I thought I didn’t want to bring politics to this blog, but I gotta be honest, y’all, I’m struggling with the results of this election. I’m not the only one, am I? I mean, even if you picked the winning side, you didn’t feel 100% great about it, did you? I know I wouldn’t have if it had gone the other way. And yet we have to carry on and figure out how to come together, how to make a bridge over the divisive rhetoric.
I may have more to say on this topic in the week to come, and I apologize for the politics, but I can’t help it. I wanted to give you all of me in this space, and here I am.
I’ve engaged in some hearty introspection this week, I have to tell you. I scribbled out this poem this morning. Take from it what you will.
Is never the wrong anser,” I said,
Frolicking through fall leaves.
“What if someone is bullying you?” he said.
“Never,” I said, making a snow angel. “People
Bully because they feel unloved.”
“What if someone hates you?” he said.
“Not then,” I said, making a daisy chain. “My
Mama taught me to always counter
Hate with Love.”
“What if they’re killing you?” he said.
I tucked my flower skirt aside and sat in the sunshine. “Gandhi said,
‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.'”
“What if they’re hurting your family?” he said.
And darkness fell, and I became someone else.
“Then there will be hell to pay,” I said.
The world looks completely different when you are creating. I have always noticed this when I’m painting. You finish up a painting session, and then you go outside and the trees are suddenly a collection of shapes and shadows and lights. It’s your right brain putting the world together the way IT sees it, and it’s really nice, because most of the time your left brain is the boss.
But I noticed it again when I went to the movies last night and saw Doctor Strange. Here in the throes of trying to craft a story, I saw the movie as just that… I saw the character arc, and the protagonist-antagonist dynamic, the rise and fall of the action, the flow between where the protagonist is prevailing and where he is knocked down and almost out.
And I ate. it. up. Love the movie, by the way, and while I will be talking about the story here, I will not spoil it for you. I’m enough of a New Age geek that I absolutely adored this movie. Nature of reality, damn, let’s have more stories about that, with special effects that mess with your head, woo!
Anyway, the monumental character flaw of the protagonist absolutely slaps you in the face here. He reminded me of House from the TV series of the same name… medical genius but arrogant as heck and a real ass about it. But House (at least as far as I watched the series, which honestly wasn’t that far) never really resolved that flaw. Ultimately Stephen Strange gets pretty self-sacrificing (not saying more than that!) in solving the problems that plague his world… problems he never asked to be involved in solving.
I have a pretty solid background setup for Once a Rebel, 10,000 words (ish) in, but I realized two things about my book watching the movie: my character is not flawed enough, and I am not thinking nearly epic enough as far as the challenges that face her.
So I’m going to talk for a moment about character flaws. Specifically, about protagonist flaws. Here’s a link to a list for your writerly use, with a list of possible character flaws. Please click and open it because otherwise the rest of this blog post won’t make that much sense to you.
First of all, looking at that list, you need to be really careful about this. There are two reasons you want your main character to be flawed, which essentially boil down to one, the second one.
It makes a good story… static characters are not interesting.
The reason it makes a good story is because your protagonist is in actuality a stand-in for your reader, and you want them to identify with your protagonist.
So, while you must have a flawed protagonist, they cannot be too flawed. You don’t want an axe murderer, probably not someone who sleeps around, probably not an extreme racist or skinhead or something. There are certain character flaws that are unforgivable in a protagonist. It’s easy to err on the side of making them too likeable, so making them hate-able probably isn’t a worry. It’s more likely that the writer will give them flaws that are more like quirks. Some examples from the tropes list above: forgets to eat, fear of thunder (unless thunder figures into your story or your world pretty heavily), heavy sleeper.
So ultimately, the character’s flaw and basic fear need to play into the conflict you’re planning, because the conflict is the catalyst that causes the character to change. In Doctor Strange’s case, his towering ego and mastery of science has to get slapped down in order for him to embrace becoming a beginner again in learning the occult arts and looking at reality in a different way.
Here’s the important takeaway: the protagonist’s flaws should be big enough to make it a question of whether they will overcome them and sort out the conflict. And the conflict should not be just a series of bad things that happens to the character, but something she has control over if she does overcome her own inner obstacles.
So, my plan for today is to sit down with that list and think about George’s personality as I’ve already established it, what her great fears and flaws are, what her desires are, and how those are going to play into the conflict I haven’t quite sorted out in my head yet, in hopes that those concepts will generate the conflict.
So here’s the big reveal… that’s the working title of my NaNoWriMo novel (which will probably not stick, because I’m not at all sure I like it).
