When Life Gets in The Way

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My wife’s recent and serious medical issues caused a downshift to writing. Time slipped away between caring for Linda, our animals (including proxy ownership of a rescue puppy), preparing meals, and the Eight Hour Grind of earning wages.

Reminded by a friend of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” I did what I could, wrote in scraps of time when opportunity presented itself, because, after all, I must write to ward off the insanity threatening to creep in and devour me.

(Interestingly, during my research, I learned the John Lennon quote is not his at all, but first appeared in the January, 1957, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes section, penned by Allen Saunders:

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
—Publishers Syndicate).

Sitting down and concentrating on creation proved a luxury beyond my means. I still made notes, jotted down ideas for future writing and posts, but the ability to complete a piece of writing (even a story scene) evaded me beyond the regretfully inconsistent Knights of Writ posts. Although meager in number this year (medical issues started on New Year’s Eve), I am grateful for the Blog and the many followers who helped keep me going.

Lack of writing is not and was not Writer’s Block, which does not exist (more on this in a future post), but time restraints, pure and simple.

I believe in daily writing goals, be it 500 words or an uninterrupted hour: daily is the operative word. But sometimes life gets in the way.

Regardless of what life throws at you, write when time allots, whether five minutes, a half hour, or 90 seconds to jot a note or observation. And don’t beat yourself up. Regardless of the time you have (or the lack), keep the writing wheels greased, no matter how meager. When the maelstrom abates, you will be prepared, and the mind will not have become a rusty and neglected tool.

While besieged by life, note the feelings bombarding you (anger, despair, helplessness, confusion, etc.) as they are fodder for your characters—your emotions are the best source to enhance the readers’ experience with the people you create.

My mind remained active throughout the ordeal, dodging back and forth between preparing Linda’s medications and observing emotions to imbue into a character. During showers, entire scenes played through my mind, hints of character’s subdued emotions and secrets. Despite not writing at the moment of inspiration, which I encourage whenever possible, even now, weeks later, the impressions are cemented into my subconscious, huddling there for future use. This is as it should be.

As to Linda’s current health, she rebounded with great vigor—as I write, she is gardening—and her condition is now a matter of maintenance. For that I am grateful, and though worrisome while in the throes of tests, doctors, and still more tests, the events and emotions are available for future writing. After all, for writers,

Life is what happens between writing it down.

And now, excuse me while I draw forth one of those too-close-to-home emotions and pour it onto an unsuspecting character. I wonder how they will react?

See you on the next page,

Rick

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The Ultimate Character Checklist

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When developing a character, it’s essential to know “who” that person is, what they represent, and their current journey.

A Character Sketch helps the process, but is only a springboard to creating well-rounded characters; answering particular questions illuminates all aspects of the character—it is then up to you to show the reader what you wish to highlight. Much of what you know about your character will not be revealed, but it is important to be intimately aware of the people you create.

I developed this Character Stretch from a wide variety of sources, altered to fit my needs, with the sole intent of trying to improve my characters. The sketch has evolved, and because of the vast resources used (some surely lost to memory), I hold no bond to it. For that reason, feel free to copy and paste the Character Sketch into a document file, and add or change to satisfy your own purposes.

Characters are made up of three parts: The Outer Person (what the reader sees), which I refer to as the Skeleton; the Interested Person (the actions the character takes and the reader watches unfold), represented by the Flesh; and the Internal Person (what the character, and thus the reader, feels), the Breath of the character.

Character Sketch

Outer Person—The Skeleton

Name, gender, age, general appearance (height, weight, body type), profession and/or skills, education level, family and friend associations with background as necessary to the story; where they grew up (Texan or young girl from Bali), and the particular culture that helped shape them.

Choices of clothing and other possessions (a man who owns a truck or a college freshman driving a BMW) indicates status and is accompanied by layers of attitude; jewelry or not; tidy or disheveled? Somewhere in between?

Gestures or quirks (tilting of head, rubbing hands, brushing at hair, a limp, etc.), not to be overused; if applicable, does the character always put one sock and shoe on before the other, or both socks followed by both shoes? Why?

