The Power of A Flat Character

Hey kids! Today’s blog is all about writing, specifically pinpointing a very prevalent problem novelists face.

Flat characters.

Now, most of my novels are character driven. That is to say, I begin with a person. A beautifully flawed and imperfect hero who has a problem. Hopefully a big problem. (If they don’t have a reason to cry, by God, I’ll give them one!) And normally, not to pat myself on the back, I can write a pretty interesting character. Someone readers want to follow through the ups and downs of plot arcs.

And yet…

When I found myself mired in yet another round of editing my latest novel, wondering why nothing was working and everything seemed so boring and flat in nearly all of my scenes, I realized the story was trying to support dead weight. That is…my character was not providing any sort of flame to heat the story. They were just being pulled along by their circumstances. She was the equivalent of a wet blanket draped across a closeline, pulling both ends of it down in the middle.

I started this novel many years ago around a situation. And the situation was driving the plot. Instead of my character driving the story, she was just a passenger. Not only does that make everything in writing your novel a struggle, it also makes it less interesting for your readers. No one wants to know about the girl sitting complacently in the back seat. They want to know who in the hell is driving the car and how close it is to the cliff.

All the rounds of editing were wasted in trying to make the scenes and plot more vibrant but it never seemed to be enough. Because it couldn’t carry itself and her lazy ass too. A flat character, lacking depth, quirks, a solid core of values or lack thereof, is like an empty billboard in the middle of a field. Taking up the view without contributing to it.

So I’m back to the drawing board and today, I’m going to start it right. I’m starting with a detailed account of just who this girl is and what drives her. If it’s not interesting enough then I’m going to try out some weird shit until that awe inspiring ‘ah-ha’ hits me between the eyes. And then I’ll re examine every page of her story to see if she’s behaving the way she would and saying the things she should. The story will change, scenes will change, her interaction with others and the direction they head will change. I’ve got a ton of work ahead of me.

It’s going to be like starting over and I’m a little disheartened by that. But if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and I’m not ready to give up on her just yet.

After all, she does know how to shoot, bakes the best biscuits in the county, and can shear an angora goat in under a minute-thirty.

(By the way, the world record for sheep shearing is 37.9 seconds. Goats take longer, because they’re feisty and require a more careful ‘clipping’ technique.)

more you know

Don’t be lazy. In the same way certain Robin Hood actors wouldn’t learn a British accent (ooo, Kevin Costner BURN!) don’t half-ass your main character. They should carry the story, not drag it down.

What are some of your favorite character development tools?

VerseDay 6-20-19

Good Morning!

I’m so pleased and excited to feature this stunning contribution by Jennifer Carr for your weekly dose of poetry.

Jennifer Carr lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her partner and two children. She is an EMT, Firefighter and Poet. When she is not working at the local hospital or firehouse, she spends way too much time (is there every enough time?) reading and writing poetry.

Her poetry has been published in print by Triumph House Poetry With a Purpose and in many anthologies. Her poetry has been published on-line most recently in the Organic Journal ‘Under the Basho’ in the Modern Haiku section.

Jennifer loves flying by her own wings and looks for any opportunity to soar to new heights. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @PoetryHaiku13 (https://twitter.com/Poetryhaiku13).

Jennifer can be found on Facebook as Jennifer Carr Munoz or on Instagram.

Enjoy!

 

The Map to Motherhood

Traveling on a good solid trail until a bump in the way
led me to a dangerous detour of winding twists and turns.
The route becoming more rocky – I never saw the speed limit sign
warning me to slow down so I continued speeding ahead
never realizing I was lost and alone even though I was about to crash.
Even when I came to the crossroads I still disappeared
into the shadows where thunderstorms washed away
any chance of me finding my way back home.
I stopped looking over my shoulder
as my dreams disappeared into grey skies
along with the the compass and my sense of direction
all hope seemed lost until one day a miracle happened.

green mountain
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

There was a ray of hope, a small ray of sunlight
beamed onto my path – I felt it and I followed it.
A heartbeat that was felt long before
his heart began to beat. He brought me somewhere
out of nowhere breaking into old lost forgotten dreams.
In a universal moment I was dancing in a different direction
towards tomorrow’s bright promise the compass that carved a new path
he was the map that led me to motherhood.
The son I would come to know as my “Milagro.”

