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Wow, people. I’m thrilled–and also humbled–by your response to Starlight on Willow Lake. The most frequently-asked question about this book is “How did you come up with a character like Faith?” (She’s the protagonist.)
It’s a good time for me to answer this question, because I’m meeting with a bunch of writers at a Seattle7Writers event on Bainbridge Island. Here is how to make a fictional character seem very real to the reader. Get her talking. Make sure she’s talking in her own voice, not your voice. If you want to write a lot of different characters, you don’t want them all to sound like you.
The key for me is to have her speak in first person–on paper. I’m quirky, as you know, so I write this out in longhand as a free-flowing conversation with my newly-invented character. If you’re a writer, give it a try. If you’re a reader, move on! Go read something wonderful! Then come back and tell us about it!
ANSWER IN THE CHARACTER’S VOICE:
My ordinary world looks like:
The first time the reader meets me, here’s what I’m doing:
My most relatable trait is:
The problem I’m facing right now is:
The thing in my head that’s holding me back is:
The thing in my world that holding me back is:
If I don’t figure out my problem, the consequences are:
Show the reader this image to suggest where the story is going:
My person history in three sentences:
At this moment, I look like:
In school, I was:
The people in my family origin are:
Here’s how I make a living:
Here’s the person I love most in the world:
My favorite thing is:
My least favorite thing is:
I’m aware that I have this personal problem or issue:
My friends and family would say I have this personal issue:
I would finally feel complete if:
The thing I need right now is:
My deepest desire is:
My biggest goal in life is:
I have an emotional wound that stems from:
My greatest regret is:
The way I defend myself is:
The single characteristic that could destroy me is:
The single characteristic that could save me is:
What I want the reader to know about me right this moment is:
The one thing that is going to get me going on my journey is:
I’m reluctant to change my path because:
My biggest fear is:
I express that fear by:
If I don’t go on this journey, here’s what will happen:
If I do go on this journey, here’s what will happen:
The greatest danger to me right now is:
My mentor is:
I do have a code of ethics. Here is its, in one sentence:
Something that bothers my conscience is:
Here’s what it would be required to make me take a leap of faith:
My worst enemy is:
My greatest ally is:
In order to achieve my goal, I would be willing to sacrifice this:
The difficult choice he must make as my journey comes to an end is:
My emotional breakthrough would be:
I’ll know I’ve completed my journey and mastered my problem when I _______________________________________________________________________.
I hear it from emerging writers all the time. I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’m going to sit down and write it as soon as I…
- …get my day job under control
- …get my final kid into kindergarten
- …into college …out of jail
- …get my finances in order
- …fix my marriage
- …finish painting the house
- …pay off the car
- …clean the can opener
- …clean the rain gutters
- …get the puppy housebroken
- …retire from my job
- …finish watching the third season of “Weeds”
- …get my Bachelor’s…Master’s…PhD…LLB…MD
- …pay off my student loans
- …read all the Outlander books
- …check in with my nineteen thousand Facebook friends
- …upgrade my computer
- …make tenure
- …landscape the yard
- …take a vacation
- …host my book group
- …teach my teenager to drive
- …finish knitting this sweater
- …forgive my parents …forgive myself
- …get over my fear of failure …get over my fear of success
- …get permission from my parents/spouse/children/therapist
- …hire an agent
- …learn to use the subjunctive case
- …quit worrying about what my family will think of my story, especially the dirty parts
- …stop smoking/drinking/playing online games
- …figure out the business of publishing
- …lose 20 pounds so I look good in my author photo…
You name it, and a procrastinating writer has said it. Here’s a dirty little secret. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the cruel reality is this. There will never be a good time to write. Life will always intrude. That’s what life is. Be glad for that. If you have no life, you have nothing to write about.
The good news is, there’s a simple solution. Make time for the things that are important to you. If writing your story is important, make time for it. Simple as that. Turn off the TV, leave the dishes undone, close your e-mail, grab a notebook and pen, and tell your family, “Don’t interrupt me unless your eyes are bleeding.” You’ll be surprised by the respect they give you.
The way you spend your day is the way you spend your life. So quit being your own worst enemy and start being your own best friend. Make time to write, even if you don’t have time.
I have procrastinated my way through the writing of many books. Somehow, the story emerges. The Beekeeper’s Ball hits the shelves next week. There’s a lot of love and food in that book. Let me know what you think.
Step one – open shitty first draft.
