The Role of Supporting Characters

Today’s DIY MFA Book Club writing prompt centers around supporting characters. The question to ponder is, “What’s your favorite supporting character archetype, and why?” I thought about the novel I’m editing right now. It is rich in characters, and I really had to think about pile of rocks supporting characterswhat role they played. While I’d planned them in using the DIY MFA character archetypes, that was in 2014, and here I am in 2018, editing again. Many revisions later, I was curious if the characters were still true to form. I’m usually good about keeping my notes; but couldn’t find them to compare. That’s okay, if the characters have a role that makes sense, I will have accomplished my goal.

Some background from the DIY MFA program. I know some of my readers are in book clubs, and this information will be useful when discussing books with your groups. Main characters come in several flavors – aka Archetypes: Ordinary Boy/Girl, Larger-than-life, and Misunderstood (the anti-hero).

The novel is a young-adult, underdog, fantasy about an ordinary girl, who finds herself transported through time (I call it riding the chronowave) to a pirate ship in 1720. Prior to time-traveling (or chronowaving), she is a normal high-school student, worried about a history test and annoyed by a boy who is interested in her and doesn’t get the message to leave her alone. Once she’s in 1720, she finds herself thrown into a survival situation where the odds are against her.

characters game pieces

But this blog is about the supporting characters around her. They are: her mom, a tavern owner in 1720, three women she learns are relatives in 1720, a seaman on a submarine in 1720 and 1941, and the boy who likes her in her present time.

Supporting Characters also come in different flavors: Villain, Love Interest, BFF, Mentor, and Fool. The first four are self-explanatory. The Fool character tells it like it is. This character will be the one to keep the main character grounded in truth.  Let’s look then at my supporting cast.

Mom, the tavern owner, and the seaman on the submarine are mentors. They impart wisdom and information to my main character and to the reader. It is through them we learn how the chronowave works, and how it is that my main character finds herself on a German U-Boat in the Caribbean in 1720. Each of these characters imparts a piece of the puzzle which helps the main character navigate her adventure.

The three women are sidekicks. They embody qualities the main character wishes she had. Poise, determination, and an ability to see life clearly. They help her fight the villain and bad-guy (more on them later) and help her develop into the leader she is by the end of the story.

The boy who won’t leave her alone has two roles. First, he is the boy-next-door love interest. He’s there the whole time, but it isn’t until the adventure is complete that the main character realizes what a gem he is. Second, he is a co-conspirator. It is through the struggle to survive and his help to her throughout, that the love interest is fulfilled.

That leaves me with the bad guys. Not content with one bad guy, this story has a scheming villain who wants ultimate power and will destroy our main character hero to get his way.  It also has a more garden variety, day-to-day bad guy, who helps the villain. If you want to get all philosophical about it, the scheming villain represents forces of evil in our world today that work against the better good with an intent that they alone benefit. The day-to-day bad guy represents the apathy, greed, and lack of consideration that pervades much of the world’s society. It isn’t intentional, but in its disinterest, it results in a similar evil.

Do I have a favorite supporting character type? I don’t think so. They each fulfill a role to support the main character. If the story has intrigued you, keep an eye on this blog for news of its publication. But first I must finish editing! Reapplying nose to grindstone………

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The Role of Supporting Characters

Your Best Practice is my Worst Nightmare

best practice

As a working engineer, nothing set my teeth on edge more than a huge meeting where best practices were shared. The unstated understanding was that whatever one person shared was a holy grail that would transform the way others managed their project or tasks, and equally implicit was that the rest of the room were dullards for not having thought up the best practice to start with.

Just as every snowflake is different, and every grain of sand unique, each person’s best practice is applicable to them alone. Yes, there is benefit in learning how others approach a similar problem but in the end, each situation calls for a tailored solution.

I rebelled against the best-practice religion in my engineering career, but followed it blindly when I dedicated my time to writing. I listened to those that said — ‘Just write it, you can fix whatever is wrong in the re-write.’ Having come from an industry that values doing it right the first time – the whole notion of a built-in rewrite cycle seemed flawed. But I wrote. I penned a messy, confusing story that four rewrites later is still going through major revision.

While still pecking away at that novel, I wrote a shorter, middle-grade novel, trying a more structured – dare I say engineering-based – approach. True to form, I altered the recommended spreadsheet, but the story came together faster, with less work to do in the rewrite.

I realized that I have an engineers analytical brain, and when I try to deny that, my writing suffered. Once I honored this fact, I felt my writing elevate and storytelling became easier. Best Practice should be re-framed to “here – this worked for me — see if it works for you” — and that I embrace wholeheartedly.

Your Best Practice is my Worst Nightmare

Feeding My Creativity

Today’s DIY MFA book writing prompt is about what feeds creativity. As a “graduate” of the DIYMFA program, and by that, I mean I went through the whole program and keep inspiration boxin the loop through the various Facebook pages and Gabriel’s emails; I have several of the tools she suggested. These include a box with special rocks (rocks talk to me – don’t laugh – I know there are others out there with the same talent), colored paint chips from the hardware store, an envelope full of words randomly cut, and some dice.