Roller Coast

Writers, man.

We live deliciously. And when I say that, I mean that we often tend towards the magnificence of highs and lows. I’ve always been more partial to the belief that artists, musicians, writers, poets and the like tend to live life on the shorter wave-length side of things.

Imagine life as a string. We all get the same length of string. Pin it down to one side of the desk. Now, give it a nice, soft undulation of a small lake and see where it lands. That’s a good example of a typical life.

Take another string, same length, same starting point, and make those undulations like the waves of the ocean, impressive highs and catastrophic lows.  The ocean string runs out far before the lake string. This is the life of a creative.

Does that mean we die sooner? Not necessarily. In some extreme cases (think Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix) death was aided in his cause by the use of drugs or alcohol. But it begs the question, why do such creative geniuses seem to expire sooner?

I have an unsupported theory that living in a creative mind isn’t easy. Often, it’s a discombobulated place, filled with wild fantasy, grim darkness, and a dash of bipolar tendencies. The fantastical neurons are on overdrive and move in spiraling thought storms that are often uncontrollable or at best frustratingly elusive.

That’s not an easy brain to live in.

We may scoff at Hemingway’s whiskey or Stephen King’s cocaine but it’s hard to make quick judgments when we’ve all had to deal with voices in our heads, characters doing whatever-the-damn-well-they-want, plot failures and to top it off, the cycles of elation and rejection that line this path we’ve chosen (willingly or not).

Writing can be hard on the heart.

We get diagnosed with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional disorders or other mental health issues. And I’m prone to believe that part of that comes from a society and educational system that values the boxed in test score measures than the immeasurable brain power involved in creative and critical thinking.

When we’re standing at the precipice of throwing our work into the world, firing out the query letters, calling editors and agents, pitching novels, or even entering contests, the mountains of hope and valleys of despair can be wretched chemical surges that amplify the already swirling thunderstorms in the creative mind.

No wonder we are driven to seek out the numbing magic of fermented fruit or dried poppy milk. We’re seeking to elongate the valleys and peaks.

Unfortunately for the human body, those distractions are just that…distractions. Bandaids over too deep a wound.

My point is this, writer, creator, artist with vividly full skull… you are a colorful, magical, beautiful soul, who’s gift comes at the cost of a little sanity. You will see things and know things the world at large is not ready to see or know.

They may call you a dreamer.

But you’re not the only one.

Surround yourself with people who get it. Who know when you need to pontificate in unruly and unrelated thought strings out loud once in awhile, and who understand when you want to stay quietly tucked into a corner avoiding eye contact. You know… other vividly full skulls.

Find your weirdos and keep each other on the gentle undulation side of things, so that when your mind and talent have created in the frothing whirlwind, you can bring your ideas, books, poems, articles, and novels, to the world while standing on solid ground.

When you are in the fire of creating, let it burn.

Then cull your flames with rest, and good food, and time away so that you have the fuel to burn for a long, long, long time to come.

VerseDay 6-13-19

Hello Poetry lovers…or maybe you’re just poetry dabblers. Whatever the case, and your current thoughts on the boiled-down marvel of words, here’s today’s poem. Share it, comment on it, like it or don’t.

Again, still open for submissions. I’m super excited to be featuring a beautiful poem next week from Jennifer Munoz, so stay tuned for that!

Enjoy!

 

The World on Two Legs

If you knew the tremulous

white water that thrashes

against the rocky shores in my brain

When faced with your tear-stained cheeks.

If you knew the worry, and sleepless dark,

I live in for the sake of your safety

If you knew that you were my only shore

If you knew

You my solid ground

If you knew the depths of love

The die-for-you-love

The beat-for-you

Rise-For-You

Live-for-you

Love

That arrived, right on time

with the pushing pain

The tearing and bloodied welcome

Sweaty brow, trembling thighs, weak from

40 weeks of creating

Such a miraculous being.

If you knew, If you really knew…

You’d never question how beautiful, how perfect

you are.

Old Stomping Grounds and New Crossroads

How does the song by Dylan go?

You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.

Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.

Things change.

The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.

The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.

Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.

Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.

Some things don’t change.

And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.

Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.

My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.