Step two – print out in word draft mode, light colored ink.
Step three – put on extra strong glasses and bright lamp. Rewrite every single page until it looks like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical space for laying out the pages. Clothespins are key. So are Post-It notes.
Step five – type in handwritten edits.
Step six – go back to step 2 and do it all again.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Barkis is not too subtle when he wants to go for a walk….
The secret? See below:
I believe traditions remind us of who we are when we’re in danger of forgetting.
Both The Goodbye Quilt and How I Planned Your Wedding (a funny memoir I wrote with my daughter, Elizabeth) are about letting go and moving on in the most loving way possible. As the school year comes to an end, the fact that your nest is empty stares you in the face.
If your daughter or son has gone away to college, like Molly in The Goodbye Quilt, she is now coming home as a “guest” in the house where she grew up. When this happened in my life, I finally understood the whole point of family traditions that revolve around food. A strong tradition, no matter how unconventional, is a bit like a short cut. It’s a cue to remind us to slip back into celebration mode without having to reinvent the wheel.
I wasn’t prepared for those odd moments of awkwardness when Elizabeth walked into the house on her first trip home from college. After a gleeful reunion with the dogs, her old favorite things and the freakishly neat room that used to be such a mess, she didn’t quite seem to know what to do with herself. Should she unpack that suitcase full of dirty clothes? Call her friends, play the piano, go for a walk? It was like being in an alternate reality. For a moment, we were unhappy, uncertain.
Then I said, “Let’s put on music and bake cookies.”
Within minutes, we’d fallen back into our roles–mom and daughter, goddesses in the kitchen, legends in our own minds, singing at the tops of our lungs. It was the start of a wonderful homecoming, and a reminder of who we are…at our brightest and most kind.
Speaking of cookies, here is my most-requested holiday recipe from a previous novel, Lakeshore Christmas:
Jane Bellamy’s Mint Meltaways
“My old family recipe was a secret, until we realized everybody else knew about this perfect pairing of chocolate and mint.”
¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons crème de menthe liqueur or water
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 ¾ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
24 Andes Mints
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and crème de menthe liqueur (or water), stirring occasionally.
Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Let stand 10 minutes to cool. Add the remaining ingredients and combine with a spatula to form a soft dough.
4. Wrap the dough and chill at least 1 hour.
5. Roll the dough into 1½ inch balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving ample space between the dough balls. Bake 8 to 9 minutes.
6. Remove the cookies from the oven, and on top of each cookie, place half of an Andes Mint. Allow the mint to melt and then swirl with the back of a spoon.
So I’ve been asked how to make a musical slide show to share. Like this one:
Believe me, I am not very technical. You don’t need to be. Get Picasa here (it’s free) and upload the pics you want in the slide show. Click the Download tab and then click “make movie” and open the movie in Picasa. Then click Upload to YouTube and there it is. To add music, click “AudioSwap” and you’ll get a list (huge list) of music you can add.
Voila, you’re the laptop Fellini!
“Wanted: A needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket.” –Charles Simic, Serbian-American Poet
Several years ago, I talked to my agent and great friend Meg Ruley about the book, but the story, like me, was a work in progress. I needed the perspective of time and my cold writer’s eye to transform the story from a self indulgent rumination into a novel readers could truly embrace and relate to.
I also needed to find a way to conclude the story that felt true and satisfying. This is something I struggled with for a long time and when I finally hit on the right ending, it was glad day chez Wiggs. At last, I got it right. I proudly submitted the piece to my publisher, only to hear the dreaded words, “This ending doesn’t work. You have to change it.” After much gnashing of teeth and ritual smearing of ashes, I realized that this was true. Back to the drawing board. The perfect solution came from the perfect source, my own daughter, the ever fabulous Elizabeth Wiggs Maas, now grown and married and an author in her own right.
She didn’t give me the answer, but she reminded me of the true meaning of the goodbye quilt in the story. It is a record of one woman’s days as a mom, and as such, it was an unfinished story.
Whether readers of the novel will agree or not remains to be seen, but for me, it’s the grace note at the end if a long and beautiful piece.
IMPORTANT: You can enter to win a $500 travel voucher to bring your college kid home–or to take you anywhere you want to go. All you need is to find your favorite quote in THE GOODBYE QUILT and you’re good to go. Details to follow so stay tuned!
At the end of the novel, you’ll fine a spectacular pattern for the original Goodbye Quilt, created by the ever-talented Joan of Cards.