My office is also a source of inspiration. I have two quilts my mom made, a stained glass my dad made, photos of friends, photos green soap box licenseI’ve taken, ribbons from my wine making and writing endeavors, my guitar and a music stand, a sip-and-paint picture of flowers that isn’t half-bad, my father’s soap-box, and stacks of books to read.

And with all that, my most creative time is right after I get up. When the sun is just starting to tinge the horizon and the birds are ruffling their feathers after a night of silence. In the stillness of my mind I find heroines, plots, and questions that linger only if I can get them down on paper. Later in the dsunrise san miguelay I’m better at organizing my thoughts, exploring the ideas I’ve scribbled down in my journal. The creative window for new thoughts lasts only about an hour. But the opening they make into my whole creative process is enough to fuel the rest of the day.

Feeding My Creativity

#METOO – Finally

For some reason the phrase “abuse of power” struck me as odd today. I wasn’t doing anything special, just driving back from my Pilates class, but it occurred to me that that specific phrase was an oxymoron. All abuse is a misuse of power. Whether we are talking sexual abuse, physical abuse, political abuse, or bullying, the main driver is one person’s expression of their power over the fate of another. I’ve anguished over the #metoo movement because I felt I was the victim of abuse but could never put my finger on one over-the-top example. I wasn’t locked in a room with someone, or forced to perform a sexual act to retain a job or succeed in my career.

I was however, towered over and intimidated by large (read – tall) men who were my bosses and managers at work. I realize that being a tall male isn’t a crime. And the fact that I’m a shorter than average female isn’t a crime either. But I certainly felt that way in my work world. While I learned to make fun of my height, and play up to it so that others didn’t feel uncomfortable with my perpetual examination of their nose hairs, that was a defense mechanism.

Large men, especially bosses or bosses of bosses made me feel inferior. I know, I know, that was my doing. I’m in control of my response – Eleanor Roosevelt taught me that. The thing is, usually the intimidation was in my mind. I viewed myself as somehow less experienced or not as smart because I wasn’t able to look a man in the eyes – as my Dad had taught me to. Okay, so shame on me.

But there was one boss. My quintessential Bad Boss. The one I’ve been stewing about since I left the corporate world and haven’t figured out a way to exorcise. Then along came the #metoo movement and I thought now is my moment! Except he never explicitly sexually harassed me. Instead he ignored me, went around me, made up bad stories about my work group and worked behind the scenes to demote me, with a goal of making things so bad I’d leave. He almost succeeded in breaking me. And by that, I mean literally. Before it was through, I had to seek outside mental health help, took anti-depressants, and saved myself by leaving that division and finding a job in another sector of the company. One where people believed in me and wanted me to succeed.

From parents who abuse children, to bosses who abuse employees, to men who abuse women, the abuser is typically someone who can change how others live their lives. Precious few of these power brokers choose to change others’ lives for the better. I heard on the radio this morning that we, as (fill in the blank), can choose to fight to get rights or choose to claim the rights we already have, and move forward. I choose this path.

fist 3I’m a smart, thoughtful, creative individual who happens to be a woman. I choose the right to be accepted and rewarded for those traits. And my boss from hell can go there.

P.S. as an aside – and another example of the subtle shades of gender bias – when I went to find a clip art of a fist – they were all male fists. So I took a picture of my own hand.

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#METOO – Finally

Introducing – The Protector! Faster than a misplaced comma…….

Today I took an online quiz to determine my storytelling superpower.

superhero woman

I’m a Protector – my superpower is writing superheroes. My favorite characters see their world in danger and will do whatever it takes to protect it and those they love in it. These characters may not wear spandex and capes, but they show almost superhuman fortitude in their quest to prevent disaster, whatever the cost to themselves. I’m drawn to characters who stand up to the forces of evil and protect what they believe in.

This makes sense, as the book I’m currently editing is about a fifteen-year-old girl who battles pirates and a Nazi U-Boat captain to save the world from evil. She doesn’t wear a cape, she’s a typical freshman in high-school, with a strong sense of adventure and the difference between right and wrong.

So, of course, I dug further to decide what my superhero name would be. There are several websites that will generate a superhero persona for you after answering a few questions. In the interest of science (because as anyone who knows me will tell you – I’m a nerd of several types), I visited several sites. Mashing them all together, I’m Dr. Polygraph/Jupiter Moon/Ghost Surfer.

I had a close encounter with a meteor which left me with the superpower of being a human lie detector. I can instantly tell whether someone is telling me the truth or lying. This way of saying it is politer than how I think of it – bullshit detector.

I am also able to channel and summon the natural forces of any planet or moon. The volcanos of IO, the acid rain of Venus, the sands of Mars are mine to command.

Oh, and I can fly.