But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.

So I can’t agree with her.

The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.

I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.

Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.

 

VerseDay 6-6-19

Good evening.

Here’s a little wanderlust inspired snippet to remind you to get outside and notice. There are no small things.

 

 

Fae
How the acrid hamlets of beneath-log worlds beckon

To faerie hordes seeking cheap rent. 

While the construction noise of flicker-rattle interrupts the raven’s sky rage rant,

And fae folk scowl with tinker noses scrunched.

Micha’s golden fish scales, peppering paths,

like midas scattered his trailing tears.

And though foolish told to low-lying men in suits,

Lie they glittering, priceless to me 

and the passing of my staggered step. 

I would wedge my heart beneath the logs, and gladly sublet.

Standing at Attention

Hello Beautiful-stuffers,

I missed last week’s blog due to some conflicts with my reason to care, but I’m back again with a stirring edition of The Beautiful Stuff and today, I’m talking about kids. Particularly the three to eight crowd whom I typically work with in my karate classes. You see, this week is testing week.

It’s the exciting hours when those little bright-eyed darlings bound out on the floor (hopefully remembering to potty first and bow upon crossing the threshold) to ‘earn’ their brand new belt and no doubt bragging rights the next day.

Now heading the school’s instruction team is a stoic former Marine and a stalwart of rules and order on the floor. Absolutely excellent in the face of a rowdy teen or an unsure adult in need of the structure and control.

Absolutely useless and frustrated in the face of the giggling, juggling mass of pent up life force.

And testing time is rarely different.

Though the potential for their future of order and restraint is glimpsed (and I suppose that’s why they come to the school in part) some of the instructors will roll their eyes at the still inadequate control. While I stand in the back and  lament the beauty of their childhood being chipped away.

I was told repeatedly that “the Dragons class will eat you alive”. Both male instructors said so, shaking their heads and trying to bury the horrors of war. I nodded, in that reassuring way you do when someone has no idea.

Son (I call them son because I’m grow’d up over them by a few good years), I’m a mom. And on top of that, I’m a mom that actually enjoyed the ages of my daughters when I had to staunch nose picking while watching them ping-pong off the couch and sing “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs. Every day. All day. Seven days a week, most nights, and EVERY vacation.

So when those little bouncy balls landed on line tonight, wiggling in their gis until their belts untied themselves, and the jaws of less-seasoned warriors clenched, I glowed. I smiled. I adored and dote on.

Want to know why?

One of the greatest beautiful moments in life is when the life in us cannot be contained in man-made illusions of order. It’s in the misdirection and distraction. It’s the exuberance and unconditional love. It’s all that we lose as we age, either by the weights of life tying us down, or from being told repeatedly to stand straight and stop wiggling.

Ok. I understand that order has to exist. Ask any of the poor souls on I-25 while the uninformed attempt to merge. We do have to learn order and self-control. Or everyone would just live on cake and would never go to work, and we’d get into fights and stray from our homes… I’m not saying that order isn’t important.

But order imposed on a mind still fluttering like a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow, is like trying to…well catch a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow. At some point. You need to just let go and enjoy the ride and the sunlit flash of pure color. Keep them safe, keep them engaged, and love every odd-ball story and uncontrolled giggle.

I hope you realize I’m not just talking about from kids here. From the people in your life. Encourage, especially the adults in your life (You TOO reader), to barrel through it all with a bit more frivolity and joy.

Sometimes we’ve been so long from it that we’ve forgotten how. It’s not so hard to find your way back. Here are some things that may help:

Go barefoot in the grass

Dig for worms, put them back in the garden.

On the way to your car from the grocery store, work up a good speed and hop on the back of your grocery cart…ride it all the way to the car.

Say no. To them. To yourself…to every “how to be perfect” blog or article you read.

Read the comics first and throw the rest of that shit away.

Go for a bike ride with your kids around the block and name your bike like the noble stead it is.

Tell a dirty joke.

Laugh at dirty joke.

Laugh at a fart.

Fart (and pull the covers over your spouse’s head so that they may truly enjoy it…if your marriage is really meant to last it won’t matter. If it matters well…then I’m going to let you think about that for awhile)

Belch in front of your kids, and follow it with a “Holy cow! That was awesome!”

