Fun with Characters

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I had a lot of fun with the blog post I wrote where I got to set scenes. So this time I thought I would create characters, and try to sum up their essences in just a paragraph. Let’s see what you think.

The girl ran her fingers along the spines of the books, examining them by touch as well as sight. She studied them with shadowed, grey eyes. The Mystery Hunter. The Lost Forest. Sherlock Holmes. She paused here and there to dwell on paperbacks or stroke the spines of hardcovers. Movement startled her and she glanced up, peering between the shelves at a boy who browsed in a nearby aisle. Quickly, lest he see her, she retreated deeper into the library. She was tired of people right now, and only wanted to be alone.

Well, it is a start. It’s pretty tricky to sum up a person. Let’s try again.

Daniel did not like being the oldest of five with a single mother. It meant constant work. There were always things to be done: dishes, diapers, and childcare. He was tired of being expected to be responsible. He wanted to go out to parties, like his other friends, wanted to be able to go to the mall without having younger siblings tagging along. Life, he felt, was irritably unfair. 

“Daniel,” his mother called yet again. He groaned and got up from the couch, where he had just had the optimism to turn on the tv. If he had to take much more of this, he was going to scream.

Okay, so interesting and difficult to sum up again. What do you think?

‘If you could go anywhere, where would you go?’ The black ink of the english assignment shone up at Marie. It was a good question for her to write an essay about. She put pen to paper, thinking about everything. About Ren, the boyfriend who she had recently broken up with. About Susie, the little sister who didn’t understand why her big sister had gotten so sad, or why her mother and father didn’t talk to each other anymore. She thought about her failing grades, about her long hours at work on the weekends, and about this subject, english, the only thing left to her. She stared down at the paper. ‘Away’.

Tricky yet again. I would love any feedback anyone has to offer me. Alright. Last one.

Determination surged through Tracy. She felt her nerves clench as a single stream of thought ran on repeat through her mind. She would do it. She would succeed. She would show everyone who had every doubted her, right now and before, that they were wrong. That she was worth something. She wasn’t about to let anything stand in her way. She had spent years working towards this point, years focusing every particle of her being on moving forwards, to pursuing her goal. She was not about to give up now. Not now, not ever.

Alright, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed my writing.

The Side Effects of Being a Word-aholic

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So I love words. Actually no, scratch that. I am obsessed with words. With writing, with stories, with fiction, with sentences, with synonyms, metaphors, similes, irony, sarcasm and imagery… you name it. Completely obsessed. I live half my time in a world of my own design, within the cradle of the words and realities that I write and build.

There are several side effects. Little quirks that normal, nonword-aholics would think ridiculously strange. Like if I’m listening to a song and they use a synonym for a word rather than just repeating it like most singers do, I’ll be like “That is a sexy use of a synonym. That is sexy.” And the people around me will ask me if I know what the word “sexy” means, and I will say “yes of course. I’m a writer.”

There is also the usual irrational anger at grammar mistakes on signs, in songs, in ads, on tv, in real life, on facebook, and pretty much everywhere else. I was on the bus the other day and there was a sign saying “Should dogs be allowed in a handheld carrier on buses?” Can you see it? Can you spot the mistake that made me angry for the rest of the trip? Should dogs be allowed in a handheld carrier on buses. Is it or is it not plural? The sign makes it seem like there are multiple dogs but they are only in one carrier, which is somehow on multiple buses. Okay, so maybe if you put hundreds of dogs into one carrier it would have to take up more space than just one bus. But then it wouldn’t really be handheld anymore, now would it? If that sign doesn’t piss you off, I don’t know what will.

I also am the type of person who edits their facebook statuses if they make a mistake in spelling or grammar. Or even if they think of a better wording for the status after the fact. I edit emails carefully. Even if they are just me sending documents to myself. I am being serious. I edit emails that are only going to myself.

And don’t get me started on double negatives. I cannot stand double negatives. They take a sentence that might have had a powerful meaning and make it so it is impossible to take seriously. You know what the person meant to say, but you also know that what they said is the opposite. As in “I don’t need nobody.” So you need everybody? Is that what you are saying? Absolutely everybody?

From this blog post, you are probably beginning to suspect that I might be a ridiculously annoying person to be around when it comes to saying or writing things wrong. Or playing scrabble with – I mean come on people, you cannot use slang or short forms, this isn’t the internet, this is scrabble! – or talking to in general. But I try to keep my oddities from escaping and making everyone in the vicinity run for cover. Unless you use a double negative or I know you really well. Then there is no mercy.

But there are also plenty of wonderful side effects to being obsessed with words. If I’m feeling crappy – if anything is wrong – I have a beautiful, precious escape. I can disappear from everything, into a world of gorgeous literary devices and sprawling stories. Into a world where I both exist and do not. Where a part of my soul is part of the very fabric of the universe. Where I am each word I write and each precious sentence I create. There is nothing but adventures, description and amazing characters. I am never alone and never bored. I have everything I need.

