Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When Real Life Affects Our Writing - IWSG Post

When Real Life Affects Our Writing

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Happy Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day!  A time to talk about our fears and doubts, or inspire others by sharing our success and happiness.  We’ve got a great bunch of people in this group and we’d love to have you join in on the fun too.  A big thank you to it's creator, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Don’t forget to stop by and say hello to our fantastic co-hosts:    Elizabeth Seckman, Lisa Buie-Collard, Chrys Fey, and Michelle Wallace!
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Not too long ago, my critique partner shared some valuable insight about my writing with me.  He said my main character needed to react to the situations happening around her.  She needed to show emotions and let the reader know what was going on in her head.

It wasn’t until my rockin’ counselor asked how my writing was going that something clicked in my head.  That light bulb went off as the words tumbled out of my mouth.

“I need to show more emotion,” I said.

My rockin’ counselor asked me to explain.

“Well, like, all this stuff happens to my character and she doesn’t say much about it.  Like she’s just kinda rolling with everything…oh my gosh, that’s what I do.  I turned my character into me!”

While that’s well and good that I made that discovery on the psychological front (and have since changed my ways), it sucks terribly on the writing front.  Sure, I believe we write what we know but when it comes at the expense of shorting our readers, heck, ourselves, of a good story, well, that just stinks.

Just like I had to learn in my real life to share my emotions rather than trying to keep them in check, I have to go back and do that in my story.  I have scene after scene where something major is unfolding before my main character and she just sits there like an outsider, not giving the reader a chance to know what going on her head.

As I go back and add her inner dialogue, I’m reminded of why this is so important. Character development. One of the reasons I loved Breaking Bad was how it took a normal, run-of-the-mill man then turned him into a bad ass, tough-as-nails drug dealer.  Watching his character evolve from innocent to evil was what made that series such a success.  Taking that journey with him was riveting.

That’s what I want to do with my character.  Start her off as a typical young woman trying to find her way in life, then make the slow transition over to her toughening up as she works for the mafia.  It’s been a slow process but it’s been a ton of fun to get back in her brain and play.



What important things have you forgotten in your first attempt at writing?

63 comments:

  1. Breaking Bad was such an awesome show. Like watching the most amazing train wreck in slow motion. If you can do that to your character, you'll have one riveting story!

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    1. Exactly. The longer the season went on, the darker Walter became. It was such an awesome transition to watch. I could only wish I'd write that well. :)

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  2. I'm the opposite of you....I'm EXTREMELY emotional. Everything makes me cry (happy, sad, etc) and when something pisses me off, I go off about it with loud, rapid fire speech and arms gesticulating wildly (OK well that's the Italian in me....). When I am excited I chatter and dance around and if something or someone makes me laugh, they get a very enthusiastic and appreciative laugh out of me.

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    1. It's funny, JoJo. I used to be the same way up until a few years ago. I cried at the drop of a hat: mad, sad, happy - tears just burst through. But then all that crap hit the fan and brought me to my knees. After that, I learned to keep my emotions in better check but I think I crept into that "numb" mode over the last few months. I needed a kick in the emotional ass. :p

      But, I still cry at those blasted Folgers commercials. When the vet comes home for the holidays - gets me every time.

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  3. I'm very emotional too and have to reign it in, both in life and on the page. But that's the key - knowing where we do things like that. I'm happy you had a breakthrough on both fronts.

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    1. I admit, I see it as a sign of growth for me, both in real life and in my writing. It's good to know I'm not alone. Thank you!

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  4. An important insight! That's why it's so great to have a critique partner, isn't it?

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    1. And, he's the best around. That helps a ton. haha

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  5. Totally. It's amazing the moments at which this lightbulbs click on, eh? Lately I'm trying to rediscover the love of writing. I know that sounds strange, but there have been so many other demands on me that it's become a chore. *sigh* Time to epically alter that one!

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    1. I totally relate to that, Crystal. When something becomes a chore for me, it shows. No matter what it is, if I don't feel joy in it and it's forced, it doesn't come out the way it should. I hope you find that joy again.

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    2. Done and done. Thanks for the well wishes. A week of relatively taking it easy, that's all a body needs. I'm wishing you many more emotional scenes and passionate writing. ;)

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  6. I think my characters would do a lot of emotional thinking, weighing options, checking the * in the thought balloon for when the situation happened last, and then grunt an Okay out loud. (No that's not true, but as it will take a cheap (read free) typist to turn anything I've written into readable form, it's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

    Your situation sounds a lot like me when I took St John Wort for mild depression. Emotions flatline and you get a bit robotic. Which is why I stopped taking it. Well, that and that you can smell the stuff in your sweat eventually.

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    1. Smelling it in your sweat ain't a good thing, Chris. :)

      I think you're right about that flatline. For me, it was a way of coping emotionally on what I knew was going on in my world but not ready to acknowledge it just yet. I detached with love but then drifted over to just plain ol' detachment which is a terribly unhealthy place to be with someone. I could share emotions with friends and my kids, but not Devin. I hit a brick wall and had to take down my armor again. I feel so much better now that I'm being honest with myself again.