It’s an alternate history steampunk story set at the tail end of a protracted Civil War and afterward. Its heroine, “George” Arrington, is a southern belle turned airship owner and pilot after the death of her father, running the Union blockades and bucking every tradition she has ever known, in hopes of making enough money to dig her way out of the debt he accumulated.
Here’s a teaser from my first draft, set after George’s father dies and she announces her intent to assume his debt and pilot the airship across the blockades. Emmanuel is the Creole servant who has been with her father for years, and who was freed in her father’s will.
Aunt Miranda was absolutely silent on the carriage ride back to Arrington House. Seething? I don’t know, there might have been something else there. I think she was utterly shocked that anyone at all had dared to countermand her wishes. From what I’ve seen at Chadwycke Manor during the two summers I spent there, no one dares. Ever. I think that surprised her as much as my proclamation.
There would be no more public spectacle, though. She wanted to avoid that at all costs. So we went back home, and the moment we walked in the door, she exploded.
“Are you out of your mind?”
I folded my arms. “Maybe. I have nothing to lose.”
“You have everything to lose! Everything that is left to you! Here I am offering you a chance to go to England and find yourself a decent match and you are throwing it away on some whim?” She was getting positively apoplectic and the boys came running wondering what on earth was going on. Her hat was even crooked.
“Aunt Miranda,” I said patiently. “I do very much appreciate your kindness and your offer. Come, let’s go into the parlor, shall we?” I gave the boys a wink once she’d turned and stormed that way to let them know everything was going to be all right. It was, wasn’t it? Once we were there I said, “As I said, I do appreciate your kindness and your offer. In fact you have always showed us nothing but kindness. But I am an adult, and I am now responsible for these two boys, and everything else Papa left, and I mean to see it through and not abandon any of it.”
“What’s going on?” Charles finally gathered the courage to pipe up.
“Your sister is talking crazy, that is what is going on,” she said. “Even if you want to pick up where your father left off, you have more debt than you can deal with, you haven’t the faintest clue how to pilot an airship, and you’re a woman. Women don’t do things like that, they get married and behave themselves.”
I laughed. “Like you did?”
“That—” her mouth snapped closed and she looked at me with her head cocked a little, and maybe she saw me for the first time, not as someone to drag around in her wake, but someone who was maybe a little bit like her.
I sat, marshaling all the calmness I could, though I was not at all sure I could pull this mad scheme off. “I’ve been thinking about it. You need your American cotton. Hank needs to go to military school. Charles needs to stay here and grow up to be whomever he’s going to be. I need…” I trailed off. I need that airship, I was thinking, but how do you explain that to someone like her? “I… how can I explain this to you? This was Papas dream. I don’t know where he went wrong. If I throw it all to the winds and sail off to England with you, it feels like I’m letting everything he worked for die. Every dream he had. He’s… I want to keep his dream alive, Aunt Miranda.” My chin was quivering now, damn it all.
She softened. “Oh, my dear,” she murmured, and heaved a sigh. “You cannot keep him alive.”
“I can’t abandon him, either,” I said, staring hard at the clock that was suddenly ticking very loudly in my head to stave off the tears that were threatening.
“My dear, how can you even think to be an airship pilot?” she said, earnest now.
“Mr. Wilcot will teach me,” I said.
She tsk’d. “Do you even know what it is like? What ship’s crews are like? You’ll lose your… respectability….” She didn’t mean just being an airship pilot and acting inappropriate for a woman, she meant that someone on the crew would rape me and then I’d be worthless as a bride.
A rich, deep voice rumbled from the corner. “I’ll not let that happen,” Emmanuel said in his thick Creole accent. “I will go anywhere she goes. I’m a free man.” I turned around and stared at him. He was free, but he would follow me…? I stood up, and walked slowly over to him, and I hugged him. “Thank you,” I whispered. Because it meant he believed in me, and whatever crazy schemes I was hatching. He patted me a little awkwardly.
That was scandalous enough, me hugging a colored servant. Well, I was done playing by the rules. They didn’t apply to me anymore. Another, quieter tsk from Aunt Miranda. I figured she’d get used to it. Eventually.
Poor Hank and Charles. I went to them, and I knelt, my stays cutting into me, taking one of each of their hands in mine. “What do the two of you want?”
“I just want to stay here with you and Hank and Elsie and Emmanuel,” Charles said.
“I want to go to school,” Hank said. “I’m ready.” Ready to kill him some Yankees, he meant. Poor boy. His shoulders were squared, and he did look terribly grown up in that moment. He was right, he was ready.
