Excitement Lives in the Young

Every week we go to youth group. We play games, have lesson and small group times, and try to help two or three dozen high-schoolers understand that they’re not alone, they’re not as awkward as they feel (and even if they are it’s totally okay—spinach gets stuck in everybody’s teeth sometimes), and not knowing what you’re going to be doing in two years isn’t the end of the world.

They’re fun, they’re kind, they’re smart. They play sports, they do drama, they read books, one of them even volunteers at a museum in her spare time. They’re learning what growing up is in a safe environment, one where they are reminded of what matters, their parents keep them safe, and they don’t have to pay their own electricity bills.

They’re excited about life, because it’s full of possibilities.

They’re excited because they’re young enough to sleep well and forget the hard things.

They’re excited because they haven’t had a job they didn’t like, a boss who was unkind, or a college roommate who doesn’t understand what being courteous is.

And they should be. Writing excitement into young people is crucial (unless you’re styling the moody artist type—that’s a whole different set of attitudes), because it’s so relevant to the young, and so refreshing for everyone else.

Learn to capture their excitement, because excitement is half of what makes life… Well, exciting.

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How to Write Real People

No one wants to spend their time reading characters that aren’t believable. We have enough people who can’t hold our interest in real life—writing them into your stories is a disservice to a faithful audience. Making characters three dimensional takes planning and consideration, and even if you’re not careful, they can slide back into flat-dialogue-speaking-feelingless stick figures.

So how do you write real characters into existence?

#) Study people. You’ll understand how to make the “fake” thing if you have complete knowledge of the real thing. Watch people interact, watch them be alone. Study their mannerisms, their habits, their hobbies. And ask questions. Understanding the why behind the what always helps to write more whats.

#) Make friends. If only for the sake of your writing, make friends with your characters, even the villains. In real life, you’re honest with your friends, and you see their flaws. Do it in your writing, so you can give them believable flaws (nobody really likes sheer perfection) and lovable foibles.

#) Let them go. One of the delightful things about creating characters is that once you’ve given them life and personality, they’ll start making their own decisions. When they do that, don’t try to force them back into the mold you’ve created for them. Let them do their own thing, and when they suffer for bad decisions, don’t try to patch it up for them right away. Let them be real people, who mess up and get mustard on their clothes and sing off-key.

#) Practice. I include it in every list because it’s really the most important thing to do in writing. Stop reading this and go write up some real people.

We like to read us about people who remind us of ourselves—if you can master creating them, you’ll be miles ahead of all competition.

I Sell Tickets

I’m a writer—it’s what I want to do, it’s what I love to do. I’m also young, which means I’m inexperienced, learning how to market, and essentially invisible in the world of professional writers. I’m doing my best and growing my market, but it’s slow going. I’m not complaining about my life, I’m just explaining my need for a day job.

I work in the customer service center of a fairly large non-profit organization, which means all day every day, I answer phones. People call about everything. That’s not an exaggeration. Politics, world events, city events, sickness, death, babies, tears, happiness, vacation, the radio… The list is long and still growing. There is nothing people won’t talk about to someone who is listening and who doesn’t have a face. As an introvert, it’s not my dream job, but I get a lot of good stories, and two paychecks a month, so I can appreciate it. We also sell tickets for large musical events, and yesterday I worked the will call table for one of the productions.

A lot of people come to the will call table to request replacement tickets for tickets that didn’t arrive, or tickets that they misplaced, or forgot when they left northern Michigan this morning to drive down for the show. Some people come asking for information about the event: where’s the auditorium, when’s the intermission, how long is it? But a few hopefuls come asking if there are leftover tickets that they can purchase.

Our event yesterday was sold out, but due to the nature of the organization, and people who care, over the two hours that I spent at the table, about 35 tickets got returned to us, so we could “maybe give them to someone else.” At the beginning of the two hours, people would come to our booth with a look of hope and desperation, wanting anything. We first had to turn them away, advising them to check back closer to the beginning of the performance.

People had two main reactions: Some took it to mean yes, and wandered away smugly, like they’d just bet on the winning horse. Others took it to mean no, and shoulders slumped, motioned to their small waiting group to follow them as they beat a dejected retreat. The people who were happy came back in an hour and as many of them as came back got tickets. The people who looked defeated never came back—never got tickets, and didn’t go to the show. The ones who waited patiently got what they were coming for; the ones who left abruptly didn’t get anything but disappointment.

If your readers like you, they will wait patiently while you build the suspense or drama or thrill of your story.

Don’t disappoint them.

