Happy Thanksgiving (Part II)

I set out today, to write a post philosophizing about the nature of good and evil. I’ll probably clean it up and get it posted another day when I’m too lazy to write something new. 🙂 My plans to wrap it up, though, were subverted by an incredible article that popped up in my twitter feed today.

Coming from a family with a proud military tradition, I was immediately moved by David French’s description of his arrival in Iraq. But for those of you who aren’t moved by incredible acts of heroism, there’s also a beautiful adoption story. It’s far more significant a story than anything I could write today. Check it out:

Ten Years Ago Today – by David French

For those of you who missed it, the title references my post about our Expat Thanksgiving last weekend.

Running Just To Catch Myself

Some days, I could swear I’m on a hamster wheel.

More than a decade ago, Mark Schultz wrote a great song about the general busyness that pervades American life. One of the things I love about living in Germany is that things move a little slower here. Shops and restaurants close early. I walk most places and spend virtually no time in my car. But somehow, my American-ness still gets the better of me a lot.

I set out with grand ambitions… but now it’s after 8pm, and I just didn’t get much done. It’s amazing how a day can feel completely full, like every moment is accounted for, and yet almost nothing got done. How does that even happen?

Do you ever feel this? Like somehow all of your effort amounted to nothing? How do you cope? What are your strategies to make tomorrow better? I’d love to read them in the comments.

Writing Tips: Create an Interesting Character Part 2

If you missed it, you can read part 1 here.

So, you’ve figured out a major event that shaped who your character is, and you’ve thought through what they want in this scene. That’s good! Here’s a couple of additional questions to tackle.

Who were/are their parents?

My acting coach always used to ask me the names of my characters parents. It seemed ridiculous. But her point was, who doesn’t know the names of their own parents? Naming your characters parents may not bring anything of value to your story, but knowing about them will. Like it or not, all of us have been shaped by our parents. Some of us were shaped by never knowing them. Others were shaped by the incredible love their parents showed them, or perhaps by neglect or abuse. Whether your character’s parents impacted them positively or negatively, they add a vital layer to who your character is now, and what they’re about to do.

This gets into your character’s background. Where have they been and how does it shape who they are now? Much of this detail may never be revealed in the context of your story, but it’s important because it shapes the choices your character will make.

Where are they conflicted?

I’m not asking where they face conflict. Your story should be rife with that. I mean, where are they at war with themselves? Take me, for example. I’m a very honest person. Being truthful is something I deeply value. Except on those rare occasions when I lie. I love my wife. She’s amazing. My passion for her is hard to quantify. Except in those moments where I put myself first. We humans are a writhing bag of contradictions. When creating a character, my natural impulse is to point them in a straight line, wind them up and let them go. But real people aren’t like that. Somewhere we all have those hooks, those wounds, those bits of damage that will pull us off course. And there are other things, issues about which we just can’t make up our mind. Give your characters those sorts of contradictions and struggles.

What weird things do they do?

Hobbies are great. Your character should have one. And mannerisms. What do they do that’s kind of odd? What are their compulsions? I’m loath to admit this publicly, but good writing is all about honesty and self revelation, right? I have a difficult time bypassing a q-tip. If I see one, I’m compelled to clean my ears. It doesn’t matter if I just did it. And if I don’t see one, I could go a month without cleaning them. Here’s another one: I grew up with parents who told me to clean my plate. When I was in elementary school there was a terrible famine in Ethiopia and a lot of people were starving to death. In my mind, I still have a responsibility to eat everything served to me, and not throw away food. I’ll often catch myself scraping at my plate trying to get everything off of it.

Maybe your character bites their tongue when they concentrate, or they make little whistling sounds without realizing they’re doing it. These traits do two vital things for you. First, they help your audience to tell your characters apart. Don’t be Robert Jordan and make every female sniff in annoyance and pull her braid. (I’m a huge Jordan fan — but that was one of the weaknesses of his books) Let each character have their own unique quirks. It helps us keep track of who is who. The second thing this does for you, is it reveals something about who they are. If you do this right, their quicks give us hints at the things that shaped and drive them. And that can become another mystery we want to unravel. So we turn to the next page and keep reading.

Of course, there’s a ton more that goes into creating a good character, but I don’t want to commit to another episode right now. I’ll probably circle back to this eventually, though.

In the mean time, what questions do you ask yourself as you seek to make compelling and interesting characters? Please share them in the comments.

Thanksgiving

We celebrated Thanksgiving tonight. It’s kind of early, but then Thanksgiving isn’t really a holiday here. It’s one of the many small little adjustments to life overseas.

Instead of a long weekend spent with family, we have to do something a bit different. We keep the holiday in spirit. We come together with our fellow expat colleagues, and we have a little pot luck dinner. All the usual traditions are represented. Turkey, mashed potatoes… you know the drill. One of the fixtures that wasn’t so familiar in the U.S. is the exchange of traditions. Someone always asks, “what did your family do back home?” Another, is that inevitably, someone at the table is from Canada. Comparisons are made. This year we had an interesting conversation about how the Canadian Thanksgiving (which lands in October) is likely influenced by the colder weather, and thus the earlier end to the harvest season.

It’s different. And yet… kind of the same. Coming together with people who are dear to us, sharing amazing food, and remembering just how good we have it.

I hope all of you have much to be thankful for this year.

Website updates [Disclaimatory Cop-out]

Since my decision to reboot this blog and start posting regularly, I’ve discovered just how old and broken down it’s gotten. I’d sort of been keeping up with WordPress updates, but hadn’t been careful about maintaining permissions or done much of any testing to make sure old links still worked.

It turns out that lots of links don’t work. I’m sure there are pictures and videos that are missing. I’m doing what I can to get that fix what I can in my limited free time. But in truth, a lot of this is just old. Things change on the internet. Videos get taken down. Other websites go away. I’m not going to go back and revise old posts to remove missing content. That feels disingenuous to me somehow.

All that to say: if you find something broken feel free to comment and I’ll have a look. Some missing content has been maintained for reasons of historical preservation. <insert eye roll here>