So I stood, and I faced Aunt Miranda, and I said, “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to buy Elsie and Benjamin and Sarah from the estate, so that they are not part of the inheritance. If this scheme of mine fails I don’t want them getting sold off to someone who won’t treat them right. Charles needs them, he’s had enough change and more to come.” I took my hat and my gloves off because I was working up steam. A lady is not supposed to take her hat off. “And, if you can find it in your heart to help Hank go to school for the first couple of semesters, I will pay you back once I start making a bit of money. I will run your cotton from Charleston to Liverpool, blockade be damned,” oh my… how many times could I shock her in one day? “And I will make this work. I will.” I must have looked like I was ready to fight this 85-year-old woman. Her head was cocked and she was appraising me, and maybe she saw another warrior. I know she saw someone who wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and after all, it was all mine to do with as I wished, except the house. Which basically meant, the airship. That was all I really wanted, anyway.
There was silence, into which the clock’s ticking roared. Finally, after an eternity, Aunt Miranda said, “Very well.”
I went to Mad Writers’ Club meetings thinking, I want to write and illustrate children’s books. I still want to do that. But doing the writing prompts, and hearing local author Kelly Martin talk about her experiences with NaNoWriMo, and then hearing that several of my mad writer compatriots were doing it….
Well, shoot, I’ve been saying I’m going to write a novel since I was born, practically. I do some pretty sparkling characterization. I can wrangle description and dialogue. But I’ve always told myself, I’m not that great at plot.
And when I met my husband, who has entire worlds in his head and epic stories to go with them that we play out weekly in RPG stories, I kept telling him we needed to write a novel together, because that dude can PLOT. And invent worlds, which I’m only okay at. It never panned out, I don’t know why. I tried once to follow his story in an RPG with a novel, and got stuck in the endless rewriting chapter one loop.
Anyway along comes Kelly with NaNoWriMo, which I had heard of before, but not with that much interest. A novel in a month, seriously? And when she came to speak to the mad writers I was still thinking children’s books.
But then last Wednesday at the meeting, on the way home, I thought about one of Russ’s RPG worlds and how much I LOVED the character I played. There’s no proprietary stuff in the world, it’s an entirely original concept (not Star Wars or D&D, which we often play). So I thought, I’m going to take that character and run with her, and let her play in the world he devised and see what happens.
I’M GOING TO DO THIS. The thing I’ve been saying I should do, forever. Write a book! No, really!
I am such a Renaissance girl that I don’t think Russ took me too seriously but I’m on fire and I’m rocking it. Day three, I’ve got 7,193 words written out of the final 50,000 goal for the month. I’m sure I’ll hit a snag (with plot, probably) but that feels pretty awesome.
By the way if you’re also a WriMo my super secret code name on the site is chyvalrie, look me up and I’ll cheer you on.
The last day I posted here was the day my brother died. I planned to write regularly, but life has a way of throwing a monkey wrench in things.
Anthony committed suicide. (I hate that word “committed”, like it’s a crime). He was not a person you would expect to commit suicide. In fact, people visited his Facebook wall and said how much they would miss him because of his “love for life.” How ironic, I thought. And how true.
If some day I can offer up this experience to help someone get through something similar, and they ask me, How do you get through it, I will tell them how I got through it: You write through it. Meditation helps too.
When you are grieving, you set aside that hour each morning and it is a safe place to grieve, to rage, to do whatever it is you have to do. You let all the feelings come because here’s a secret I have learned: when you let the feelings come, they also go. The crying grabs us, sometimes when we least expect it, but it passes like a summer storm. I felt the need to write about that too. So I’m going to share a couple of poems that I wrote the last couple of weeks.
Day After Suicide
The first thing I thought when I rolled out of bed was,
I am waking up this morning
And my brother is not.
The words my brother is dead
Keep echoing in my head like the refrain
Of some badly-written earworm. My brother is dead.
There are always a million questions you can never ask anymore
When someone slips the bonds that kept them here, and nearly all start with
Because it hurts.
If someone with cancer passes from us,
“Well, at least she’s not in pain anymore.”
Why don’t we ever say that about suicides? Is it a judgment we pass on them?
I’m saying it. He’s not in pain anymore. For only that I am grateful.
I will take this burden from you, my brother, I and everyone who loved you.
You have passed on your pain and we will carry it for you
Shed tears you didn’t shed because they weighed too heavily on your heart
Mourn the help you didn’t ask for and the things we didn’t say and the visits we didn’t visit
… and never will.
“Tears like rain” is another old cliché
And I hate to say it but as clichés
Often are, it is true. Not in the way
You would think — they are both falling water.
It’s more in the scrubbed-clean feeling I have
When they have gone, ozone scenting the air
Rays peeking from behind brooding storm clouds
Crepuscular, slanting over land.
