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Stories, when told well, are one of the most powerful forces in our world. They inspire us. They can help us discover ourselves, help shape who we become. And they can help us rediscover parts of ourselves, too. Even when we don’t know we’ve lost ourselves.

Here’s an illustration from my own experience: with a Harry Potter school event approaching, a friend mentions re-reading the series. I think it’s a great idea and decide to as well–I haven’t read them in years. Spring break is only a couple of weeks away, so I should have plenty of time. I borrow book 1 and begin reading. Then a week before spring break, my boyfriend and I break up–and we’d been talking of marriage in the future. As I continue reading the series, I’m readjusting my lifestyle and thinking patterns, processing our whole relationship.

Stories are one of the most powerful unseen forces on this planet. Rereading Harry Potter, I found aspects of the story I never realized were there. I’ve read those books numerous times and I still discover something new every time I read them. This time, I realized truths about relationships and found comfort in that it took Harry months to get over Cho, to look at her and feel no pain or longing. I was reaffirmed in the power and strength of friendship.

And I rediscovered my inner child, a part of me that makes me who I am and greatly influences my perspective of the world. I lost that part of myself while I was dating, even as I grew in other areas of who I am. I rediscovered my passion for reading YA novels and my reasons for wanting to write to that audience.

And another story only reaffirmed many of these things for me, especially in my writing. By now, I’d started to settle back into being single and learned again to be just friends with guys. I graduated and said goodbye to many wonderful lifetime friends, found a summer job, and moved into my own apartment.

Whisper of the Heart has one of the cheesiest endings ever, but it’s the middle of the movie that inspires me.

Mr. Nishi: Wait a minute, I’ve got something to show you (retrieves a rock from his cabinet). I think you’ll like this (hands Shizuku the rock) – take a look.

Shizuku: It looks like a rock.

Mr. Nishi: It’s a special kind of rock called geode. Hold it close to your eye and look inside – that’s right, like that. (Shines small torch beside stone, which lights up the green crystals inside)

Shizuku:(gasps) Look at that!

Mr. Nishi: Those crystals are called beryl. There are pieces of raw emerald still inside.

Shizuku: Aren’t emeralds worth a lot of money?

Mr. Nishi: Sure, but they need to be cut and polished first. When you first become an artist, you are like that rock. You’re in a raw and natural state, with hidden gems inside. You have to dig deep down and find the emeralds tucked away inside you. And that’s just the beginning. Once you have found your gems, you have to polish them. It takes a lot of hard work. Oh, and here’s the tricky part – look at the crack in the geode.

Shizuku: OK (looks inside the top crack)

Mr. Nishi: You see the big green crystal there, you could spend years polishing that, and it wouldn’t be worth much at all. The smaller crystals are much more valuable. And there may even be some deeper inside, which we can’t see, that are even more precious …

This movie helped me realize that I’ve started to uncover the gems hidden inside me. Stories and relationships can do that, guys–uncover the gems inside us.

Stories often have more power than we realize. And the most powerful ones never leave us, but live on within us. Sometimes, revisiting a story we know well is what we need most. It can help us rediscover parts of ourselves.

And maybe we’ll learn something new, too.

 

What are some of the stories that have shaped you? Have you ever rediscovered a part of yourself through rereading a novel or series? Please share your thoughts below!

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Last week, I talked with you all about reader-character relationships. This week, we’re going to look at it from the author’s side. And honestly, I couldn’t have had a better day leading up to writing this post. Because my characters and I share bonds, and sometimes those bonds bring my own emotional baggage with them. But back to that later.

First, let’s explore the bonds that happen between writers and their characters. If you’re a writer, you have other people living in your head, telling you their story. And you listen. Whether you write down their story or not, those characters are there. And, in a sense, you talk to them. For some writers, this is just like having a conversation with another person. For others, it’s a little different, because you feel you’re just listening to their stories and aren’t really conversing with them. There might even be a third way out there I’ve never heard of.

I’m one of the latter, but as time’s gone on and I’ve been working on the second draft of a novel, I’ve realized that’s not necessarily true. We may not feel as though we’re actually conversing with our characters, but we do have a relationship with them, we do talk to them in a way. And we create bonds with them, however our brains work.

Throughout the past year, reading over the first draft of this story I wrote two years ago, I realized I’d learned a lot from these characters, from the story they’d told me. And when I was writing this draft, I had no idea that I’d go back two years later to read it… and realize I’d kind of been writing my own story. It’s different from what I experienced, but many of the things I learned and started to understand in the past year I wrote in that first draft. Weird.