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  7. Emotion? What's that? lol in mine I use it when I need to and it calls for it, but then I throw in comic relief and such to keep it moving. I find too much emotion or description or exposition or whatever bogs things down too much. Even breaking bad had too much sometimes, i.e. that stupid fly episode. Has to be balance

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    1. Oh my gosh!! I'm just waiting for that fly episode to show up. I thought it was pretty funny, but, a bit drawn out. I think over description kills writing. Stephen King is the worst when it comes to writing about how yellow a flower is or whatever. blah blah blah. I get it. But, he's still a great writer. I'm reading the gunslinger series again. Love it!

      You use humor? I never would've thunk it, cat!

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  8. It was inspiring to read how this all came together for you. Your character sounds like a fascinating woman.

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    1. Thank you so much Julie. I'm hoping she turns out that way.

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  9. I never thought of it like that, but turning her into a female Walter White would be badass. And honestly, with that new intro you sent me, I think you're well on your way to that. Keep it up! And if you have any more to send, send it any time. Really. Chunks are always good, except when spewing from your nose.

    You know, the funny thing about me is that I'm great at showing my emotions in my writing, but not so much in real life. In tough situations I tend to clam up and turn into a stone. Or, like Pat, I just make a joke of things. If only I could write my own life, maybe that would help...

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    1. I love the development of Walter White. At first I loved him, then slowly, I began to despise him. That character development is awesome. I don't want Angela to be a complete narcissist like him, but I do want her to become more of a likable badass. That'd rock. And, I think I'll send another chunk tomorrow. Just to make sure I'm not headed down the wrong/beaten path.

      My hubby uses humor to deflect too or he just won't say anything at all. I tend to lean towards the silent type but I'm working on that. :)

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  10. Sigh. It's so irritating when I find out exactly how much I've inserted myself into my characters without meaning to. I'm always surprised, although I shouldn't be by now, and it's always hard to fix. The bright spot in it is that it gives me a chance to know myself better, and work on myself, too :)

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    1. I agree, Liz. It is frustrating. But, I think that's what helps make our characters likable - they are being written from the heart (flaws and all), and that's what makes them realistic and not some cardboard cut out of nothing.

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  11. That was my issue! I'm very internal with my emotions, so ultimately, my main character was pretty stoic even though her world was falling apart all around her!

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    1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who made their character so stoic. (perfect description, btw). It can be hard to remove those traits from our characters sometimes.

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  12. But, but, the character is you. It's an autobiographical work.

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  13. Honestly, Breaking Bad was one of the biggest uses of "stupidity as personality" that I've ever seen. Seriously, every character made the stupidest choice -every- time they had to make a decision. I couldn't take that much stupid and stupid writing.
    Not that the idea was bad, but I hate the "default to stupid" setting those kinds of shows take.
    Not to mention the outright lying to the viewers.

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    1. I disagree. I think perhaps it's an outlandish idea to think a run of the mill guy decides to break the law, but the way they wrote it, I loved it. The characters all progressed in different ways. They all didn't start out being without guilt for their actions. Many episodes they wrestled with the right and moral thing to do and ultimately chose the wrong path. Some even made the right decisions throughout the show. I thought they handled it really well.

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  14. I am an emotional gal. I can cry at a stupid commercial. I find it intriguing how you had an epiphany and it made you review your writings. This is inspirational in my books. You are developing more and more the character from your own experiences and will use it in the best ways. I say way to go!! I am not one for someone who loses all humanity and turns to evil at the end. It is the hardest thing to evolve a character and still have them keep their integrity in a very bad world even when they must do bad things. Your book sounds very interesting

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    1. There are some commercials that get me. As I said, Folgers commercials get me every single Christmas. So do the Budwieser Christmas commercials. I always tear up. Now there's some good writing if they can get me in a matter of thirty seconds! :) Yes, go us! We rock.

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  15. First book I ever wrote, the protagonist's best friend died and at the funeral, there was no emotion- because I knew (as the writer) that the best friend was coming back. Now, when I write emotional scenes, I have to pause and intentionally take some time to make myself "feel" the moment.

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    1. That's exactly what I did, Elizabeth. I wrote it the way I knew it would be turning out. I didn't pause to remember that the reader had zero idea what was going to happen throughout the book. Funny what we assume. :)

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  16. Writing internal dialogue is challenging for me, too. I think that rough draft is often just about getting the action sequenced correctly. You want to have a good beginning, solid middle, and kick-ass end. It's all about writing the plot points and keeping it interesting. Then you go back and make it colorful. Somewhere between the middle and end you actually found the MC's voice. So, you go back and add that. Then inner dialogue. Elsie, it's a freaking process. No way can I even say that I have it all conquered yet, but I'm working on it. Sounds like you are, too. Just keep going!

