.  What about them makes you want to eat the cake?  They taste good, they are interesting, and they appeal to you.  So should the characters in a story.  They should appeal to you, be interesting, and be able to cause you to care about them.  There are a million flavors and there are a million ways you can create wonderful characters.

Now this part doesn’t have a lot to do with the baker.  It’s the environment that matters.  Does your oven heat evenly; is the temperature accurate for the type of cake you’re creating?  Did you use the right type of cake pan for the type of cake?
The oven is a metaphor for the “heat” you put your characters through.  How hot, how long?  That’s based on the type of story you’re creating.  In some respects the author needs to turn the story over to the characters and let the characters do the writing, just like the baker lets the cake batter respond to the oven.  The characters know what to do; you just have to let them do it.  Let the cake rise and let the story tell itself.  There will be time later for finishing touches.

This is sometimes the hardest part of baking a cake.  You have to let the cake cool before you assemble and add the frosting.  We think the cake smells so good coming out of the oven that we want to frost it and eat it right away.  But the frosting runs and the cake doesn’t look or taste as good as we expect.  Once it’s cooled, the baker can add the finishing touches that create a beautiful cake.  This is true for the author as well.  Once the story is written, it’s usually best to let it rest for awhile.  We’re too close to the story.  We just know it’s fantastic, it’s perfect!  But if we wait and let it rest and gain some distance from it, we can come back to it once it’s cooled and assemble it properly and add the right finishing touches to truly make it a masterpiece.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Short Fiction Story

The Magician’s Ring    

Katie could feel the hilt of the knife against her ribs as she leaned against the wall of the alley. She knew the knife was in its sheath but accessible should she need it. How close was the man chasing her? A group of tourists had momentarily obscured his vision while she had run from the museum she had just robbed. She didn't understand how he knew she had stolen the Magician's Ring. Her timing had been perfect. No one had seen her slip the ring into her pocket.

She could feel the ring deep in her cargo pants pocket. It was heavy because of the large Tigers Eye stone in the center of the ring face. The band had been made of something Katie hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t gold but it seemed to shine from within.

Katie stepped away from the wall and faced the opening of the alley. She was going to have to step out onto the main street again since this alley had ended up being a dead end. She was about to peer around the corner when the man stepped forward into the alley.

“You’re in danger,” he said. “You need to come with me.” Katie was momentarily paralyzed. The man had caught up to her so quickly. He moved so fast that she was in a stronghold before she was able to assume a fighting stance. She struggled but he was as strong as stone. He easily picked her up so her feet were 6 inches off the ground.

“I’m serious and we don’t have time to debate. Come with me or you’re not going to make it. There are some bad people out there who want what you took.”

Katie knew she didn’t have any other option at that moment. She couldn’t break his hold and he seemed willing to carry her if she didn’t participate.

“Ok, let’s go. But who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Hunter but we don’t have a lot of time for more questions. Here’s how we’re going to play this. We’re going to look like a romantic couple and walk back the way we came. They won’t be expecting you to be with someone since you were alone, and they certainly won’t expect you to go toward the museum, not after what you just did. Take off your jacket and let down your hair so you won't look like an antiquities expert anymore.” He patted his pockets and handed her a pair of sunglasses. “These might help too.” He said.

“How do you know other people are after me? How do they know what I've done?” Katie demanded.

“I'm not sure they know what you have, but whoever they are, they had people watching the entry doors and when you ran out of the museum so quickly, it seemed suspicious and now they're looking for you,” he answered.

Katie gave him a withering look, “I ran out of the museum because I noticed you were watching me!”

Katie could hear a commotion out on the street. It sounded a little ways away but getting closer. She believed him now; people were after her. She quickly removed her jacket, released her hair from the ponytail and put on the sunglasses. Hunter reached out for her hand and they quickly exited the alley and walked back towards the museum. Katie could see the people who were searching for her. She could count three of them on the block. They had tried to blend in with the normal citizens out walking on a wonderful warm day, but they were scanning the street from left to right and back again. No window shopping and no talking to anyone around them. She assumed there was at least that same number searching on the museum block as well. All of a sudden she was grateful for Hunter’s presence. It would have been difficult to evade that many men. But it seemed crazy to walk right back into the lion’s den by heading toward the museum. She was concerned about Hunter and who he was, but she didn't have a better option at the moment. Not to mention that his grip on her hand, although not painful, was like a vise. So who was he and why was he helping? In fact, was he really helping her?

Katie and Hunter continued to hold hands as they walked toward the museum. As one of the searchers came near them, Hunter turned toward a department store window and pointed something out to Katie. Katie and Hunter were both facing the shop window as the searcher walked by. They were able to watch him through the reflection on the glass while appearing to be looking at the items in the window. The searcher passed by them without much more than a passing glance. Katie felt more confident that they looked like the rest of the people that were window shopping on the main street.

“We need to go back in the museum,” Hunter said.