Speech patterns: slow and thought-out, fast and free of societal filters, contradictions or not, vocabulary and choice of words, sarcastic, impatient, accommodating, condescending—there’s a slew of different reactions and dialogue venues, and you will probably use several in different circumstances for each character.

Paraphernalia and indispensables (purse, wallet, watch, sword, revolver, etc.).

Interests—The Flesh

Favorite and least favorite things to do–how they spend idle time; pet-peeves and prejudices; how they think they appear to others (and how others view them), true or not; to what lengths will they go to accomplish their desires (lie, cheat, and connive, or deal with life’s set-backs and move on).

Is the character’s general attitude haughty, reserved, humble, daring, loyal, over-emotional, analytical to annoyance (we can all be many of these, and so should your characters); typically a good person or one out for themselves (a little of both shows contrast and adds dimension).

Work ethic: what motivates them to succeed and/or do better; what things or scenarios intrigue them? Do they like their job, or tolerate it while harboring deep-seated dreams?

World view? Do they root for the underdog or do they want to associate with the top dog; me against the world or me helping the world, ie., do they feel an obligation to help the less fortunate? What is the purpose of life and their place in it? Is there a God, or does science answer the questions surrounding existence?

Emotions—The Breath

What the character feels when:

They witness someone being mistreated, and what do they do? What do they think and how do they react when they see an animal being mistreated (one’s feeling about animals—dirty, adorable, useful, indifferent—speaks volumes about a person); when someone falls down, do they instantly try to help or stand back and assess the situation before acting?

How do they feel (and act) when they don’t get their way, when they can’t convince another and the outcome is important, at least to them.

What makes them happy/sad? How do they react to their own emotions and the emotions of others? Empathize, sympathize, or neither?

What internal dialogues do they adopt (determined to do better, or wallow in self-pity); do they like who they are?

Their opinion of people outside their economic/social strata: do they strive to be like them or abhor the success of others when they are struggling to make ends meet?

Do they settle for second best or yearn for the best? Do they care about the Jones’s or not in the least? How do they compare their life to others? Do they buy in to media hype or think only fools pay attention?

What do they value? Money, love, friendship, making their own decisions or counting on others to lead them? Loner or social butterfly? Drawn to cliques and the “in group” or avoids them?

Thoughts on life’s purpose and death.

Frugal or wasteful? Planning for the future or living every moment like their last?

Describe a character’s rage, pain, fear, or helplessness? How do they react (physically and internally) when beset by emotion? Do they control their feelings or let loose with tears, hurtful words, or do they fly into a tirade.

When developing a character, place that person in a tense or stressful situation and see how they react. These exercises are great for getting to know your characters, and while the instances you create may not be used in your writing, they just might. Let yourself go to discover who this person is and what floats their boat.

Some writers suggest interviewing your character; try and see if it works for you.

Working through different scenarios will enhance the relationship you have with your characters, and will help readers see them better.

You may not answer all the questions, and that’s okay—the purpose is gaining a better understanding of your character. You may find, like me, that the Character Sketch is filled in bit by bit as your writing progresses.

I titled this The Ultimate Character Sketch, but it only fits that description if you modify to suit your own needs. Have at it and make it fun–writing should be enjoyable, after all.

See you on the next page,

Rick

P.S. I love the graphic at top of page, but I do think it needs the word, MORE, added.

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The Making of a Hero — Part 5

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Description is a Silent Tool

The last several weeks I have written about The Making of a Hero, focusing on three of four ways a writer brings the protagonist to life: through action, dialogue, and thoughts. The fourth, and no less important aspect, is description.

Description—within the context of your hero—is the Silent Tool sprinkled through the narrative, interspersed between the action, dialogue, and thoughts in such a way that adds to the character’s personality.

The first thing to understand about describing the viewpoint character is not how they look. The reader will develop a mental picture of the character no matter what you say about their physical features . . . mostly.

The worst possible scenario is having a character look into a mirror or glassy pond and describe what they see:

Mary gazed into the bathroom mirror to see auburn-streaked hair falling around a face she thought too pudgy, the eyes too recessed, the smile more a smirk that appeared disingenuous.

