This summer I had the privilege of visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For those who haven’t been there, it is a rugged sort of beauty, one in which outdoor lovers are in their element.
Now, I’ve spent lots of time there in the past, but it’s been awhile. Yet, I’ve been there, in my mind. The Upper Peninsula is almost like a character in my book, The Nature of Denial. It was part of what inspired the story.
I remember working through the entire book in my mind over hiking and camping trips. I snuggled in my sleeping bag, listened to the snores of others, and imagined how the rugged nature of the U.P. could help heal a person so badly in need of healing.
Anna (my main character) is not taken from my life or any other person’s life, but the scenery is very much what (for the most part) I’ve seen on my own. And it has, in many ways, healed me, again and again.
Visiting some of my old “haunts” was exhilarating for me, like meeting an old, dear friend. I couldn’t help but smile at references in my book that only I would get as I passed an old (not to be named) questionable motel, a dazzling waterfall, or heard the calming whispers of the forest leaves.
So, that was a part of my inspiration for the book. The other parts are too long to get into for this blog (maybe another one?) but they have to do with themes that I seem to revisit in my writing–struggle, hope, friendship, and love. The world is full of darkness, but there is light around every corner.
“Dreams. Don’t be afraid of them. Immerse yourself in yours. Remember, they exist today, in the here and now, in the what you do in this very moment. Dream big, break goals down small, and start checking them off the list. It’s empowering.”
This is part of an email I sent to some of the high school students that I work with. One of my jobs is to mentor students in an online program. Many of these teens need to hear that they are capable, that dreams are possible, and other positive affirmations. I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for all of us to dream, and dream big.
Whatever the goal–being a writer, promoting world peace, making a decent living doing something you love–it is okay, imperative even, that we are dreamers. Dreamers have created the beautiful parts of humanity and advancements that have altered how we live. So, go ahead, dream a little, and if you have kids, encourage their dreams too!
In Michigan, spring is like a reawakening. Winter is beautiful, but long, and by the end of it, people around here walk with a dreariness in their eyes for no other reason than a lack of sun for too many days. So, spring here is special. You notice it, you long for it, you welcome it with open arms. When it comes, there is an observable change in people. They walk with an extra bounce in their step, smile at strangers, and there is a significant decrease in road rage.
It makes me think of my characters. How are they renewed? I enjoy putting characters in real-life situations which test their psychological make-up and see how they come out the other side. How are characters changed by going through darkness and difficulty? Do they come out better or bitter?
I think it can be either way, but the transformation of a character or the resistance to change makes interesting fiction (to me anyway). I find people fascinating–hence the writing obsession–and this particular aspect of writing creates rich character.
Have characters ever surprised you in their metamorphosis? What role does transformation take in your characters? What part of character development do you enjoy the most?
A few weeks ago, my family and I went to one of those splash places. I don’t need to name names, but the kind with slides, a lazy river, and other indoor water activities. After my energy wore away, I sat down and watched my children romp around and eventually I watched other people. This is what people in the Midwest call people watching. Now let me make sure we are clear what I mean here. I don’t mean being the fashion police or passing judgement in any way. I mean observing. Carefully.
Sometimes people will catch my eye because they remind me of someone in a book that is presently percolating in my brain. Other times, something about how they move makes me think of specific emotions and I contemplate how I would show that emotion or movement with words. Maybe they have an interesting physical feature that I wonder how I would describe. Then my mind starts to bounce around in a land of imagined characters. I have to be careful, I can get lost there!
If you haven’t already, try it sometime! While you watch, think of words that describe the way a person looks and how they move. What words would paint a picture for the reader of his/her lips, face, neck, or eyes to give people a strong visual of what you see? Are their movements graceful, quick, or laborious? Go one step further and imagine a life for them. What character traits do you imagine for them? Maybe you notice a person who reminds you of one of the characters in your next novel. Think about how the visual that you offer adds to the character that you’re creating.
The same can be done with settings. Take some time soaking up different settings that you have visited. What words would be best to give someone a sense of the place? What did it look, smell, and sound like?
The next time you’re sitting somewhere public with a free moment, put the phone down, and take a look around. Let your imagination wander with your eyes. Now, don’t get caught staring too long at people or someone will sound the stalker alert, but at times it’s important for a writer to spend some time engaged in observation. Just be careful not to get caught!
How do you explore character or setting and ways of describing them? What helps feed your creativity?