Can’t wait to see what my imagination comes up with for a character and plot using this!  What is your superhero – whether it’s a storytelling hero or other?  Take the quiz and share the result here in the comments.

Up, up and awayyyyyy!

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing – The Protector! Faster than a misplaced comma…….

Honoring My Reality

Today’s writing prompt, from Gabriela Pereira and her amazing DIYMFA Book Club, is about balance and honoring reality. Realizing that there is room enough for both things (writing and living) in your life.

balance

True to form, my schedule didn’t allow me time to think or write on this topic until this morning. And I’m allocating an hour to do so, because it’s a beautiful day, there is pruning to do, and I can’t sit in a chair for more than an hour anyway.

As with all difficult topics, I start with the dictionary. My handy, American Heritage Dictionary, which I won in 1975 in a writing contest, has fifteen entries for balance, which include: “3. A stable state characterized by cancellation of all forces by equal opposing forces.  4. A state of bodily equilibrium. 5. A stable mental or psychological state; emotional equilibrium.” And possibly my favorite – “6. A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements, as in a design or composition.”

All the dictionary definitions address the give and take of opposing forces. I’ve found that all forces are not equal, and rarely do they cancel each other out in any reasonable timeframe. Rather, a broader horizon is needed to evaluate balance. In my earlier years, I put writing on the back burner (I had an uncle that actively discouraged me to write, but that’s another blog post), and engage in a financially appropriate career. The scales of my balance beam tipped way to one side and I threw myself into several fields looking for the creative outlet that writing would have provided. All the while I journaled, wrote non-fiction articles, and picked away at a novel. I honored my reality of the time by working hard, dabbling in writing, and dreaming of a time when I could focus on it full time.

Flash forward (although the actual time didn’t flash at all – at times it seemed to crawl as slow as a worm across the sidewalk after a rain). I’m able to focus on writing, but other things have popped up to challenge me. Things I didn’t have while working, like friends, time to exercise, ten acres to take care of, a fledgling agri-business to run. Sometimes I think that I purposely throw barriers in front of myself to draw me away from writing. The truth is far more interesting. Life is what you make of it. I love my friends, learn through my business, and feel better than I ever have. Writing is how I think through things, analyze my actions, dive into my imagination. Everything else I do feeds that beast; gives me ideas, distance, and enthusiasm to write when I do spend the hours in front of my computer.

So, in a way, I can’t relate one incidence of a time when I “honored my reality,” because I do it every day. I call it life.

DIYMFA Book CLub

 

 

Honoring My Reality

Does a Kirkus “Star” Mean the Book is Good? Or that it is Culturally Safe?

In full disclosure: I have not read the book American Heart by Laura Morarity, however, I have read the NPR interview covering the Kirkus Review. It should be noted that an author or publisher pays for a Kirkus review, and Kirkus is in the business of providing editing services.

Originally, this novel was given a positive review, including a “star” within the Kirkus system, which is a significant achievement and a benefit to marketing the book. Objections were raised however, and the original review was withdrawn, and a new one put in its place. The updated review, which did not include a “star,” also stated: “It is a policy of Kirkus Reviews that books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to Own Voices reviewers—writers who can draw upon lived experience when evaluating texts.” The star originally awarded was withdrawn when the reviewer went back and “clarified” that the Muslim character is only viewed through a white protagonist’s filter.

Certainly, anyone can criticize any artistic work for any reason, and I applaud Kirkus for its corporate sensitivity to cultural differences, and accurate portrayals of, as they put it, “marginalized groups.” Yet, its actions trouble me because of the implications.

The first is that only writers of color or from marginalized group may write characters of that color or marginalized group. The second is that, perhaps, only white writers are restricted from writing characters of color or from marginalized groups.

This is a novel written for entertainment. It is not a classroom text book or a scholarly non-fiction on culture and society. It is fiction. While it is proper to insist on accuracy in text books, or the like, in fiction, the author is free to express reality, and perhaps even take the story beyond reality, to tell the tale.

I’m left wondering where the publishing and reviewing industry has been for the last 100 years, as men wrote horribly distorted female characters and perpetuated stereotypes of women that reverberate in society today. Women were historically seen through “a male protagonist’s lens.” Indeed, some say that women are a “marginalized group” within publishing writ large. Taken to its logical extreme, only women can write a female character, only men can write male characters, only blacks can write black characters, etc. Where does it end? Can fantasy or science fiction be written only by authors who are aliens?

Reading and writing characters is one way to “walk a mile in their shoes” and we should be ENCOURAGING authors to write diverse characters, and — as Justina Ireland says in the NPR interview — “get it right.” If readers don’t like how a character is written, then don’t buy the book. Literature can help bring us together, instead this short-sighted approach to punishing authors for creating diverse characters will polarize us even more.

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/21/559215264/kirkus-changes-review-after-american-heart-draws-outrage-as-white-savior-narrati

Does a Kirkus “Star” Mean the Book is Good? Or that it is Culturally Safe?