Some of the description works, but looking into the mirror does not. Instead, leave out the mirror and the words effectively tell the reader how Mary feels about herself:

Mary thought her cheeks too pudgy, the eyes too recessed, the smile more a smirk that appeared disingenuous.

The physical features are the least important information revealed to the reader. What we want is for the reader to know the main character, feel what they feel, see what they see, and thus, what the character thinks about the world they occupy.

A man exited the bathroom and started across the basketball court. He wore shorts and flip-flops, with large tattoos on each calf—Wiley Coyote on the left, Yosemite Sam on the right—sunglasses pushed up onto his shaved head, and swaggered as if an exclamation point marking the words on the back of his shirt: Old Men Rule.

This description tells the reader as much about the viewpoint character’s perception of the man as the man himself. We “see” the man, but more importantly, the words “swagger” and “as if an exclamation point” speak more to the viewpoint character’s appraisal than the man himself.

Description can also be used to set the character’s tone. In the following example, the viewpoint character’s awareness of the world imprints his mood.

A dove’s mournful cooing broke the silence, followed by chirps and calls in a soothing musical symphony. A songbird’s lyrical, trilled melody beckoned a mate, silenced by a crow’s sudden cackle, echoed by other shrieking black birds until the calm morning lay shattered in angry tones.

Be cautious of using too much description within the narrative as it can pull the reader from the story’s forward movement. Some refer to too much description as Info-Dump or Back-fill Overload; the best way to avoid such problems is to sprinkle character description within the action of the story—an enhancer, not a distracter.

See you on the Next Page,

Rick

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The Making of a Hero — Part 4

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Thoughts Whisper Truer Than Description

In the last post I wrote, “Heroes are not wimps, nor indecisive, and usually not overly inner-reflective.” Yet, people are all these things and more, so why shouldn’t the characters exhibit these traits?

Your hero (like real people) can and should have doubts, harbor prejudices, and even be a little self-absorbed . . . in their thoughts.

While the hero acts and speaks in ways demonstrating confident forward movement, inside their head they can be a tangled mess.

The contrast between “thoughts” and “actions” help illustrate a complex character, a person at odds with themselves, one rattled by internal conflict.

Conflict is critical within the fiction framework, and a superb way to show a character’s unsettled mental state is within the natural ebb and flow of confidence.

A person with internal fear and doubts about their abilities, the chance of success, or even a reason to continue, becomes a hero when they push aside debilitating emotions and battles to right a wrong, especially when one of the battles is against their very nature.

In my novel, The Returning, a disheartened and disillusioned immortal yearns to (finally) die the last time and sleep with the Fathers. The challenge was to show his inner struggle of having no purpose (that he recognizes), but still give him a strong constitution—the “hero touch.”

In the example below, the protagonist has died while a young soldier, and has just now realized he has “returned” to the body of a Prince.
——————-
Inhabiting a Prince, whose responsibility and future hinges on ruling an entire country. He wanted to run, to hide, to live this life—like most lives before—in seclusion, with the sole hope of dying one last time and leaving the emptiness of his pointless existence once and forever. Let me have rest.

He clenched his fists and forced his concentration outward. Thoughts shifted to what he must do to survive, what he had always done.
——————–
Inner thoughts are italicized. Even though much of the first paragraph in the example describes the character’s thoughts and feelings, I decided to only italicize the first and last sentence; I did this to make it easier for the reader. Reading an entire italicized paragraph can be tedious, and as shown, unnecessary—the reader understands the character is thinking “He wanted to run and hide . . . pointless existence once and forever.”

Although the story line is in third person past tense (He wanted to run . . .), the italicized thoughts are in first person, present. Using this altered viewpoint pulls the reader into the immediacy of the situation and the character, without the usual viewpoint-verb tense-switch distraction.

Another example of using italics to introduce the thought process, and how the “regular” type face that follows enhances the main character’s disposition:

What the hell am I doing? He shouldn’t have entered the bar, or even gotten out of his car, but knew it was too late now–Jared had spotted him.