As I’ve started to rewrite the novel, it’s been a fun process. And I figured I could use my own new relationship experiences to make the novel richer. At that point, I knew what it was to be in a relationship, but I didn’t know how it felt when that kind of relationship ended. But I didn’t think about it too much. I figured I’d deal with that problem when I got there.

Except my relationship ended much sooner than I got to that point in the novel. And now I’ve gotten to the point where two of my characters start a relationship. This is where I realized I had relationships with my characters, even though I’ve never talked to them like I’ve talked to a person. Because as I tried to tell their story, mine came to mind. And as I was thinking about that, I told them about it, in a way. And I’m going to be learning from them as I continue to push through writing this draft. I know that telling their story will help me come to terms and cope with mine.

That’s just my story though. I believe the adage all writers, and some readers, hear that says in each character is a piece of the writer, even if it’s the merest sliver. I saw that today. As I re-read some of my first draft, following my characters’ stories, I found some of myself in each of them. And I’m learning from them, because they’re still different from me.

I don’t believe any writer forgets any of the characters they’ve met that live within them, even if that character’s story never gets written down or published. Because that writer and character share a bond, a relationship. And by living within each of those relationships, we can learn something about someone else, another perspective, or even something new about ourselves.

 

Do you have relationships with your own characters? What’s your story?

Let’s help each other learn about the relationships that are out there.

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I’m going to switch tracks a little here, going to one of my favorite nerd fandoms. I just recently finished re-reading the Harry Potter series, and it’s been an amazing experience, as always. But I learned some new things about myself and about relationships throughout this re-read, especially since I have been struggling recently.

So, what did I learn? That not only can we have people-people relationships, people-pet relationships, people-God relationships, and so on, but we can also have reader-character or writer-character relationships. As a writer myself, I see the difference between the two. For this post, I’m going to focus on reader-character relationships, because they can be deeply impactful and wonderful learning relationships.

A lot of avid readers have a few books they’ll revisit over the course of their lifetime, re-reading and re-connecting with the characters in the story. When you first pick up a book, you as the reader are establishing relationships with each character you come into contact with, each character that impacts you. You’re also connecting and establishing a relationship, through those characters and that story, to the person who wrote the story. No matter what story you pick up, no matter now many books an author has published or written, there is at the very least a little bit of that author in each of his or her stories.

Because of my recent reading of Harry Potter, I am going to be using that for the illustrations throughout this post. For me, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last year and a half, and it’s been ten years since I’ve read the series. I re-connected with the characters quickly, as if they were old friends. I followed them once more on their journey, bringing with me my own new experiences and perspectives. Thus, I was able to see more through the story, and more in the characters, than any other time I’ve read the series.

As I read the last word on the last page of the last book, closing the amazing journey, I realized I’d learned so much more than I’d expected to. I’d been reunited with old friends, friends who have now helped me through two tough transitions in my life. I understood Harry and his friends better, understood some of their struggles, saw through some of their lies and their fronts.

Anytime you open up a book and start reading, you establish a relationship with at least one, and probably more, of the characters in that story. You follow the characters on the journey, you laugh and cry with them, you feel for them. Sometimes, you go to them to escape whatever you’re going through at that point in life. And you learn about life from them.

I’ve always known that books can teach me a lot, even fiction. But I’ve only just realized how that happens. In any given story, you’re following a character, privy to their thoughts, emotions, and actions, both internal and external. And that’s as intimate as getting to know a real person. The experiences you bring with you, you unconsciously give to the character, and the character shares his or her struggles with you. It’s as give and take as any relationship between two people.

And because of this established relationship between reader and character, the reader can learn from the character: from the mistakes, the thoughts, the lessons the character learns. I know I learned tons from Harry, Ron, and Hermione throughout the series. Sure, I knew the plot, I knew exactly what was going to happen. But the parts of the story that hit me the hardest, I never expected to hit me as hard as they did.

A notable thing I learned from Harry, that I already knew but had been struggling with, was that getting over a relationship, getting over a person takes time and lots of it. Harry spent months getting over Cho, and though I know that his situation and mine are as different as could be, I was still able to learn. I’ve only been out of my own relationship for a month. It’s still hard, but Harry helped me understand things I knew but hadn’t comprehended.

Another thing I learned through this, within the last book, is how important it is to face oneself, to let go of one’s past mistakes. Because if you can’t do that, you’ll never be able to truly move on with your life. And you’ll never be able to face those fears you have, to trace them back to their source.

Honestly, I couldn’t even list how many new things I learned from Harry Potter on this re-read. But I do know one thing: anytime I need a friend, I can open the covers and reignite relationships with the characters in the story. It doesn’t have to be Harry Potter, either. I can open any book and establish new relationships with new characters, or feel welcomed home by old friends.