I catch my breath, seeing the glinting tears
Standing on my eyelashes like dewdrops
Ornamenting shrub leaves after the storm.
I am purified afterward, at peace, drained.
Sometimes the storm comes on violently
Without the slightest warning — he is gone.
And I am wracked like storm lashed boughs, and drenched
In sorrow… it passes, leaving me whole.
Other times it comes on gently, and I
Do not resist, letting rain kiss my cheeks
And I let them come, as a remembrance —
If I do not shed tears, I might forget.
I went last night to the Mad Writers’ meeting at the local (AWESOME) bookstore and coffee shop, The Mad Raven. We had a guest speaker, prolific local author Kelly Martin. It was a fantastic meeting, and only the second of its kind!
One of the things Kelly mentioned that I found very helpful was that when you query a publisher, they want to see that you have an author social media presence even before you are published. Start now, she counseled, build a following.
Really good advice but I’ll admit, I groaned inwardly. I am currently maintaining or co-maintaining active Facebook pages for no less than SIX businesses or groups, four websites, countless neglected blogs, plus Instagram (if you want to see everything I dabble with this is the place) and Pinterest (if you want to see everything I think about dabbling with this is the place) accounts that are all over the place because I am all over the place. I have a Twitter too but it’s lame and I’m way too wordy to get along with Twitter, so don’t go there. Anyway the thought of adding one of all of the above for Deanna Lack, author, is a wee bit overwhelming… I have to actually WORK some time, too.
Is it possible I’m doing too much? Nahhhhh.
Welcome to the life of a Renaissance Girl. I take life in huge gulps, a serial obsessive, Jill-of-all-trades, polymath, “scanner.” I do a little of everything that catches my fancy, and just about everything catches my fancy at one time or another. Except pro wrestling. There might be one or two other things.
The blogs are TOTALLY neglected. It’s been rattling around in my head lately, start another blog. Talk about EVERYTHING. All the projects I’m working on, the crazy directions the muses are pulling me. Because I’m going to wager I’m not the only one wearing these shoes.
So maybe YOU are also a person who can’t stick with one thing, who also leaves a trail of partly finished projects and masterful dabbling behind you. If you are I bet you, like me, often wish you could figure out what you wanted to be when you grow up.
I love naming my businesses. Shoot, I’ll plug them here, since I’m going to cover them all in this blog, why not? My primary business is You’ve Got Maille, wherein I make chainmaille and wire jewelry and art. I am also an artist, and my website for that is dismal so here’s my Facebook page, Om Is Where The Art Is. And I’m a photographer. Great and Small Photography. I’m also a board member with Friends of White County Animals. That’s really just a start, there are a lot of hats in my closet and I wear them all.
I thought about naming this site something, too. Renaissance Girl, maybe. No, it’s time to just be me, I decided. This is it. deannalack.wordpress.com, maybe my own domain if I feel like paying for it at some point.
“If you could just stick to one thing,” my husband says, “you’d be amazing.” I can’t though. Not a chance. I want it all. Some people want to travel the world. I want to travel the world of ideas and learning how to do things and I can’t stop myself. The Internet is a dangerous rabbit hole for people like me. You too?
When I was in high school I was the class poet. I have written some poetry over the years that I’m still pretty proud of. It was the thing that I assumed I’d do, writing. But I haven’t done it, and here I am past my 25th class reunion with a 23-year-old son spreading the wings of a Renaissance man who is also wildly talented and also wants it all. Ah, sorry about that, Bran (that’s his website there, go look at his amazing talent). Anyway, where does the time go!? When did I forget to write?
That’s not accurate. I write nearly every day, with a stash of journals in my closet that would fill at least two bookshelves. Maybe someone will care to read all that drivel some day? There are a few gems in there, too. And I write in the “serious” sense of the word: I actually have an article in today’s Sparta Expositor, but for some reason I forget about the writing that I actually do. Why do we writers not consider ourselves writers until there’s a book with our name on its cover?
So thanks to my fellow Mad Writers for the inspiration. This is my writer’s blog and website, but I’m not going to bore you with “well I wrote this prompt today…” Well, not much. I want to share some of my successes and some of what I’m doing but more than anything I want to reach out to other Renaissance People, I know you’re out there! I want you to know that you can have it all. You can write that book, you can make that art, you can create your life and your dreams. You can dabble with this and that and make amazing things and half-make amazing things and it’s all cool because it’s the journey that counts. And yeah, along the way, I’ll tell you about what I’m into. Oh, and here’s my Facebook “author page” if you want to follow that way. There’s nothing there yet, I just made it, but there will be.
Welcome to my corner of Imagination and Internet, hope you are enjoying your journey as much as I’m enjoying mine.