Working on a character’s psyche can be great fun, and used intermittently, enhances the reader’s understanding of the “person” you created.

A warning: if the character’s “soul-searching” is explored too often or constitutes the same questions, your hero will (in the reader’s mind) turn into a brooding puddle of emotions whose actions will be derailed by the inner “poor me” syndrome, and nobody cares about heroes feeling sorry for themselves.

Make your hero strong, but vulnerable, and you are well on your way to making a character readers will identify with and cheer.

See you on the Next Page,

Rick

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The Making of a Hero — Part 3

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Words Express Clearer Than Thoughts

“Shut up and sit down.”
“Please be quiet and find your seats.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will kindly take your places. Quietly, please.”

Three distinctly different people spoke the words in the examples, and each addressed a unique audience. In the first, perhaps a drill sergeant or caustic CEO; the second might be a high school teacher cajoling his students; the third sounds like a preacher getting ready to start a round of church Bingo.

People speak differently given their personality, background, and situation. This is especially true of your hero.

Heroes are not wimps, nor indecisive, and usually not overly introspective: their yea is yea, their nay is nay—wishy-washy does not suit a hero. Heroes do not whine about their lot in life, or bemoan that things are unfair—their speech reflects this attitude.

When confronted, your protagonist does not respond apologetically with, “But, gee, Captain, I only led the men over the west ridge because I thought it was a better choice.” Instead, a hero says, “Captain, I led the men the best way.”

Notice the confrontation in the example—dialogue is best served with a side of tension, or at the least, a dollop of disagreement.

Conflict is a required ingredient in fiction, and where better to demonstrate than people’s conversations?

The way people speak and the words they use define them, and it’s important to be aware of the subtle differences when giving your characters a voice.

“I seen Billy at the car wash,” would not be uttered by an educated person (unless in mocking), nor would a person who did not finish sixth grade say, “It’s unfathomable to consider global warming untrue when you view the collected data,” (unless they are self-taught and you’ve previously shown this trait, as in the Matt Damon film, Good Will Hunting).

In the same way a King will be authoritative, a Priest may be demur, a commoner tentative when addressing one above their status. The words each say (and the way they say them) demonstrate their state of mind and their societal position.

Different people may say the exact same words, but their emphasis will alter, and thereby, better describe them and their peculiar views.

Italics can illustrate the differences. Read the following examples aloud with emphasis on the italicized word (and bold to make it easier to see).

What have you done?
What have you done?
What have you done?

Why are you going there?
Why are you going there?
Why are you going there?

Each asks the same question with a subtle difference, the italicized word highlighting the importance of the character’s concern, thus a peek deeper into their personality.

Contractions

Nowadays most people speak using contractions: I’m going to the store, we’re going to the movies, I’ll stay home with the kids. This was not always so. Historical novels seldom use contractions in speech.

I have a character (an educated scribe) that never uses a contraction, which gives him a more formal characterization. Other characters use contractions sometimes, some at every opportunity, each depending on the character illustrated and the scene circumstances. By the scribe not using a contraction—even when appropriate or even preferable—spotlights a portion of his personality.

Dialogue + Action = Deeper Characterization

Dialogue interspersed with an action beat speaks volumes about a character and their mood.

Jack crushed the beer can with one hand and tossed it aside. “I told you not to come back here.”

“But, why?” Julie took one step back, clutching her handbag, and remembered she had left the gun in the nightstand.

“I think you better tell me what happened,” Mike said, his hand reaching across the table like a snake coiling to strike.

“I thought you’d think that,” he said, laughing, “and so did ma.”

Clear and believable dialogue is essential to giving your characters life and showing the nuances that make David different than Frank.

If you find your characters sounding the same, go back to your Character Sketch and tweak something about their upbringing, world view, or education: each character needs to be unique, and most importantly, true to themselves.

Next Post: The Making of a Hero — Part Four: Thoughts Whisper Truer Than Description

See you on the next page,

Rick

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The Making of a Hero — Part 2

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Writers create and bring characters to life in four ways: through action, dialogue, internal thoughts, and description. In order of importance,

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Words Express Clearer Than Thoughts
Thoughts Whisper Truer Than Description
Description Is a Silent Tool

Although discussion will focus on each tool separately, two or more are often joined to enhance and clarify character depth: dialogue blended with movement “beats,” thoughts preceding action, etc.

