Herman is taking a break from his usual guard duties. The songbirds on the feeder just a few feet away, routinely attempt to escape the raiding sharp-shin hawks by crashing into the window. By leaping up to scare them away before they make contact, he believes that he is protecting me from the noise of them hitting the window. However, a fourteen pound cat hitting the window and shade makes much more racket than a four ounce finch. Herman also watches the drive way for visitors. He announces their arrival by launching himself from his shelf, landing with a resounding thud, and then proceeds to vocalize in the most morose way.
His antics can be a little distracting at times while I’m writing. However, they are sufficiently infrequent to make him a wonderful writing companion. He also like to make an appearance at our weekly writer’s group meetings. Often, he will sit on the floor next to my chair a vocalize so loudly that the meeting conversation is disrupted by his voice coming through my headset microphone. Of course, then I am required to lift him onto my lap and give him adequate face time on camera as well. This, in turn, has been known to spawn jealousy among the furry companions of the other writers within the group, each demanding their own five minutes of camera time. All of these writing companions are of the feline variety.
I noticed that in many of the movies that I’ve seen where writers are portrayed, they have cats as companions. It made me wonder just how many writers have something other than a feline as a writing companion. So that’s my question for you all today. What flavor of writing companion do you have?
A few years ago a friend of mine, AnnMarie Wyncoll, suggested I try clotted cream and jam on my crumpets. It has taken me a long time to track down a source for clotted cream here in Wisconsin. Most of the store managers I asked about it, didn’t have a clue what it was. I could have made my own and probably will going forward. But, I wanted to try the commercial stuff first. Well, this week, I stumbled into a jar of the real thing!!
With much fanfare my wife warmed up the crumpets, got out my favorite black raspberry jam, the new jar of clotted cream, and a hot cuppa coffee. OMG! Heaven!
I wish I could get in touch with AnnMarie to thank her for introducing me to this tasty treat.
The garden has been put to bed. A thin blanket of snow covers the crawling rocks up the hill. The hunting season for whitetails is over. Ice skims over the lakes. The wind shifts, coming out of the northeast, picking up tempo, driving the remaining leaves before it. The snowplow replaces the lawn mower at pole position in the garage. Old manuscript set aside in favor of a blank computer screen. A seemingly endless supply of decoration containers rotate into the house, only to rotate back into the garage after their contents adorns the halls of the manor. Warm fire. Hot tea. Hot shower. Flannel sheets, down comforter, heavy quilt, and purring cats await.
The scene that I just finished writing is from Book Two of my contemporary western fantasy series. The original purpose of the scene was to introduce a small group of characters who would play various roles in subplots during Book Two and become part of the major plotline in Book Three. Unfortunately, during the scene, the characters have attempted a coup of my book. It seems as though they feel that the major plotline I had planned for Book Three should run concurrently with the major plot currently running in Book Two.
Having the characters mutiny or attempt other subterfuge is not unusual. Well rounded characters often begin to do things that we writers weren’t suspecting. I normally look forward to that point in the writing process. That is where the story tends to really get interesting. The trouble with this particular hostile take-over attempt is logistical. My primary character cannot be in two places at the same time. And, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to rationally have him deal with both plots at the same time. One occurs in California, the other in Arkansas. A secondary character could take the lead in one of the plots. however, that would take too much away from the PC’s overall role. Running the plots consecutively within the same book might be possible, though it might feel like two books within a book, and that’s not the style I’m after.
My characters are usually right when they begin to take me on a wild goose chase. But this time I think they may be handing me a burlap sack and a flashlight for a good old-fashioned snipe hunt. Been there. Done that. Oops. Sorry about that. I’ll wait here while some of you look up what a snipe hunt is…Right. Now doesn’t that sound like fun?
So, while I continue to ponder my options for dealing with my wayward characters, the existing plot will continue to “chase them up trees and into the swamp while throwing stones at them.” Perhaps, one of them will offer up and idea that we can agree upon. who knows? It has happened in the past.
Today, I drink a toast as many do, to those men and women who wrote a blank check to their country and served in the armed forces. I am grateful to each and every one. Veterans within my family. Those I’ve had the pleasure to work with throughout my career. Those that I am honored to still call my friends. Those that continue to serve. I believe that America remains the greatest country in the world because you are ever vigilant on that wall. You will always have my undying respect and gratitude. I salute you. God bless you!
A critical part of any story is the arc of the character’s life as it traverses the plotline. The character must grow and/or change in some way during the course of the story to generate interest and tension. The reader expects and demands that the character to change in response to actions and events that engage with the character.
Some writers carefully plan every aspect of this change for each member of their cast. They develop piles of notes which include every cause and effect, action and reaction, beginning personality profile and end-state profile. They meticulously control each character to ensure that the ending exactly what they imagined it would be when they began the story.
Other writers start off with their basic character idea and let the character develop as the story unfolds, growing and changing based on the environment as it is encountered. At times, the character may act in a way that is unexpected or seemingly irrational. These actions may take the story in a direction the writer did not mean for the story to go.
