TELLTALE HABITS

by Ottilia Scherschel

My father was a businessman who carried a small notepad in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He dutifully wrote down the names of people he met and things he wanted to remember. To this day, I carry a notepad in my purse. I know I could enter important information in my smart phone, but the habit I picked up from my Dad has stuck with me.

I recently jotted something in my pad while at a luncheon. A woman at my table said, “You must be a writer.” My taking notes confirmed in her mind I was a writer. Her statement made me think about what gives us away in life, those habits that tell others about who we might be.

I met a woman at a cocktail party recently who wore a silver lanyard with a small pen attached like a piece of jewelry around her neck. While we were getting acquainted, she wrote something on a napkin. I hoped it wasn’t her grocery list. “Are you taking notes?” I asked.

She chuckled. “It’s a bit of dialogue.”

“Something I said?”

“No, but you triggered an idea.”

“For what?”

“An article. You see I’m a columnist.”

I should have guessed she was some kind of writer. Why else would she need a pen around her neck? “Tell me about the article,” I said without revealing I too wrote.

When planning a novel, I spend considerable time choosing habits for my characters with the idea in mind that these should disclose something about them. I’ve even done the reverse by making a list of habits I wanted a character to have and then creating that character from the list.

Look around. Everyone has habits. What can you tell about the people you see? And what do your habits say about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s Nothing as Constant as Change

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I’ve thought a lot lately about how my life has changed over the past few years. A few of the changes have been a bummer, but most have been good. I try to be an optimist, but a lot of the expected changes have come fraught with anxiety at the mere thought of what was to come. For instance, my husband and I put the old house we’d lived in for over thirty years up for sale. Talk about angst, gut-wrenching fear and the emotional highs and lows as we willingly leaped on that real estate roller coaster and rode it, white-knuckling, all the way to our bright, airy, little townhome in our desired neighborhood. It was the longest coaster ride of our life, lasting almost one year.

But, just as most women forget the pain of childbirth and say hey, let’s have that fourth child, we decided to remodel the 1994 kitchen in our new home right away. Like not even two weeks after we moved in. We’re at the “fraught with anxiety at the mere thought of what was to come” stage. We bought our ticket for another coaster ride.

Change is what drives our lives. It’s what gets our juices going and emotions flowing. Endeavors and decisions and dreams fuel change. It’s what the books we read and the movies we see are all about. Simply put, a character comes up against a problem, makes a decision on how to solve it, and in the process of trying to solve it, changes something in her life. The soul-deep, satisfying stories show the character as one way in the beginning, and changed in some way by the end.

Look at Laura Drake’s first published book (a Rita winner), The Sweet Spot. At the start of the story, literally in the first couple of paragraphs, we learn that her heroine, Charla Rae, has a problem with Valium that she uses to try to numb the pain of the tragic death of her son. Divorced and attempting to keep a bucking bull ranch from going under, the inexperienced Charla Rae faces one hurdle after the other. And you just know she still loves her philandering ex, but refuses to admit it to herself. I’m sure I’m not spoiling the story, cause this is a romance after all: Charla Rae gains a level of expertise on the ranch, faces her demons of grief and guilt, and rekindles love and romance with her ex. She is not the same girl she was at the beginning of the story. Soul deep and satisfying. I highly recommend it.

Another way to look at how characters change in stories is to consider – are you ready for it? – Transformers. Yes, those vehicle-robots in the movies and comic books. Take the autobot named Optimus Prime. In the movies, the identity he presents to the world is that of a red and black Peterbilt truck. Utilitarian, strong, solid, worker bee. But given the right motivation, he can rearrange all those Peterbilt parts to become the supreme ultimate, save-the-world hero of Optimus Prime. He always had, deep in his metallic essence, the soul of a hero. Maybe that was kind of a stretch, but it was fun to think about.

Identity to essence, to use the words of Michael Hauge, master story guru, describes a character’s arc from the beginning of the story (the identity she shows to the world) and her essence (who she really is revealed). The trials and tribulations she faces throughout the plot peel back the layers of her psyche to finally reveal who she really is.

Think about the major changes in your own life. Did you learn something from them? Did you find out you were a lot stronger than you thought you were? Weaker? What is your favorite keeper book? I bet one or more of the main characters went through a soul-deep character arc.

Let me leave you with this little nugget about change to think about, because deep in my essence, I’m an optimist:

Change comes bearing gifts.

by Barb DeLong

How’d I get the idea for this book? By Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So this is a little embarrassing.  The inspiration for my newest book, “Pirateless in the Caribbean,” was a ponytail. And it came from an ex-boyfriend who didn’t even have one.

He wasn’t an “ex” at the time, in 2013- he was quite current.

So, I was a couple of years out of a divorce and swimming along in the dating pool. I was taking a shot at couple-dom with a nice Jewish man I’d met. We circled each other warily when we weren’t giving into the excellent chemistry, trying to get a feel for all the places we might overlap comfortably while keeping an eye open for the land-mines on the borders of compromise.

Anyway, he was intrigued with my writing, not that he had any desire to write, but he had artistic creativity and he loved to brainstorm plot ideas. He was great fun to do this with, because he came at things from a completely different angle than I did.

In any case, I had shared with him my plan to write a series of stories about people who shared one common friend with a magical gift, and then each met the love of their life as a result. All the stories could be totally different from each other, in place and theme.

I don’t remember actually how he came up with the pirate idea, but as soon as he did, he declared the pirate must have a ponytail. And that was that. I don’t know what it was, maybe a wish-fulfillment fantasy of a man with thinning hair, but  he could not let that ponytail go.  I wasn’t even writing that story yet- I was still writing my first story and was immersed in swords and Historical European Martial Arts.

He hounded me about that ponytail for most of the five months we dated and I kept it in my closet of intriguing ideas, thinking that a modern day story about a pirate might call for a Caribbean vacation setting.  It was a good idea, a better one than the relationship as it turned out.

A few months after we broke up, a country song came on the radio that sparked that little ponytail into the full-fledged plot of my next story. Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane” was just the ticket – my heroine was going on a deluxe Caribbean vacation she did not want to take- no way, no how.

I set the ideas on “simmer” while I finished my other work in progress, letting a plot evolve that would put my unwilling character in a first class seat to meet the love of her life- a pirate.

I have no problem at all thanking my ex-Mr happily-for-now for the great idea. As another story-teller once reminded us, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Dig in and enjoy.

I think it worked out rather well, but you can judge for yourself when “Pirateless in the Caribbean” goes up for sale on June 17th on Amazon and many other places ebooks are sold (you can pre-order on May 1st).