Having this piece of paradise always in the back of my mind, a trapdoor to escape, a beckoning song to embrace, is a joy and a help. I need it. It is my vice, but it is far healthier than most vices. It is my last refuge, my last home. With it in the back of my mind, I can get through anything. If the world was to crumble, I would still have it – a castle built out of letters, a world of words, a universe in which I am safe.

Christmas Break

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Today is the first day of my beautiful month long break. The time stretches out before me in glorious swathes of possibility. I can do whatever I want. I admit, I’m in shock. I really haven’t had much free time lately.

I’m going to edit my novel. Finish my third draft. Go on adventures. See people. Relax. Not be a hermit. Live in a house that isn’t falling apart piece by piece. I’m not just on break; I’m also leaving my cold, malfunctioning and problem-stricken house alone for the holiday season and going to live with my parents. I am definitely looking forward to it. In essence, I am taking a break from pretending to be an independent and competent adult.

Life tires me sometimes. I don’t like living where I am. It isn’t healthy. I have become a hermit. This gorgeous month is going to be my chance to recover from the last three months of work and  solitude. Perhaps new ideas will emerge when I can once again look at life with fresh eyes. New inspiration and hope. This break will be the sleep I need after a very long day awake.

Not only that, it will be a chance to immerse myself in the season; carols, Christmas trees and eggnog; simple pleasures and time with family. You have no idea how much I am looking forward to it.

And then of course, it is right back to work in January. Right back to long days and lonely nights, back to boredom and a make-do sort of house. But I’ll live and find happiness in it. I’ll find things to look forward to. I’m good at that I suppose; managing to enjoy life regardless. It is an important skill in this crazy, strange universe.

But let’s not think about the end of my break when it has only just begun. For now, I am simply going to sit and enjoy the beginning.

The First Read

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So I read a rather good book over the last three days. It needed a thorough edit, and a plot point needed to be adjusted here and there, some character development heightened, and some clarity added – but overall, it didn’t suck. I was happy with it and read avidly for just over seven hours spread across friday, saturday and sunday. It’s by a writer no one of knows yet – someone who isn’t even published, by the name N. Dunsmuir.

Okay, so yeah, that is me. I wrote it. But the point here is – it didn’t suck. It wasn’t even bad. It was actually pretty good. Yes, it needs a good edit. But for second draft material? I’m thrilled. The two things I thought were going to end up ruining it – characters who aren’t developed enough, and having too much dialog – turned out not to be as much of a problem as I thought they were. My characters are awesome, if I do say so myself, and need only minimal work. I do need to scrap some of the chatter, but not so much as to decimate my novel.

It is interesting what having a different perspective does. I was far too close to my novel while I was writing it and didn’t have enough of an idea of the bigger picture. A lot of things have been over-emphasized because of that. While writing, I couldn’t tell that the points I wanted to get across had already been integrated into the fabric of the story, so I kept making them. I’ve seen other writers make the same mistake, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to catch myself as I start the third draft.

Some other things that need work are my metaphors and similes. I like literary devices. A little too much actually. I am very fond of some descriptions and metaphors that I have come up with – but the unfortunate side effect is that I use them over and over again throughout the novel. As they say: kill your darlings.

It is going to be a fun challenge to smooth out the wrinkles in my novel. I am looking forward to the adventure. More than that, I am looking forward to being able to immerse myself in my world and my characters again. I am looking forward to this new permission slip to dive headfirst into a universe of my own making. Now it is time to add the details to this in-progress painting.

Random Thought #6

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These galleries are really just the places I put thoughts I’ve had that I wish I could tell people, but don’t have anyone to tell. It gets them out of my head. Otherwise they would swirl around in there collecting dust and growing old until I finally found someone to share them with. So here goes:

* Writers are the best escape artists.

* When I play a song I know really well on the piano, I cannot think about it. If I try to think about which notes I’m playing, and what chord what hand needs to play, my fingers will fall over each other and go sprawling across the keyboard. Instead, I need to relax and let my fingers guide me. After all, it is them that know the way. I kind of think life is like that; you can’t spend time trying to figure out where you are going and what is happening – just trust your instincts and accept the song as it is.

* I swear, the me that says things in my head is a lot more badass than the me that says things out loud.

* The more time I spend with nothing to distract me from thinking about the meaning of life, the more I become convinced that we will never find life’s meaning and the only way to stay happy is to stay distracted.

* In a world as bizarre and changing as this one, believing strongly in any religion or grand meaning is pointless. However, disbelieving in any of those is also pointless. The universe is so strange and inconceivable that our chances of stumbling upon the true meaning of it all are as remote as the chances of a flea building a nest out of moondust. I have come to the conclusion that no one actually knows what the heck is going on.

* That being said, there are a lot of merits to adopting the philosophy that the grand meaning of life is that we can only be complete with a bar of dark chocolate, a mug of tea, a shelf of books, a fuzzy cat, and a warm cuddle with someone whose song matches our own.

