Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Ways I Become My Character

In a recent post, author JM Tohline (THE GREAT LENORE) reviews the importance of being completely submerged in your writing:

If you are writing in first person, you need to figure out what it will take for you to truly become that character who is writing. As an author, or as an aspiring author, you should be like those stories you read about actors who so fully become the characters they are portraying, they have a hard time returning to their normal self at the end of the day of filming, or when the production of the movie wraps up.

To prepare for her role in The Color Purple, Oprah Winfrey experienced a 24-hour slavery stimulation, which included being tied up and blindfolded.  Before writing The Apostle, Brad Thor traveled to Afghanistan to conduct research for his plot and setting.  And prior to her 2011 Grammy performance, Lady Gaga spent 72 consecutive hours inside a giant egg so she could be born on stage.

Many writers work around hectic schedules; jobs, classes, and chores often reduce time at our computers, even though we wish our stories could be the only task needing our attention.  Juggling multiple labors leads to feelings of inconsistency; we have days when our drive and ambition fall short.  Gaps between writing sessions disconnect us from our characters.  And when our vision becomes blurry, we catch ourselves spending more time bringing the picture into focus than actually producing. 

Not everyone has these problems, but many of us do.  Especially me.

My best work is produced when I'm fully in the zone.  For me, that means leaving my body and entering another; or, allowing my protagonist to "plug" his brain in mine.  His thoughts, emotions, and issues are downloaded in my head.  My WIP unfolds when I am my character; when my voice is silenced and his voice is heard.


1.  Music: I create the playlists Michael has on his iPod and loop them when writing.  The key is discovering which of my character's favorite songs inspire me.  I can't listen to a song simply because he would; the song must speak to me as much as it does him, even if we interpret the lyrics differently.

2.  Family Dinners: My protagonist is a 15yo male who eats with his family every night.  There are no exceptions in that household.  As the writer, I sacrifice my sanity and have dinner with my parents before writing these scenes.  And when my brother joins them, I try to be available for the full family dinner experience.

3.  Homework: Michael is a gifted ninth grade student who takes academics seriously.  He spends hours each night reading, studying, and completing school projects.  It's been a few years since I lived that lifestyle, so yes, I print assignments from the Internet and complete them myself.  In the last year, I solved geometry proofs, read and watched The Crucible, and researched the Civil Rights movement (okay, the last one was easy since I taught the unit - I just brushed up a bit).

4.  Television: Michael has little time for TV, but watches two shows religiously.  I never miss an episode. 

5.  Living The Experience: Sometimes it's not as easy as doing what Michael does.  For example, if he is nervous sneaking out at night, I can't do the same and feel that fear of being caught.  But I can put myself in a similar situation creating the same reaction, then record what I felt and translate it to Michael's character.  It's the hardest to pull off, but it's also the most rewarding.

In what ways do you become your character(s)?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stress Relievers That Don't Cause Cancer

Facebook gave me some good laughs recently.  And a few Amen moments.  Here are my favorites from the past week:

This last picture is mine.  It's the very cup I was handed yesterday.  Really, Starbucks?

  • Andrew Smith's STICK is in bookstores today.  VOYA praised it for being a "dark, painful, but ultimately hopeful, this is not a book for everyone, but in the right reader’s hands, it will be treasured.”  Topics addressed include bullying, homelessness, hard drugs, and sexual abuse.  I'm beyond pumped to get my hands on a copy.
  • Matthew MacNish and Alex Cavanaugh are co-hosting the Pay It Forward Blogfest this Friday. It's a great opportunity to network with other writers online.
  • My fantasy football team is now 3-2, dropping me to fourth place in the league.  Don't even want to talk about it.
  • I miss Borders. 
  • Editing makes me want to drink gasoline before swallowing a lit match.  Its not been a warm and fuzzy week over here.
The song I've been writing to most (it looped for six hours yesterday):

Happy Tuesday, friends! 

Monday, October 3, 2011

I Was Just Thinking; You Sure Look Great In Blue

"I've had enough, this is my prayer, that I'll die livin' just as free as my hair..."
~Hair, Lady Gaga

What's new: I made a spontaneous decision to enter the world of retail.  I got tired of wasting hours submitting resumes that were never acknowledged, so on a whim, I drove around, filled out applications, and came home with an opportunity to be paid in exchange for serving a local department store.  Pardon my enthusiasm; I'll tone it down a notch.

In all honesty, I'm grateful for the opportunity.  At the risk of sounding ill, I did miss working.  I missed getting out of the house and being around people - which makes no sense considering I avoid people like the plague, but I missed them nonetheless.  I missed a structured schedule that forced me to manage time efficiently.  I missed the accountability of having somewhere to report.

Compared to teaching, I can't say this position presents the challenges and satisfaction I'm used to.  But it does present flexibility, nothing to take home, and a paycheck - and any paycheck is better than no paycheck.  I'm able to block out writing time without neglecting my job.  My commute is a dream; I no longer spend hours in traffic jams, driving 20+ miles to a job that sacrifices quality writing time.  And except for the huge toll it's taking on my body, I have no complaints.  I'm still getting used to being on my feet so much.

The downside: My blog has been neglected.  I'm working to fix this, but it's going to take time as I transition.  And though I still read a number of blogs, it's often done on breaks via the inconvenient iPhone, which isn't the best for leaving comments as many of you know.  Please bear with me while I make a few adjustments. 

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 
– Harvey Fierstein.
  • Today is Stomp Out Bullying Day.  You can join the campaign by wearing a blue shirt and sharing this message with the rest of the world.  You can also visit the facebook page for more information on the origin of today.
  • A.S. King's EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS is in bookstores today.  Kirkus reviews describes it as "a resonant, uplifting story about not just getting through, but powering through, the tough times."  King puts a magical spin on the bullying epidemic, taking the reader on a powerful journey showing how one character copes.
  • Matthew MacNish and Alex Cavanaugh are co-hosting the Pay It Forward Blogfest on Friday, October 14.   This is a great opportunity to network with other writers online.
  • The mother of all colds is finally subsiding.  The booger kept me from enjoying the last Philly Lit Night, so here's hoping I'm not sipping DayQuil at any more.
  • My fantasy team experienced their first loss of the season, bumping me out of first place and slaughtering my undefeated status.  Tears may have formed - don't judge me.
  • A special thanks to Christine Danek for honoring me with some blog awards last week.  If you want to make an awesome new friend today, visit her blog and say hello. 
Every day 1 out of 7 kids and teens are approached online by predators, 1 out of 4 kids are bullied and 43% of teens, 97% of middle schoolers and 47% of older teens 18-24 are cyberbullied.  Over 160,000 kids stay home from school everyday for fear of being bullied.  Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students of all races and classes. Child and teen Bullying and Cyberbullying are at an all-time high. Some kids are so tormented that suicide has become an alternative for them. It has everyone worried (, 2011).

Lady Gaga performs a tribute to Jamey Rodemeyer at iHeartRadio 2011: