Be Heard, Be Seen, but Be Effective

It seems in this day of instant celebrity status being seen and heard is really all that we are after. It reminds me of those people that stand in the street behind the beat reporter waving their hands and smiling into the camera so they can tell their friends they were on T.V, even if the reporter was talking about an armed robbery.

We all want our 15 minutes. We want people to see and celebrate us, hear what we are saying, praise what we are doing.

I won’t lie, when I first started writing my novel I had hopes of sitting behind a table at the local Borders Bookstore with freshly printed copies of my book stacked on both sides and a long line of fans waiting to get their signed copies. They would smile and compliment me on my awesomeness and at the end of the signing I’d be gleefully spent.

Yep we all want our 15 minutes; we want our time to show off, shine and say to the world, “Look at me.” Lately I’ve been watching the train wrecks in the media. Superstars who are superstars because…well…they just are. When pressed for substance we’re disappointed but somehow drawn to them like the train wreck they are. It’s kinda like the kid who raises his hand in class, waving it like a maniac and when called he just smiles and giggles and can’t for the life remember what he was going to say (or so he says). But all eyes are on him anyway; he’s gotten what he was after.

After I finished my novel I took a long hard look at it and had to evaluate it for substance to make sure I was true to what was inside of me. I had to make sure that it didn’t just contain a couple of thrilling scenes, hot, steamy sex, knowing that at the end the reader would be peeved because they’d wasted their time and money in search of a good story and found nothing.  I had to stop focusing on me and work the story. And yes, for the record there are lots of books out there that are just for thrills. Cool. Fine. My thing is, if that’s all there is, the reader needs to know upfront. I want to be authentic and open to myself and my reader. Most of all I want to say what I came to say. And when that is over, the reader can close the book.

I am convinced that those of us who have a calling or an innate need to give something of ourselves on a large scale should be prepared when it is our time. Our gift or calling should be honed, practiced and evaluated. When we share it, it should have been perfected with purpose and intent. Whether what we do is serious or funny, simple or complex our work shouldn’t leave people befuddled or bored or frustrated. It should incite, anger, sadden; it should make things plain, make folks happy and provoke thought. But whatever the case, they shouldn’t be irked that you said you would and didn’t.

Fifteen minutes. For some of us that’s all we ask for. But if you are effective I guarantee your reader will ask you to stay around just a little while longer. That is my hope. That is my prayer.

We were not designed to fail

My hubby is a Discovery Channel nut. His wind-down time is spent ogling the mating habits of the cheetah or the hyena as both prey and predator. It’s intriguing to watch, this big burly dude describe the beauty of the circle of life. I didn’t get it at first–not the animal’s behavior–but his wonderment of them. I usually only see that look during basketball playoffs.

But at second glance, it’s pretty clear. I’m no animal behaviorist, but I do realize that animals in all their complexity stay within the realm of their design and purpose, to watch reminds me that they are created beings. Although they do not move and perform with exactness, their instinct is superb, even if it is not precise.  They know when they’re predator, and when they are potential prey. Animals understand their challenges and use their ample paws, teeth or stealthy moves to maneuver, pounce and conquer, or to escape sudden death. Sometimes they fail (not quite quick enough), others times they savor the kill. They seem to realize what they are born to do and move with confidence even in the wake of danger and uncertainty.

For humans, it’s complicated. We struggle and fumble even as we are equipped with these tools of reasoning and emotion. They are both our greatest assets and most blatant weaknesses. We overthink and second guess; we allow jealousy guised as competition to rule our good sense and move us in the opposite direction of success. But in fact,  even as we struggle, we have all we need to do what is necessary and move with purpose–including emotion and reasoning. Once we realize this truth we will know what God knows about us; He did not design us to fail.

Sometimes I look up to the heavens, seeking  God for some great sign;  a Red Sea parting or a burning bush for the secret to success. Then he reminds me that I have everything I need—it was part of His masterful design, turns out, he’s pretty good at creating stuff. All I have to do is look inside and trust Him.

We are teeming with resources. Sometime one falters, but another will arise strong. My eyes may not see it, but my ears hear it; perhaps I can’t hear it but I can feel itgraceful-predator-108267. My emotions allow me to empathize with others, show deep affection, forge relationships. My reasoning moves in and allows me to make swift decisions or ponder at other instances.

Sometimes I wonder if  my writing will matter. Will anyone even care about these stories? Maybe they’re a big deal in my head only. And again he reminds me that he isn’t a God who imparts haphazardly or insufficiently. His gifts come with intent. Yes, there is a plan in it. And as long as I put Him first they will reach those for whom the stories matter. The gift to breathe life into these works of fiction resides inside and just needs to be stirred and sometimes shaken.

He has created us with purpose and on purpose. We are of perfect design despite the flaws and setbacks. To those of you who write, I say write on. Don’t stop. Someone needs/ wants to hear what you have to say, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

We were created to succeed and to accomplish. We were not designed to fail.

They’re Alive! How to Give Life to Your Characters

They’re Alive! How to Give Life to Your Characters

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The thing that I love about literary fiction, in its truest sense is that there is such a heavy focus on character development. The characters drive the story; they instruct it on how it should be told, if you will. Commercial fiction, or as many call it– plot-driven fiction, is just that. There is more focus on what is happening than who it is happening to.

Yet, in fact all stories should have well developed, multi-dimensional characters. When I am talking about my work to someone sometimes I am hesitant to use the word, characters to label them, because in a sense, they are people–if I’ve written the story correctly. Characterization takes the basics of what the eye can see and builds on it. In many cases the appearance is secondary and we begin to build immediately on the person. We describe what they do for a living, the choice of words they use or the amount of makeup they wear. Kathryn Stockett does this so well with The Help until you settle comfortably in the fact that it is a white woman giving voice to these Black characters. She gives authenticity without being condescending, truth, without being over the top. Here are a few points to keep in mind when developing characters:

Avoid cookie-cutter characters and stereotypes. Remember, people aren’t made using cookie-cutters; your characters should not be either. Maybe your main guy is tall, dark and… not so handsome. Or maybe she is a not-so-hot looking blonde but she thinks she’s very hot. Contradict your characters.

Add dimensions to what you already “know” about them. Start with character sketches. As you see them began to add dimensions (like putting clothes on paper dolls); layer upon layer, adding complexity and multi-dimensions. Remember characters, like people are more than just a compilation of eye, hair and skin color.

Characterization takes time. Pace your development. You don’t know a person in one fell swoop, so your characters should be developed over time likewise. As the story progresses we should, at an even pace learn more about them until we’re fully engaged and we’re saying things like: Please let Sally get away, she doesn’t deserve to die! Author Victoria Christopher Murray  says, “Characters are like friends; the more time you spend with them, the better you get to know them; the better you can transfer all of their words, gestures and emotions to the page.”  This is so true.

Practice, practice, practice.  The next time you hit the streets pick a person, any person will do. Begin to characterize them (careful here, stalker rules do apply). Then ask yourself, where were they born and how did they get (fill in the blank for wherever you live)? Give them a voice. Using your creative juices this way is a great exercise. Continue until you feel as though you know them intimately.

As you add things your characters will begin to speak to you; some things will feel authentic and you will go with those. Others will feel forced and unrealistic and you will dismiss those. No matter what kind of fiction you write, draw your reader into the story by developing characters that keep them reading.