“What? My orders were to steal the ring, not put it back!” Katie said.

“I know. You’re orders were to steal the ring, but my orders were to use the ring once you stole it. By having two of us involved without knowing each other, it made the mission easier to complete. We only had to focus on our individual parts. My orders were to look for the only woman in the Antiquities Audit Group that was scheduled for today and to take the ring she stole to the Steltzer Exhibit.”

“If your orders were to take the ring from me, why did you bring me back with you?” Katie demanded.

“You were in danger. I would have taken the ring from you but the others were already onto you. You're lucky I found you first. They wouldn’t have been gentle when they couldn’t find what you took. It was easier to take you with me.”

“Are we just going to walk in the front doors?” Katie asked as they neared the museum.

“We’re just going to act like this is the first time we’ve been here. The Steltzer Exhibit is on the right wing of the museum, second alcove. We’ll head there directly after getting a pamphlet of exhibits at the Information desk. The guys looking for you will never expect us to waste time at the info booth. It helps us blend in.”

The museum's main hall was dark after coming in from the outdoors, and the cool air sent a shiver down Katie’s arms. They picked up a pamphlet from the info booth, smiled at the person behind the counter, and headed toward the exhibit.

“What is in the Steltzer Exhibit that needs the Magician’s Ring?” Katie asked Hunter.

“Apparently the Magician’s Ring is a key. We need to find the statue of Ranfuld. The statue requires the key. From there, the orders weren’t real clear. Just bring back what the statue provides.”

Katie and Hunter turned into the alcove for the Steltzer Exhibit. It was not a large exhibit so there were not many items that could be the statue of Ranfuld. They separated and quickly searched the exhibit. There were three statues. One was twelve feet tall and in the shape of a fierce warrior. The second was of a woman in a flowing gown and merely ten feet tall. The last was a statue of a small boy with a book in his hand. At the bottom of the statue was a plaque that read “Ranfuld - the boy who decides”.

“This is it,” Katie said. “Where does the ring go?”

“I’m not sure, let’s take a good look at the statue. I’ll take the back and you take the front. We need to be quick.” Hunter glanced at the opening of the alcove. Katie knew it wouldn’t be long before the people searching for them would be back at the museum. They could even be here now if they had realized they weren’t on the street. Hunter bent down to look at the back of the statue. Katie did the same to the front. She started at the plaque and slowly worked her way upward. When she got to the face of the statue she gasped.

“I’ve found where the ring goes,” she said.

Hunter moved to the front of the statue. The boys face was shaded by the hat that was carved on his head. What hadn’t been noticeable until bending down to look at the statue was that the eyes of the statue were actually made of gemstones. One was still in place, but the other was missing. The gemstone in place was a Tigers Eye. The Magician’s Ring was Ranfuld’s other eye.

“Are you ready?” Hunter asked Katie. “I don’t know what’s going to happen when we put the ring into position.”

Katie could hear what appeared to be several people walking quickly down the right wing corridor. She knew they didn’t have much time before they were found.

“Let’s do it.” She said. She looked at the statue and realized that the empty eye had been filled in with putty. She pulled her knife out of the sheath and began to gently scrape at the putty. Katie regulated her pressure on the statue so it was no heavier than that of air blowing from the cooling vents. She knew that the security monitors recorded every shift in pressure and force.

She could hear the footsteps coming closer. “We don’t have much time. I’m going to have to put the ring in now.”

She pulled the Magician’s Ring from her pocket. She glanced at the Tiger’s Eye in the statue and lined up the ring so that the Tiger’s Eye design matched the statues eye. Katie carefully pushed the ring into the statue. As she pushed, she felt something click into place. In the next moment, the book that the statue was holding seemed to flip its page. As it did so, Katie could see that the book actually held a compartment. Katie reached down and pulled the small worn papyrus book from the compartment. Hunter stood next to her but watched the main corridor.

Katie pulled the eye out of the statue and the statue’s book flipped back which closed the compartment. She shoved the ring and the book in her cargo pants pocket. Right then a couple of men that Katie had seen on the street came into the exhibit at a run. Hunter had been just a little bit faster. He had Katie in an embrace and was just leaning down to kiss her. Katie's eyes opened wide with surprise and a small gasp escaped her.

He glanced over at the men and then back at Katie and said “I guess we’ll have to find our privacy somewhere else.”

Katie recovered from the shock and jolt of attraction she had felt. She played her part and hugged him back and smiled. They sauntered out of the alcove leaving the men uncertain.

Katie and Hunter exited the museum and quickly hailed a cab. Once settled in the backseat, Katie pulled the book out of her pocket. She opened it up but couldn’t read the text. She pulled the ring out and held it over the book. The light from the ring passed through the Tiger’s Eye and made the book decipherable.

“Good work Agent Jones, you have completed your final Sig Ops exam.” Katie read out loud.

“Congratulations,” Hunter said with a quick grin. “Partner.”