Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What do your characters value?

In this post, I talked about my own internal conflict between my ideals and my reality. This morning, I realized this is the seed for internal conflict in characters. 
We are always in conflict. Some conflicts are larger than others. A character needs high-stakes conflict to keep a reader reading. And high-stakes conflict always involves values. Life vs. honor has often been a big conflict in books. What if your character values loyalty? What if she also values friends and family? Now what happens if she finds herself in a situation where she can’t be loyal to both? 
Small conflict in the midst of these larger-than-life conflicts can help you make bridging scenes more tension-filled. Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon is claustrophobic, but he keeps having to go through underground passageways and the like. Many of those scenes would be dreadfully boring were it not for Robert Langdon’s conflict. He wants to get out of there; he needs to keep going.
Just think about Indiana Jones and the snakes.
On a light note, what if your character had been told to give up caffeine? The doctors have told him his stress is too high and he’s heading for a heart attack. Maybe throughout the story he has been trying to keep his stress under control, which has to be hard, because the author has been chucking stress at him in fits of sadistic authorial fun. He really wants a cup of coffee. It’s a small thing, but it will run through all the scenes, adding a layer of tension. 
You can take it to high stakes if you want. Maybe he reaches a point in the novel where he has been awake for three days and cannot fall asleep or someone he loves will die.  
Now he’s in conflict with his need to stay alive, his desire for a cup of coffee, and his need to keep a friend alive. What if this character values survival above everything else? What if in the past he has been a lousy friend?
Finding that internal conflict in your characters, both the larger-than-life kind and the everyday kind, all comes back to values. 
So, what do your characters value? How do those values conflict?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why do you love Dancing with the Stars?

Oh, there’s a hot-button title, isn’t there? What presumption. Actually, I just figure if you don’t like the show, you won’t have clicked the link. :)

If you love Dancing with the Stars, then maybe you’ll understand why I love it, too. There are lots of reasons, but let’s start with the important one--costumes.
How can you not love the costumes? I mean, even when they are hideous, they’re gorgeous in a totally tacky, we-didn’t-have-enough-time-and-we-can’t-drape-to-save-our-life kind of way. (That doesn’t happen often, and this season, they’ve been very good indeed).
It’s fun. That’s right. Dancing with the Stars makes me smile. It makes my daughter smile. ToddlerDude shakes his diaper-clad bootie when we watch the dvr’d shows. Even the husband, who professes to despise such not-worth-his-time-tv laughs at Len, shakes his head at Bruno and offers his opinions on ranks and scores.
But you know why I really love it? 
It’s about learning. I love watching the people start at the beginning, clueless and frightened and then work themselves until they drop week after week, trying to improve. And when they do? 
It’s magic. 
My favorite quote, which my Dad marked out in pencil in his copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, is when Merlin says to Arthur:
“The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

It’s true for me. There’s an energy to learning. It captivates my senses. When I watch “The Dancing Show” as we call it in my house, I live that energy vicariously. 
Dancing with the Stars makes me smile. That’s why I love it. Why do you?

Daily Check-in

It’s time for the daily check-in. Today offered more opportunities for living my values, and most importantly, I didn’t skimp on creativity, so my mood was a whole lot better.
Health Napped. Ate good food. Took a short walk with the ToddlerDude. Basked in the sunshine.
Fun  Monday night is Dancing With The Stars, which daughter and I watch together. She has to go to bed before it is over, so we tape it and watch the rest later. She is routing for Mark Ballas and his partner, Chelsea Kane this time, since her beloved Lacey was voted off. 
I am all for the Karate Kid and Kirstie Alley. (Kudos to whomever can name the Kirstie Alley character from a fabulously soapy period mini-series--the reason I adore her). We critique the costumes, the dancing and the behavior of the stars. It is great girlie fun. Daughter’s comments are hilarious.
Spirit Writing this post. *wink* Also, some very interesting dreamwork while I was napping--more on that another time.
Creativity Two blog posts and 7 pages on one of my novels!
Beauty Redbud leaves! Yeah! On our many redbuds, but especially the spindly baby on the side of our house. 
Gratitude Twitter friends and the lifeline they have provided me. Can never fully express my gratitude for this one.
Family See Fun, but seriously, this Monday night time with my daughter is my favorite family time all week.
Friends I will be calling my good friend from college to wish her a happy birthday. And let’s not forget my husband, who is my best friend. 
Learning The process of writing this blog and seeing the comments is a huge learning experience from me. I learn so much from the people who comment.
Nurturing Others Poor ToddlerDude is sick once again, so there was a lot of snuggling today, and lots of sick-care love to go around. Still, we managed to plant one plant in the yard today. That felt good.
What about you? Is Monday easier or harder for you to fit in all the things that are important to you? Do even try to fit things all in one day? Or do you divide your time and attention differently?

Do you feed yourself first? What feeds you?