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Characters begin as a skeleton. Many writers make a Character Sketch first, find an appropriate name, age, height, weight, job, world view, along with other traits and possessions—owning a sports car instead of a pick-up truck gives the reader a clearer glimpse of character—before sending their creation on their journey.

Next is time to add flesh to the skeleton to illustrate a character’s unique personality, along with a list of motivations, goals, and of course, a number of conflicts. The four tools accomplish this.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I am most interested in the protagonist, but even secondary characters, in order to be well-rounded and true, will require the same attention—minus the internal thoughts to spare the dreaded “viewpoint switch.”

What the protagonist does, and why, is the lifeline the writer tosses the reader. When pulled taut, the character’s actions draw the reader ever nearer until the reader is inside the character, experiencing a life previously unknown. The character—and thus, the reader—becomes the hero of your story.

How does the reader gain such intimacy with the character? The first is through the character’s actions.

James Scott Bell in his book, Revision and Self-Editing, explains one way to gain the reader’s sympathy, respect, and pointed view of your protagonist: it’s a screen writer’s term called the Pet-The-Dog-Beat.

To illustrate, Bell uses (among others) the movie, The Fugitive, to describe the method: in the scene where Dr. Kimble (played by Harrison Ford) is on the run, chased by a determined lawman, he’s in the hospital on a mission to prove someone else killed his wife. As a doctor, he notices a patient in distress, and takes precious time to reroute the groaning patient into surgery to save their life.

Kimble’s act to save a less fortunate puts him at risk and the actions submerge him into deeper trouble—a perfect example of character action pushing the plot rather than the weaker reverse.

My last post used an early scene from the Masterpiece Theater production of Poldark where the recipient of the character’s help actually was a dog, which fit nicely, I think, with Bell’s name for this useful little tool.

There are many ways a character’s actions reveal who they are, what they want, and why.

Whether your character is saving a kingdom or helping a friend get a date, heroes tend to be selfless, and their actions (both right and wrong) deepen the reader’s accessibility to their personality.

Heroes are flawed, just like real people. Your character will make decisions prompting action, and many will be either wrong or wrought with difficulties unperceived prior to being “in-the-middle-of-it.” The character’s actions, prompted by moral self-worth, feelings of what is right and/or necessary, are determined by the portrayal you, the writer, provide.

Is your character forthright to a fault, or reserved?
Does he instigate an argument/fight, or maneuver for peaceful resolution?
Do they walk into a crowded room down the center aisle unabashed, or slip in to a nearby wall?
Does she bat her eyes at the handsome bartender, or is her look direct, intense, and unwavering?

How you define your protagonist (coupled with their view of the world) will be executed through the actions.

Consistency is key. In whatever circumstance you plunge your character, ask yourself a set of questions to determine their logical action:

What goal do they want to reach, and what actions will bring about the result they wish (even if they do not succeed)?

Which character flaw is exploited by making the decision and taking action?

How is their action different from the actions of another character? (This will help separate characters to make the protagonist unique by comparison).

What new danger does the current action cause the protagonist?

Answering these types of questions (develop others for your own story and scene) will shine light on your Lead and their heroic nature while highlighting traits that are problematic for their well-being. Keep your hero acting against the world and his own innate tendencies and you will be well on your way to creating a memorable character readers will want to follow.

Next Post: The Making of a Hero — Part Three: Words Express Clearer Than Thoughts

See You on the Next Page,

Rick

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The Making of a Hero

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Most people are followers, sheep to use a Biblical reference. Your protagonist (also known as viewpoint character, he or she through whose eyes your world is illuminated) cannot be a sheep bleating through life, must not be, or your story will fail to engage the reader.

Your responsibility as a creator is, foremost, to engage the reader through the eyes of your main character; otherwise, the story—regardless of word skill or plotting prowess—will fail.