How I Beat Writer’s Block

Classic writers block takes two forms:

  1. Getting up to a certain point then not being able to continue. You’ve written long and hard, and suddenly, at the end of the sentence, you can’t think of what comes next. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, the villain won’t pick up the gun and the heroine stays home in her pajamas. After hours of staring at the screen, you decide maybe you’d make a good chef (writing is for pale bookworms and nervous journalists with big glasses, after all), so you buy a cookbook from Amazon and start googling french cooking terms.
  2. Nothing to say. You’ve sat down to write, and you’ve written forty-five first sentences—and you don’t like any of them. None of them catch on, each one more flaccid than the last, and every time you come up with something maybe even a little good, the burst of inspiration dies out like a shooting star landing in the ocean. Dead. Completely. Sunken to the dark seaweed-y depths to live with bottom dwellers and pale fish with large eyes. You get it.

I don’t know of any diehard methods to beat writers block, but I can tell you what I do: Write. About writers block. I write about how I despise it, how it makes me feel worthless and miserable, how it robs me of all inspiration and love for writing that usually comes so naturally. I write about how frustrating it is to want to say something and not be able to, like the boy who wants to ask the pretty girl to dance but he just… can’t… get… the… words… out… there… Pretty soon, I’ve written a paragraph. If I’m feeling particularly spiteful (which is rare—I may have ditzy spells, but I’m not vindictive by nature), I’ll have a page. Suddenly (while my brain was learning french and my fingers were flying with wrathful vengeance against something so small and obnoxious), the heroine has put on her super-suit, the villain is holding up a bank, and the shooting star is resurrected in blazing glory.

It may not work for everyone—but it’s better than staring at the screen in doleful misery.

Maybe it will work for you.

Nuance

Nuance gives interactions depth. The change of tone, the raised eyebrow, the subtle shift in posture—all of them indicate attitude and feeling. It’s what makes story interesting, movies gripping, and real life easier to interpret. Without nuance, face to face interactions lack a certain emotion that we depend on to understand what’s really going on. Even stranger to stranger interaction has subtle nuance, whether discomfort, disinterest, or delight.

Nuance differs from person to person, but some things are universal. Do you look up to the sun with your eyes closed when you go outside? Are you constantly picking at things with your fingers? Do you lean in when you’re listening, cross your arms when you’re upset, yawn when you’re bored? Subtleties help us process interactions—without them we can’t tell what the other person is thinking, unless they come straight out and say it. Was he leaning out because he wasn’t listening? Why didn’t she nod? What is all the yawning about?

In the same way, writing nuance into your story clues your readers into what’s really going on, and triggers the imagination to help tell the story and fill in the tiny missing pieces. Without nuance tips, we won’t know the tone of the story.

How do you write nuance into a story?

#) Understand what nuance is. You can’t write it unless you understand it. Fortunately, it’s an easy thing to learn. Eighty-five percent of social interactions that you witness are full of nuance—and once you start looking for it, it’s everywhere.

#) Read for it. Find popular writers (both current and classic) and read their work. Do they use nuance well? Poorly? At all?

#) Practice. This is the dead horse that I’ll flog forever, when it comes to writing. The only way to get better is to practice, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you have nothing to say. Look at the objects on your desk and write a story about them having a conversation. If your desk is empty use your shoes. If you’re not wearing shoes, write it about the wall and the paint. If you write in a gazebo, maybe you’re in a public park and there will be people walking by… You get the picture.

Nuance is invaluable to writers. Perfect the art.

Build It

 

Building requires work and planning.

Building a building takes an architect, and blueprints, and construction teams, and hundreds of other things that I don’t know about, because I wear glasses and use a computer keyboard, instead of a hardhat and a shovel.

Making a cake takes a recipe (or some plan, at least), ingredients, an oven, and some previous knowledge about baking (don’t put the egg shells in, mix it enough or not too much).

Building a relationship takes time, and energy, and sacrifice. Friends don’t become friends overnight, and once they get there it’s still work.

Making a story means creating characters, formulating plot, setting the stage. It doesn’t happen without a fair amount of thinking and planning.

Sports teams don’t become champions overnight, an ice rink doesn’t freeze in one minute, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Putting the work into building something is worth it. It is an accomplishment, and achievement, an exercise of will. Sometimes there is a reward for completion, but often, finishing is its own reward. It is the ability to step back and say, “I made this,” and to recognize that perceived value aside, it is good because you made it.

Build with the value of the finished product in mind. It’s worth it.

Sunday Fabulous

Sleeping later than the weekdays.
Cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Fall colors raging rampant.
An entire afternoon with nothing to do but exist and be together.
Bursting organ (instrumental, not anatomical) choruses.
Sunday best.
Out for walks.
Resting.
Reading.
Eating whatever whenever.
Afternoon naps.
No responsibilities or obligations.
Sunday dinner.
Ice cream.
Fruit pie.

All the things that make Sunday fabulous.