Do you feed yourself?
On an airplane, the flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This makes sense. If you’re passed out from lack of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. 
In life, however, many of us forget this lesson and try to feed the world before ourselves. We go around the plane affixing oxygen masks while we slowly suffocate. That doesn’t sound very smart, does it? I mean even if you want to be a saint, surely saints could help more people if they didn’t collapse after helping ten?
Writer Johanna Harness once told me when she gets up at 5a.m. to write it makes her a better mother. She didn’t say, however, that she writes to be a better mother. My guess is, she writes because it feeds her in some way.
I’ve realized over the past few days of writing these posts that I could actually cull my values down to one--Spirit. Every other value on the list feeds my spirit. When my entire being is filled with the joy of friends and family, when I hum with the vitality of good health, when my heart overflows with happiness from laughter from fun, when I am humbled by gratitude or the profound breadth of all there is to learn, and when my very being brims with awe from the sight of something beautiful, then my spirit is full to bursting. 

It makes me want to pass it on. So, my top value is Spirit. My spirit. Because when that is full, I am at my best, I can be my best and I can give my best to the world.
And let’s be clear: my best today may be a different thing than my best tomorrow. Life is a work in progress, or WIP, as we writers call them. You have only to check in with the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter at any moment to see how writers are dealing with their WIPs. It covers the entire gamut of human experience--just like life. 
So what feeds you? And could you narrow your values down to just one?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Living Our Values: Sometimes the steps are very small indeed

I wasn't going to put anything up today. But then I started doing violence to my clothes dryer. It seemed like I was in need of a little perspective. 

I don't know about you, but I often get my angriest when I'm angry with myself. And today, by about 6:30pm, I was downright furious with myself. Why? 

Oh, because I hadn't accomplished anything important today. I was giving myself the old failure mental beating. So, I decided it was time to hit the list. About mid-way down the list, you'll see where I slipped up, and why I might be angry. 

What about you? Do you get angry with yourself? Is it justified? Do you take it out on your slacker appliances? 

You don't? Oh, well. I'm sure there's something else wrong with you.  Good for you!

Here they are, my alleged 10 values and what I did towards them today. It seems harder on the weekend, and I wonder why that is?

Health  I...wait for it...slept. No, really SLEPT. 12 hours and 45 minutes. Yeah. That happens about once every couple of months. Still, in a life so often devoid of sleep, a long night is a good thing. 
Fun  I read. (You'll see this a lot. It's kind of my favorite activity). I finished the book I started on Friday night and while reading it was fun, it almost doesn’t make this category because I was so desolate when it ended and I discovered the next one doesn’t come out until 2012. Where is a literary time machine when you need one?
Spirit I wrote this post. *wink* (Okay, so this is likely to be my standard answer for a while). But, seriously. You wouldn't believe how much this exercise can strip a foul mood down to its core and toss it out on its nasty little ear.
Creativity So, as of right now, nothing. Which may explain why I have been in an utterly foul mood for a few hours. 
Beauty   My hair looks fantastic. Yes, I realize this sounds horribly vain, but I’m having a really good hair day. I actually *like* seeing my hair in the mirror today. This is good. Sometimes the hardest place to find beauty is in ourselves, especially our personal appearance. When we have those moments, it’s probably a good idea to celebrate them. No probably about it. It is a good idea.
Gratitude  Today, I’m really grateful for my husband. He kept the kids this morning while I slept and listened to me me whine about stuff with an understanding ear. 
Family   It was nice to chase the kids outside for a bit. Daughter and neighbor-child opened a roadside hair salon. Remember Beauty? Yeah, um, so about that.  I didn’t let them touch my hair, lol. Favorite moment of the day was ToddlerDude’s guttural, “Woah!” when older neighbor-girl hard-pedaled down the block trailing a colorful kite high above our heads.
Friends  This afternoon, the neighbor-moms and I chatted as far away as possible from the neighbor-kids and today’s backyard wildlife adventure find--a snake. I confess I was glad ToddlerDude was still small when one Mom had to race her son home to stop him from bringing his slithery new friend into their house. Whew. Dodged that bullet!
Learning I did a bit more exploring on the blog front. In other news, I learned AGAIN how little patience I have, and how much work I have to do on that front. Is there a school for patience? What about self-patience? 
Nurturing Others I made dinner, even though I really wanted to crawl into bed. I made lunch. I didn’t sell my children to ebay gypsies. 
What? The last part didn’t sound nurturing? I did say small steps, right? 
Itty bitty steps. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Values Check-in: I'll show you mine, if you show me yours...

As promised earlier, my daily check-in. Here's what I'm doing to further my values.

(And remember, it's the LITTLE things, lol).

Health I made spinach and chickpea curry for lunch with naan and green tea. It was delicious. And I reveled in my virtuousness. There will be no confessing regarding ways I did NOT further my health values, but this is a success blog, not failblog.

Fun There may be nothing in the world more fun than kissing and blowing rasberries in ToddlerDude’s belly. And laughing. But, since I really value fun, I'm also reading a fun book, called A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness. I’m reading it on my Kindle, but it’s available in other formats. Check it out, here.

Spirit Why, I'm writing this post, aren't I? *wink*
Creativity This is a tough one. I’m bubbling over with ideas right now, but, I’ll be doing some re-rea
ding and note-taking on my urban fantasy novel, Mage Fright, at some point today.