Create a hero, one who leads by example, a character others will gladly follow, and you have the nucleus of a successful story. Other story attributes must also be present, of course, but the protagonist is where all stories begin.

Your protagonist should, in some ways, exist apart from the world they occupy. By having the main character not part of the crowd, they take on a unique, larger-than-life appearance. How do you shine a bright light on the character you have chosen?

Focus on the character’s moral compass.

poldark

A good example of this is the Masterpiece Theater production of Poldark, a historical series based on the novels of Winston Graham.

Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall, England, after fighting in the war against the upstart Americans across the seas, and finds his father dead and his once opulent life teetering on ruin. Talk about conflict—poor Ross has many daunting obstacles.

In a scene early in the story, a group of blood-thirsty commoners rip the dog from a child’s arms, ready to pitch the poor mongrel into a circle against a teeth-baring dog intent on a fight. Amidst the leering people, the camera shows the smiles and licking of lips. The scene is a frightening one, especially for the child whose beloved pet will soon be killed.

Coming upon the jeering crowd, Ross pushes through, pulls the child from the grips of men restraining her, and barks for the people to stop and go about their business, thus saving the dog. The writer of the story has, in one scene, highlighted Ross Poldark’s moral compass.

That moral compass holds true through several plots and sub-plots of the ensuing story.

You must do the same. Pit your lead against the world, and make them battle to right the wrongs. That is their job, their purpose, and thereby a hero is born.

A hero is a person others admire, even if they do not like them.

Not every story’s protagonist is a hero, but even when creating an anti-hero, in some way there must be a barometer the reader can associate with, an understanding how and why a character does the things they do when faced by adversity.

My next post will explain the four ways writers create and show the heroism of the lead character.

See You on the Next Page,

Rick

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The Only Writing Goal Needed For 2017

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Hundreds of blog posts preaching goal-setting methods for writers have appeared the last weeks. They expound many of the same things, the obvious old-hats we read every year. I wrote such a blog post at the end of 2015.

Many of the suggestions are sensible and will help, but they all miss (or glaze over) the one problem all writers share, beginners and professionals alike.

The problem often ignored is all in your mind.

There lay the subterfuge needling the will to write, punching holes in plot developments, and pushing over cardboard characters like props on a stage.

Writers wear three hats: creator, reader, editor.

The problem writers share is confusing the third hat (editor) with one that should have never been bought, and certainly not worn—the critic hat.

The critic is the voice in your head that tells you writing is a waste of time. The critic is a sneaky bastard, the master of clichés, whispering “that’s been done a hundred times” or “nobody wants to read what you have to say” or “you will never have the necessary skills.” In effect, the critic is a doubter, a wet-blanket, a party-pooper, a liar.

That is not to say you should not be critical of your writing. Taking a critical approach to your prose (word choice, sentence structure, plot, character, etc.) is an essential aspect when wearing the editor’s hat.

The difference between the two? The editor is analytical, the critic is emotional (with a heavy dose of negativity). Adopting the editor and denying the critic is a matter of changing your attitude.

The problem I vow to master in 2017 is Mind-Set. It will take effort, and quite a few reminders throughout the hours and days ahead while hunched over my keyboard.

I have hung on my study wall two reminders that I am a writer: a copy of The Accomplice, my published short story, and the acceptance letter.

Those are my reminders. Yours might be a favorite quote from a published author or simply the words I AM A WRITER above the monitor. Perhaps you are not quite so bold, so you have inspiration on a wall to your side, or maybe on a wall behind which forces you to swivel in your chair when attacked by doubt.

Be bold, and go where you have never gone before—place your inspiration where you can readily view it as a constant reminder of what you wish to become. What, no inspirational reminder? Find something and make it your own.

Repeat after me:

I am a Writer.

Because I am a writer, I write whether convenient or not, regardless of my mood.

My skills will improve if I write; whining about why I can’t write makes me a better whiner. Effort extended will make me better at what I spend my time doing. Better Writer or Better Whiner? I Decide.

Know this: you have the skills to succeed, and any problems or mistakes in your writing can be fixed. Now go write, and become what you are destined to be.