Alright. I have the chocolate, the tea and the books. It’s a start at completion.

* Sometimes I say I want to become a hermit, but what I actually mean is that I want to ditch society and go be with all the beautiful people who are weird and wonderful.

* “Just remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” – Margaret Mead

Christmas Spirit

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It’s December 3rd now, so I’m allowing myself to talk about Christmas. I skated around the subject for most of November, but it is finally beginning to seem like winter – Christmasy in a way that says the season has actually begun, and not just in a way that says that a lot of retail marketers think it has begun.

Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year, and I suppose that is because of my large, sprawling family. Almost all my siblings left home when I was little, so Christmas has always been a time to gather and see them again. I was a bit of a lonely child – still am? – and the winter break was a time to see everyone and feel connected. Things that are Christmas related have been incorporated into my heart as a sign of joy. Though of course, I’m not talking about blow-up reindeer and stocking stuffers. When I say “Christmas related” I mean the smell of homemade baking and the sharp freshness in the air that speaks of snow on the way. I mean the scent of fir that is the Christmas tree, and the sound of old carols playing from scratchy tapes. I mean the crackle of fire and the simplicity of spending time sitting at a puzzle with a cup of hot cocoa. And I mean the sound of loud voices and the bustle of far too many people in a too small house, all gathered around playing games and laughing.

Everyone has a different interpretation of Christmas. For some, it is the time to spoil people with presents. For others, it doesn’t matter – it’s just another holiday. For a lot of people, I imagine, it means a whole lot of stress and extra work and extra money. And then of course, for a giant crowd of the population, I expect it is a time of religious celebration.

I’m not religious and I’ve never been, but Christmas still holds special meaning – though I’ve been wondering whether I shouldn’t just call it “Midwinter” and be done with it. For me, this time of year is one of simple pleasure, kindness, and hope. I hate what it has become recently – I hate the consumerism, and the greed, and the money grab. How did a holiday that revolves around kindness become so corrupted? Christmas is about love, and, as the Beatles said, money can’t buy love.

So this year, let’s all focus on getting into the Christmas spirit. Let’s focus on kindness, love, and simplicity. Let’s sing carols at the top of our lungs and be together just for the sake of laughter. And then let’s forget to stop doing all of that. When boxing day comes, don’t leave your spirit at the doorstep as you rush out into the land of retail sales. Take it with you and ignore the mall. Go skating on a frozen lake instead, and come home cold and tired, just to collapse by the fire and tell stories. Because the world could use a little more Christmas spirit.

Fun With Frivolous Description

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I’m going to set a scene. I want you to focus on the words and try to imagine you are there. Just sit and put yourself in the place I paint. I want to see how effective I am at the art of description.

Lace rustles, quiet footsteps emerge through the muffled silence. The air is heavy and smells of old parchment and wood. The only light in the room comes from a series of high windows that set the sunlight spiraling through trails of dust. The figure of a woman walks softly between tall shelves, shadowed by the looming towers of books that sit, lopsided and crooked, upon every surface. She pauses before a particularly large pile of papers, her long, pale fingers searching between them. At last, with a heavy sigh that whispers around the room, she finds what she is looking for.

Alright. Time to change the scene again and try a new one. Ready for it?

The market bustles. Horse hooves clatter upon the cobblestones, and mothers yell as their children dart, laughing, around the animals’ anxious forms. A playful breeze tugs at the crowded lane, winding itself around the coloured scarves at one booth before going to pick up the scent of frying meat from another. It dances between shoppers and vendors alike, then skirts around a fountain that sends water splashing into a deep bowl. A small child leans over the rim, his grimy hands playing with the water, reaching for the coins crowded at the bottom.

Enough of that one. Time to switch this up again.

The stone wall was rough beneath the girl’s fingertips. She bent nearer, examining it, her eyes narrowed. It was worn and crumbling, low enough to step over. Beyond it, a tangled maze of ruins lay, overgrown with thick meadow grasses. Insects hummed above the mess of thorns and flowers that ate away at the lost buildings. The girl straightened and frowned. She clambered onto the nearest wall, careful not to catch the hem of her dress on the uneven stone. From this new vantage point she could just make out the rising shape of a haphazard temple wall. 

One more, shall we? And then you’ll have to tell me what you think.

The wind whipped branches to the ground, sending cedar boughs creaking and bending as it careened between the trees. It rattled the thin window panes of the old cabin, blowing snow sideways and painting the decrepit building like a gingerbread house. The air was icy and sharp in the boy’s lungs as he drew hesitant gulps of the winter wind. He surveyed the cabin, uncertain. It was rotten and half collapsed, the walls leaning drunkenly against a nearby tree. He stepped forwards with difficulty, his boots carving trenches in the drifts of powder. 

Well… that was a fun bit of scene setting. Tell me what you think!