Grab a bowl of lucky charms and watch some cartoons (Teen Titans is my fav these days).

Wiggle

Dance

Sing “Sweet Caroline” LOUDLY out your car window at the stop light. Those who don’t join in or at least smile are to be pitied.

Never say no when a child wants a hug.

Always kneel down to meet them, their perspective is so much better anyway.

Tell people you love them.

Tell them you love them without needing it to mean anything more than just what it is.

Move on.

Forget.

Someday, remember just the good bits, fondly.

You see, kids and older people get what we’ve forgotten. That the beauty of life comes from the dancing in chaos, not the standing still on line.

Still, go potty before you try the standing still…it does help the wiggles.

 

VerseDay 5-30-19

Belated is better than be-not-at-all-ed? Okay, I’m a little loopy from a day of summer kick offs and emotional rollercoasters from various areas of my life. Here’s what I got. They can’t all be pretty.

Don’t forget to send me your stuff…seriously. I will print it.

 

 

Amend

Sometimes the battle cry at end of day,

Is nothing more than a whimper

a sigh.

A pitiful resignation

Of body into sheets and tired eyelids pressing

 

Sometimes the battle cry at end of day,

Is the knife you did not take up,

The pills still stacked in unopened bottles

The liquid in bottles still stoppered,

House loud with the unopening of vessel

Human or otherwise.

 

Sometimes the battle cry at end of day,

Is the giving into the aching vice of bone

And the people we cannot change

And the problems we cannot solve,

It is a cry of letting go,

A world we cannot Amen-d

VerseDay 5-23-19

Enjoy today’s VerseDay and be sure to send me your poetry, essays, thoughts and musings for consideration in The Beautiful Stuff’s 2019 Poetry Anthology aptly named “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019.

Send your work for consideration in the body of an email to: sereichert@comcast.net, with “POETRY SUBMISSION” in the Subject line, along with a brief bio and your website/promotional information.

And now this….

 

When you see me again

 

When you see me

Again

I will be much changed.

I will not be the girl you knew

I will be something

Strange and fierce.

 

The calm of sensuality

That you cannot touch

Hunger you cannot satiate

And when you see me,

You will ache to know me

But will not comprehend.

Cannot comprehend

The ways in which I have left this space

 

When you see me

You will know,

The river you cannot swim

The depth of mystery

And love

You only dipped

Fingertip

in

You cannot

Slide across my surface

or touch to feel me

anymore.

 

When you see me

I will have shed you as old skin

Left behind, pinched

between rock and ground

The ghostly outline, honeycombed in dirt

The woman who knew you

Has dropped away the shell of your empty

Affection

 

When you see me again,

You will not know me.

I will be much changed.

Strange and fierce.

An untouchable,

Incomprehensible

Ache

 

 

 

 

 

Wyoming Writers Conference

 

Hey friends. This week is a little hectic with projects, both nearing completion and those just getting started, so today’s blog will be short.

I just wanted to let you know about an awesome conference coming up in Laramie in June (the 7th-9th) hosted by Wyoming Writers, Inc.

Though I’m based in Fort Collins, Wyoming is my home state and I’m excited to be returning there next month to meet new friends and writers as well as attend some stellar classes.

Some of you have heard me talk about Jovan Mays and Angie Hodapp (Nelson Literary Agency), two of my favorite presenters. They will both be there and giving inspirational and technical advice for all levels of writers.

In addition to a seasoned and talented lineup of presenters, I have snuck in as a presenter on Saturday and will be giving a little intro on which publishing path is right for you. (Ahem…the official title is: “Out In The World: Publishing Your Novel in Today’s Market” Fancy, huh?)

Registration is still open and they have several options to choose from, depending on your budget and time. Local authors’ books will also be available for purchase (if you’re in the market for some steamy paranormal romance…along with I’m sure much higher-quality books).Here’s the link if you’d like to check out what they’ll be offering, from classes to the Keynote speaker (the talented Brad Watson).

Wyoming Writers Conference 2019

If you do attend, I’d love to meet and talk writing until our little introvert hearts can’t take anymore. Feel free to look me up while you’re there.

Do yourself and a local writing chapter a favor and join us at this fun and dynamic offering.

Until next week, happy writing!