For me, I have established many relationships as I have read books, and many important relationships. Some of the hardest and most important things I have learned in life have come from reading about a character. We can learn from our fictional counterparts because there is always some truth within the stories we are reading.

We are always establishing relationships, even if we haven’t had human contact for a while. And you can learn just as much, and sometimes more or different things, from a relationship with a character as with a person.

 

What are some of your favorite relationships with characters? How have knowing different characters and reading their stories impacted your life, taught you things?

Feel free to share!

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It doesn’t matter where you go, what you watch, or what you read. Inevitably, there is some sort of relationship involved. That relationship could be with another person, with yourself, or with God, but there is always at least one relationship involved in life and stories.

Every writer needs to know the relationships between the characters in the story, and many times aspects of those relationships are taken from the author’s life, whether consciously or unconsciously.

In my last post, I reviewed Kelley Armstrong’s Sea of Shadows, from her Age of Legends trilogy. In an email interview, she answered a few questions regarding the relationships within this trilogy, specifically the first book.

http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/images/Kelley_Armstrong_5-lrg.jpg

Photo credit: Kathryn Hollinrake. kelleyarmstrong.com

“Relationships are a huge part of any novel for me,” she wrote. “They might actually be the part that interests me most because it impacts so many other aspects of the plot.”

I’ve always been intrigued by the characters of stories, and I’ve loved the relationships that are formed, whether I root for them or not. It’s something I’ve always looked at in stories, and I’ve always found them to be the most intriguing aspect of a story.

In Sea of Shadows, the plot focuses on twin sisters Moria and Ashyn as they travel to the Imperial City of the empire. They are forced to leave their home on the edge of the Forest of the Dead. They each travel with other companions, but are separated. (For a lengthier summary see my last post here or Goodreads here.)

How much should relationships impact the overall story? “I had the primary relationship of the twin sisters,” Armstrong said, “and I wanted to explore how that changes as they near adulthood. It’s such a close bond, and yet one that will change, as they prepare to lead independent lives, away from the family home. The plot of the book let me accelerate that process.”

Armstrong, like many writers, incorporated some of her own life into the relationships in Sea of Shadows. “I would take my own relationship with pets or my experiences seeing twins and then add the fictional ‘what if.’” Two of the “what if’s” she asked were: “What if your dog/cat was supernaturally bonded to you?” and “What if, as a twin, you grew up in a world where you’d never been apart?”

Writers often take their own experiences and find ways to express them, and for fantasy writers sometimes that means taking life experiences and incorporating them through fantasy elements. By doing this, authors can better connect their readers to the fantasy world, as there are familiar aspects involved. By incorporating small aspects of life, authors let readers bring their own ideas and experiences to the story.

The next hurdle for authors is in how to show the relationships within the confines of the story’s plot. Both dialogue and action are important. Armstrong says, “Dialogue is the easy way—show how they interact in conversation.” However, she thinks showing a relationship through action is stronger. “It’s the old adage about actions speaking louder than words.” She likes to take it a bit farther. “It’s also very telling if a character says one thing but does something very different, and I often play with that. Trust the actions, not the words!”

The story doesn’t end after Sea of Shadows; it continues on with Empire of Night, the second installment of the trilogy, and then with Forest of Ruin, to be released in 2016. Even as a writer myself, I haven’t yet had a story that’s warranted more than one book. It’s fascinated me how well characters’ relationships can both change and stay the same over a multi-novel story.

Armstrong wrote that it can be difficult to maintain relationships throughout a multi-novel story. “I think the hardest part is maintaining the right balance of focus on each relationship, as new relationships form and the old remain (and remain important).”

Not only does Armstrong maintain human relationships with five main characters throughout the trilogy, but she also adds Moria and Ashyn’s “bond beasts,” which she characterizes as “a pet relationship in overdrive.” She includes the sisters’ relationship as it grows and changes, the friendships they make, potential romances between characters, and each characters’ relationship with the bond beasts, as the sisters’ bond beasts are with them the majority of the time.

How does one keep track of so many relationships throughout all of the plot that has to carry through three or more novels? “I actually tracked all of those in charts,” Armstrong said, “to be sure that I wasn’t focusing too much on one relationship at the expense of others.”

That sounds a lot like real life to me, aspects of which, as I said above, many authors want to include in their stories. Not only does the author need to maintain a balance in those relationships, but the characters themselves may have to balance relationships throughout the story. Which is yet another thing for the author to keep track of while in the process of writing.