So, what happens if the character’s arc veers wildly from its original path? The writer may have to make a decision whether to let the character’s arc continue in this new direction, or use a heavy hand and bring the character back in line within the original intention. Allowing the new direction can be exciting and very rewarding. However, the writer must trust the character. This is not always an easy thing to do, especially for new writers or untested characters.
Choosing to use the heavy hand and make major edits can be even more daunting and has caused some writers to start over at the beginning or even scrap a project completely. Character arcs are that important!
What happens then, when a writer reflects on his or her own life arc and is unsatisfied with where it is at? Perhaps they have not reached the goals they set for themselves by the time they reached their current age. Or maybe, their personality has changed due to life experiences and they are no longer the happy go lucky person they once were. Or, an accident or illness has left them unable to live the life they had dreamed of. Does a writer have choices regarding their ability to respond to their own life arc? Of course they do.
Granted, going back and rewriting ones life is not something that is currently possible. At least as far as I am aware. However, a writer can choose to accept their arc as it is, or they can choose to make changes that will alter the course of that arc in the future. Just like any other character, I might add. The choices and possible alternatives may or may not have limits depending on what the change entails and the actions required to affect the change. But as every writer knows, lots of little changes can have a huge impact on a character by the end of a story.
I noticed recently, after watching my wife interacting with several individuals in the grocery store, that I am not as nice a person as I used to be. I rarely smile and say, “Hi” to people I meet on the street. Offering to help someone in need is not automatic like it once was. Cynicism is a major mode of communication for me. When I asked my wife about my observation, we came up with all sorts of great excuses for my “shift” in behavior. Things like: lines of work, work environment, media, politics, social media, toxic personal relationships with family and friends, and lack of adequate stress relievers were just a few. As I said, these are just excuses.
To me it appears that changing my arc is simple, but not easy. It is about making better choices. I choose to smile and say, “Hi” to the cashier when I pay for my gasoline and coffee. I choose to to not watch ABC or CNN news. I choose to adjust my schedule to ensure that I spend more time writing and less time listening to or reading comments from individuals who might push my buttons. In other words, I’m taking the small changes approach to altering my character arc. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Three score and a couple years ago, I spewed forth to being upon this continent, to the pure joy of my parents, and the utter chagrin of my older brothers. Since that time, the reviews would be a mixed bag among the other humans that I’ve made contact with. That’s likely not unusual for most people who make it this far. That number is a milestone for a number of reasons. As such, it warrants a few moments and words.
I don’t believe that congratulations are deserved just for living ones life. Each of us has trials and tribulations, obstacles to overcome. Achievements. Pitfalls. Failures. Rebounds. So, what then is the point of a milestone? A review? A reflection? Just replaying ones great achievements seems too narcissistic to me. A sign hanging on the wall in my house speaks of, “the number of breaths you take in life is not as important as the number of moments that take your breath away.” So, as I reflect on the this milestone, what comes to mind are a few of those images, feelings, events, and people that stood out as special.
Some of the moments that have taken my breath away:
Watching bald eagles mating flights over the St Croix River.
Helping a woman bring her new daughter into this world.
Holding the hand of a dying stranger as his spirit left his material body for the last time and travelled to the afterlife.
Swatting my hand and killing eleven mosquitos. Then, after escaping into the safety of a nylon tent with my brother, we attempted to calculate the number of mosquito carcasses it would take to completely fill up the cylinders of a 327 cubic inch engine. (I no longer remember) Then, trying to get to sleep while listening to the buzz of a billion vengeful mosquitos, each yearning for one drop of my blood. What would I look like in the morning if the tent were not between me and them?
Seeing the ocean as flat and still as a mirror, not even a minor blemish as far as the eye could see.
The power of the thunderstorm crashing through a high mountain valley, lightning cracking all around making the air smell of ozone.
Standing and looking down at the actual documents that this country was founded on. Not photocopies or pictures in a book. the actual signed two-hundred year old documents.
Seeing the look of understanding appear in a student’s eyes for the first time after a dozen failed attempts.
Having a squirrel scamper down a tree, that I was sitting at the base of while deer hunting, and sit on my camouflaged hat/head not realizing that I was not part of that tree. He actually went back up the tree after several minutes without raising the alarm! I still don’t know how I kept from laughing while he sat there eating his acorns, dropping the hulls in my lap.
The Arizona Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, The Alamo, Gettysburg Battlefield. Just go to these places. You’ll understand the feeling once you get there.
I can’t begin to talk about the people. Way too many. Oh, how I want to. Even some of you reading this…
That’s some of my moments. Thank you for letting me reflect on them. In one of my favorite movies, “Meet Joe Black,” an a dying woman tells the doctor that, in the end, all life is about is collecting pretty pictures. That is what we take with us. I thought that was an interesting way to look at it. I’ll keep collecting mine and I hope you do too.