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    1. I think you're right, Robin. I think I was at the point where I thought, whew, I'm done. I've got the character development done, the arc, the plot and (hopefully) a kick ass ending. But then when Bryan was like, why is she so damn calm? She just watched a guy get shot. I was like, huh, maybe I'm not as done as I thought. haha I think we're both on the path to success!

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  17. Your idea for your character does sound pretty interesting. I'd read it.

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  18. Thanks for the tip - that inner dialogue is an important element to give your character depth ~ My hubby loves that Breaking Bad series but its too long for me to follow ~ I prefer my Sherlock (Benedict C) series ~ It looks like your writing project is moving along Elsie ~ Good for you to have a critique partner ~

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    1. I'm watching the American version of Sherlock and love it. He's a recovering addict so it's right down my alley. And, I love murder/mystery. So much fun to read and watch. Thanks, Grace. Have a beautiful week!

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  19. So the fact that I'm emotional is actually a good thing?! I think that's an exercise actors go through--they have to learn to break through those barriers and expose themselves...I can see it being the same for writers.

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    1. Heck yeah! Emotional is a great thing. At least that's what my counselor says. Well, emotional within reason. Breaking those barriers can be tough but I think when we do it, it gets easier. At least I hope so.

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  20. You've set yourself a doable goal of writing emotion into your characters. Once you start you'll find yourself getting deep in their head and finding all sorts of buried emotional treasures. Good Luck.

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    1. That's what's so fun about writing. Getting into their heads, really digging in, and having a blast sorting out the emotional mess. No, wait, that's my head. haha :) Thanks!!

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  21. Hi Elsie, happy New year to you! You have won my December give-away, so if you email me an address I can send the books to, I'll do it asap. Congratulations!

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    1. Aww, thank you so much! I appreciate that!

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  22. heh, made your character like yourself...i think we tend to do that...or like others we know...though that can get us in trouble as well...when people see how we really see them, you know....i think the insight is a good one for you on several levels...happy new year...

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    1. Happy New Year, Brian. My poor character. She's been through the ringer…yeah, just like me. :) I'm grateful I had the insight because it really helped things both in my writing and my personal life.

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  23. I think we all put a little of ourselves into our characters. Good luck with the writing and here's to a fantastic 2015! :)

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    1. I agree. It would be difficult not to make a believable character unless we poured a bit of ourselves in them. Even the crappy stuff. Happy New Year!!

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  24. I sometimes keep things buried inside me too, but I learned how to avoid doing the same in my writing. I let my characters be the bitch, the clown, or the hero I don't have the guts to be. They say what I think, not what I say. There's a big difference there. :-) Either way, it can get me into trouble.

    I enjoy your blog.
    Best,
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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    1. What a great way to look at it. Having your characters do and say what you can't. I love that!

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  25. Thank God you weren't writing a story about a murdering psychopath, that would be just embarrassing. ;-)

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    1. And, I think my counselor would have to report me. haha

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  26. Yeah, it's not so much that I forgot to do that through 50 million-ish drafts of my book, but that I didn't know what do do with my emotions. I hadn't fully processed or experienced them, even though some are 30+ years old. It's like peeling layer after layer of an artichoke, until you get to the heart of the story/experience. And when you do, you have an "This wasn't so bad at all!" realization. =)

    Keep at it. I have full faith in you. xo

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  27. thanks for sharing! I guess I am emotional sometimes, depending on the situation, I believe that some people are definintely more emotional than others which is not a bad or good thing, it's just who we are :) but I know that eventhough I'm less emotional on regular basis there are some things where it will just flip my switch right away!

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  28. I've come to this too! Sometimes writing, I realize more than just one character is doing something too me-ish. Sometimes it hurts the piece... sometimes it doesn't. Either way it puts real life into perspective for me, allows for change.

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  29. I still need to watch Breaking Bad. I think I'm the only person in America who hasn't seen it :)

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    1. Keith, make that the second person who hasn't seen it. My son has.

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  30. I show emotion--I want to strike an emotional response in my readers. Still, I have to go back and show more of the character's thoughts instead of assuming a reader will get it. It's finding that balance between too much and not enough becomes problematic

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

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  31. Hi Elsie,

    Yes, my computer is so slow it's taken this long to finally arrive with one of my eagerly anticipated comments. Having a character share emotions, just like I believe in transparency in real life, is such a connection between the reader and the writer.

    Have a peaceful weekend, Elsie.

    Gary :)

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  32. I often get to fought up in the greater picture, that I might leave out a finer detail or tow. Not much that will hurt the work, but they can really enhance the story line.

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  33. When I read a story I like to know what the characters are feeling. If the author doesn't fill in that blank effectively for me then I might do it myself and sometimes that doesn't work so well for the story being told.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  34. Awesome breakthrough on both fronts, Elsie! Writing emotion and character growth is difficult. I found a ook called the Emotion Thesaurus that's really helpful when I'm stuck on how to show emotions. Good luck!!

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  35. I was just thinking today that I hadn't seen you post for a while so I thought I'd check in and say I hope all is well!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. I'm here to help any way I can.