Beauty I am absolutely reveling in the daffodils and crocuses springing up all over my neighborhood. And forsythia, but it deserves it's own whole day of homage.

Gratitude It’s not winter, anymore. Hallelujah.

Family I sat with my seven-year-old daughter on the couch while she told me “Creepy Riddles.” Example: “What do ghosts wear when it’s raining?” Answer: “Boots.” Cue hilarious laughter.

Friends This one is tough, since I’m not seeing friends today. But, I turned down an invitation since we’ve all been so sick lately. Does it count as furthering friendship if I’m trying to keep from spreading my germs? Let’s ask the virtual Magic Eight Ball. Survey says, “Yes.”

Learning I figured out how to find and add clip-art to the blog!

Nurturing Others I sent the tired and sick husband off to take a nap. (This one makes me sound especially virtuous, but he would probably have napped anyway. Still, I did say, “Go take a nap.” So, it counts. :)

So, this is what I'm doing today. What about you? How are you furthering your values?

What do you value?

Yesterday, I wrote about goals, and how they can be contradictory. Today, I give you my 10 Values, a piece I hope to run every day, perhaps later in the day.

Recently, I was feeling very unhappy and wallowing in what I felt were failures in all aspects of my life. Then, I came across a piece in a book which suggested choosing your number one value to base your life choices on.

One value!?!? Forgive the excess punctuation, but REALLY? ONE VALUE? Forget crack, were these people smoking the drug of low expectations? I shut the book with the Jenn version of a sonic boom and fumed.

Yet, later that same week, a loved one pointed out how I never seemed to give myself credit, or pats on the back for even the smallest things, and how could I feel happy or successful if I wouldn’t take credit for doing well?
These two things seemed connected somehow. And this is what bubbled up from my subconscious percolator:

The Values List and with it, The Commitment List, and with that, The Successes List.

However, to bombard you with three lists each day, seemed excessive, so I’ll try to contain myself.

Sometime during the day, I’m going to post my top ten list. I doubt the ten values will change, but if they do, that will be a fun surprise, right? More importantly, I’m going to make a SMALL (did you get that?) SMALL commitment to each of my values each day. Then I’ll see how I do. Join me if you like.

So, here are the ten things I value--in no particular order.

Nurturing Others
I’d love to know what you value. Could you narrow it down to one thing? And while I wait to see what y’all come up with, I’m going to start with Health, and have a lovely cup of green tea--which supposedly does all sorts of happy things for the body. I like happy.

Let’s make more of it for ourselves, shall we?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Does what you want make sense?

Everybody has life goals, right? That's why there are people out there who call themselves "Life Coaches" and the self-help book market is booming.

I'd love to write a best-selling self help book. There's only one problem. I don't have all the answers. I barely have any answers. What I do have, are questions, lots of 'em. And goals. And oh, my blessed bobblehead, do I have a lot of contradictory desires.

Maybe you know what I mean.

For instance, here's one of mine: I want to be a super green, uber-earth conscious mother who feeds my kids home cooked, pesticide-free, whole foods from happy farms with happy plants and animals who died happy. I'm not quite so ambitious in my granola fantasy that I want to grow and grind my own wheat, but there are days when I think, "I'm never going to shop at a mainstream grocery store again."

And then there are the days like yesterday. When I was exhausted. When I texted my husband that I was picking up Burger King drive-thru for dinner. When I nearly wrestled my own child for the rights to the last deep-fried onion ring.

Yeah, I don't have the answers. So no best-selling self-help books for me. There's a reason I write fantasies. I'm living in one.

What about you? Do you have any crazy life-fantasies you're not living up to? Are you okay with it? Or does it drive you to drive-thru despair?

Day 1: Digging Things Up

The blog is up and running! Barely, I know. It’s a skeleton of its future graphic glory, but we have to start somewhere.

As I’m an organic, mercurial soul, this place will likely evolve quite a bit over time. I love to rearrange the furniture and redecorate, totally alter my wardrobe and switch-up my hair color at a moment’s notice, so be warned: here be change.

That being said, I hate change. Hate, hate, hate, hate change. I fear it. I fight it with everything I have. And yet I cultivate it, too. I’ve been digging around my new house recently, trying to plant things. I’m a wuss, so this turns out to be hardcore work. The soil in Virginia is red-clay and here in Rockingham County, we sit on a bed of limestone known as bluestone. We hacked through a house-sized stream of rock to put in the foundation for our house.

So you can imagine what digging in the as-yet-to-be-a-garden is like. Hard, rocky, frought with obstacles and muddy situations. But I’m determined. I want my “barely green” mcmansion to be surrounded by beauty. It’s a fairly barren place just now. It takes imagination to see beauty in this rocky soil. But I have a lot of imagination.

This blog is the same. I’m in the imagining phase, the digging around and seeing what rocks I hit phase. We’ll be here a while. But I hope, if you’ll come along on the journey with me, you’ll have a chance to see something beautiful sprout up.

It may be a little wild. There will definitely be some nasty weeds. There could even be hilarious slips in the mud. (You wouldn’t want to miss that, would you)? But, I guarantee, somewhere all the way, there will be blossoms.