See you on the next page,

Rick

No Writer is an Island — Two Years Later

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Two years ago I wrote of a special friend, Jeany, a retired English teacher, who helped edit my fantasy novel, The Returning. She spent long hours with no payment, with nothing other than a willingness to help me improve my writing skills. We met every couple weeks, spending an hour or two dissecting and improving my story. I have heard from friends I was not an isolated case, which made her invaluable and kind help even more special.

At a recent birthday party for a mutual friend (see, I do socialize, you doubters), Linda and I hoped to see Jeany, knowing her health had declined over recent months. Instead, we found that she had died three days earlier.

The last time I saw Jeany was on Mother’s Day when her daughter took her to the park and enjoyed an outdoor lunch under clear skies. As always, her warm smile and encouragement brought gratitude, and for the hundredth time, I thanked her for the invaluable help she so graciously showed me.

No writer is an island, I’ve said before, and Jeany proved that to me once again.

We writers are a solitary sort, often a requirement given our passion for the lonely creative process. However, what we write encompasses life and the people populating this crazy world, and one cannot adequately and truthfully portray a character’s dilemmas and foibles if we do not have a briefcase of information to draw upon—people provide the necessary information.

Jeany reminded me of that.

Knowing people and how they respond to disappointment, grief, joy and hope is what makes our stories real, our characters stout and full-bodied. Within people pumps motivations and dreams, but each manages them differently and for different reasons—it’s what makes us unique, and so should our characters be as well.

For this reason, we must live, we must mingle with humanity as they are the paints applied to the canvas of our stories.

During this time, when gathering with family and friends amidst toasts to the dreams of an upcoming new year, be on the lookout for character traits, instances, dialogue, the hopes and fears of the people around you—you may find interesting tidbits for a future story.

I can imagine Jeany leaning over to me while passing a platter of food: “Did you hear what they just said? That’s story gold.”

Knowing Jeany made me a better writer, and I hope a better person as well. Her enthusiasm for helping others “gain the power” of the writing craft and improving skills was her mantra, and her love of teaching was one of the catalysts for the creation of Knights of Writ.

Jeany emphasized we should not be alone, cannot be alone in our creation, and I will always remember her for that.

See you on the next page,

Rick

Writing — Whatever it Takes

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writing just do it

This morning I had a long discussion with myself about writing—the why’s, the how’s, the what for’s—and found I was talking to an idiot.

The idiot told me not to write today: “It’s too hard,” he whined. “I’m not ready.”

I nodded. Some days thoughts and ideas bubble forth faster than I can type, a fast-moving river carving new landscapes; other writing days resemble a muddy puddle—today was the latter.

The murky writing days are not caused by the proverbial Writer’s Block—ideas and sentences do exist in my mind—but pulling them from brain to page requires a will not damaged and lethargic.

“Maybe read a book,” the idiot suggested, and that made sense because reading often loosens the creative spirit and lubricates a tired will. “There’s also the Netflix movie that just arrived,” he added.

Brainless entertainment. “That sounds good,” I agreed, and as soon as I voiced the words, realized I was being manipulated. I sat up straight, fingers arched over the keyboard. “This is writing time, damnit!”

It was a dark and stormy night . . . redrum, redrum . . . It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . .

“It sure is the worst of times,” the idiot pointed out. “There’s not an original thought in your head.”

“I have my own thoughts,” I countered, a defensive resolve tightening through my shoulders,  “and they are unique to me. I have to share them.”

“Why?”

“Other writers may be having trouble right now. Perhaps I can help the same way you helped me?”

“What?”

“Having this conversation has opened the wellspring, you know, the writing tap is flowing again.”

“You used me?”

I couldn’t contain the smile. “That’s right. I started typing our conversation, and here I am, almost done with the blog. And it’s given me a new idea for my novel.”

“That’s pretty underhanded, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you, and I won’t, but when it comes to writing, whatever it takes to get the words down is fine with me. After all, you internal critics are idiots, so what does it matter?”

Now, off to work on that new idea for the novel . . . .

See you on the next page,

Rick

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