As is fairly usual for an aspiring writer interviewing an established author, my last question for Armstrong was if she had any tips for portraying character relationships. “Deep relationships should be complex,” she said. “They are in real life. We might have simplistic relationships with acquaintances, but it’s very different with deep or long-term relationships. When drafting relationships, look for points where two characters are in sync but also for where they conflict.”

That’s some good advice. As far as I’ve found, no relationship is all sunshine and roses. Nor is a relationship all fighting and contention. There has to be a balance of both, as there usually is in real life. People’s interests conflict and cause tension in a relationship, and characters should be the same. “It’s those points of conflict that will really add to your interactions, but you need the “in-sync” points too—endless bickering between characters is as boring as no conflict at all.”

 

What do you think? As a reader, how do you prefer to see relationships portrayed? What are some of your favorites?

Writers, how do you prefer to portray relationships, and why? Do you use a model of some kind? Leave your comments and ideas below!

 

Find out more about Kelley Armstrong on her website or blog. The Age of Legends trilogy can be found on Amazon.

 

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When I’ve heard other writers give advice about attending writers’ conferences, there are two pieces of advice I always hear: “Connect with people you don’t know. Network.” and “Go to everything offered.”

For first-time conferees, these two phrases can put a lot of pressure on both the conferee and the conference. There are many expectations for the experience. However, while I think that both pieces of advice are good to hear, I also think we need to take them with a grain of salt.

“Connect with people you don’t know. Network.”

Networking is good, and so is connecting with writers, agents, editors, etc. that you don’t know. However, this can put a lot of pressure on conferees, especially introverts. While at the conference, they’re worried about talking to enough people, and the use much of their energy trying to work up the courage to talk to strangers all day. As an introvert myself, I’ve found this to be extremely exhausting. And as I use up my energy trying to talk with people the whole time, per the advice I’ve received, I find it harder at times to focus on the workshops and have energy for the things I am excited about.

Another thing that I thought when I heard this piece of advice was that I had to connect with a lot of people. I took it in the sense of “meet someone, have a short, meaningful conversation, and move on to meet someone new.” But I think sometimes you just need to connect with those old friends you haven’t seen in a while, or even those acquaintances you don’t know that well. Here’s one of my own experiences.

This past weekend I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson, Indiana. I was there with a group of fellow classmates, and a lot of the time I talked with them. Instead of branching out at lunch and sitting with a group of strangers, I chose to sit with a few of my classmates, most of whom I hardly ever talked to. And we had a wonderful conversation. For that day, it was my favorite part of the conference, and I feel I gained much more out of having lunch and interacting with my classmates than I would have if I’d networked and sat with a group of people I didn’t know.

“Go to everything offered.”

Look, I get the point of this statement, but it’s just not possible sometimes. I know the value in experiencing everything the conference has to offer, but sometimes you just can’t do it.  From what I thought when I heard this, and what friends have thought as well, this is often taken as “Go to everything offered no matter your energy level.” Which I think is just ridiculous. If you’re going to a conference, you’re going because you want to learn new things and meet new people. You can’t do that if you’re too exhausted to approach others or pay attention in workshops and critique groups.

I attended the Write to Publish conference at the beginning of this summer, and this was one of the pieces of advice I took to heart. I was determined to go to everything they offered that I could. I was ready to take in all of the information from the four day conference. I was excited.

By the time I made it to the middle/end of the third day, I was exhausted, but still excited. I was having a great time and learning a lot. Then at dinner I started talking with an alumnus from my college who was also attending the conference. When the time came to go to the evening activities, such as a speaker and critique groups, we decided that we both needed a break–and we didn’t want to end our conversation. So we went back to the dorms we were staying in (we were on the Wheaton Campus in Wheaton, Illinois) and talked for another hour or two. Honestly, it was the best thing I could have done. Not only was I able to rest from taking in information, but I was able to really connect, and it was with someone who helped me more than anything I could have learned from the conference activities.

So, what I’m trying to say with these examples is to not go too far. Know what your limits are, and when you reach them, don’t push past. You’ll only exhaust yourself further, which could lead to missed opportunities or lessons. If you get the chance, slow down and really connect with someone–whether that’s someone you already know or someone you just met. Don’t be rushing around trying to get everything in, because chances are, you won’t. And that’s okay. It’s why most conferences are an annual thing.

Go ahead and take everything you can out of the experience, but don’t go too far. Slow down and listen for what God’s calling you to do, even if that’s getting away from the conference for an hour or two to rest. Because if you don’t, you might just miss something important.

 

What do you think about these pieces of advice? Others? Voice your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject. (After all, I’m only one of the many perspectives out there.)

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