Smiling Rhay Christou

Acquaintance or Friend: How well do you know your character?

Today I have something special for you — a guest blog by Rhay Christou.

A word of introduction is necessary. Some of you know that I teach at Lawson Writers Academy. Rhay is one of my fellow teachers. She wrote this to share, and graciously allowed me to reprint it here.

This is a powerful writing exercise. Enjoy. I’m hoping to share some PowerPoints from my characters in the next few weeks. Maybe you’ll share some as well!

–Deleyna

From Rhay:

As writers we create characters, as people we create friends, but as we all know neither comes in a one-size-fits-all.

There are folks we know from the bus stop, the water cooler, the break room, the gal at the supermarket. We know she has blond hair and blue eyes, ripped abs, a bad knee from standing all day. We might know their name. Might’ve noticed the tiny scar she has at the her eye-line. We ask the how-you-doing, how’s the kids, grand-kids, life kind of questions. We talk about the weather, nod, smile, move on.

But are these friends?

Likely not. These are simply the people that pepper our lives.

Our friends, however, are more. Often there are no smiles or nods and definitely no moving on.

We share our lives with these people.  We know what they are doing this weekend or next week, we fill up their trough with our stories and in turned get filled theirs. These are intimate, powerful, vulnerable relationships.

The humanity of writing

Perhaps it is this ability to forge such connections that leaves me a tad flabbergasted when I read some stories.

I Know the character is tall, blond, has a sunflower tat on her ankle. I know she was left broken-hearted, never recovered, has a mean mom and a great dad. However, I don’t know what any of this means to the character.

I don’t know the character, and so I don’t connect. Or care. Not caring is a huge thing because we are asking a reader to give time, energy and effort to our stories and if we don’t offer that “caring” in return, we are not keeping our promise to entertain. In essence, we are wasting the readers time.

Caring is the key to connecting our readers to our stories. Knowing the characters is the key caring, but if we haven’t forged a connection, a friendship if you will, with our characters, we cannot hope to create that connection for the reader.

Know your character.

Like people, characters do not spring fully formed. We are a collection of past experiences, slow growth, the same mistake, a sudden shock. 

These moments in your character’s life define character and will have a lasting impact on story. He’ll either try to mask his weakness or be brave and show his truth.

Either way, knowing your character means seeing her as a person before she walked onto the page.

PowerPoint memory (PPM)

Think about yourself, your joys, weaknesses, secrets you don’t share.

I bet most come from your experiences. The great times and the baggage times. But have you thought about the moments that brought you to you? What memories connect to your vulnerability?

Example: My first PPM was around two. I couldn’t tell you what our house looked like, but I remember standing on the cracked driveway between the big car and our gray home.

The cold Michigan air and sky made everything feel big and scary, especially my mother, who seemed like an angry giant ready to devour me.

Her bony finger pointed at the house, or more precisely at the scrawl of black crayon scribbled on our house. I can’t remember what she said or what happened, but it is a vivid mental image.  

It was a PPM for me. The first time, I realized I could be naughty, make my mother angry, do something wrong. More importantly, I remember that I did not like the feeling. 

Another time,  I’m on the carport floor playing with my little people and blocks and singing a silly made-up song and loving my game.

That’s when two kids skipped by, mimicked my song, laughed at me.

Explanation: As solitary moments these memories mean nothing, but each had a powerful impact on the who I brought into my story. The PPMs shaped me into a person who would wear the appropriate mask.

Loud and easy to laugh at myself. If I laugh, others laughing doesn’t hurt. Always striving to make others happy because I didn’t like people being mad at me.

Our PowerPoint past creates our vulnerabilities.

You may think you know character. And you may be right, but I’m betting if you take the time to create a pre-story timeline, you’ll discover a thing or two you didn’t know.

Pre-story PowerPoint timeline.

With a notebook and pen in hand, get away from your computer.

Think about the character you have on your page.

What do you know about your characters wants, needs, past? His actions, behaviors, goals?

Go deeper.

 Create a pre-story timeline of PPMs.

  • Fights
  • Arguments
  • Humiliations
  • Losses
  • Moments of pure joy
  • Resonating moments and memories

Try to include at least two PPMs for each decade.

  • Some of these memories might be larger than others.
  • Some might introduce people from the past.
  • Some might be scenes.
  • Some may be blips.

Explore. Play. Let your mind free and have fun delving into someone else.

Once you’ve done your timeline, step away for a bit and come back with fresh eyes.

  • Circle any new information.
  • Highlight new PPMs.
  • Identify feelings attached to those PPMs.
  • How do those moments or feelings connect?
  • How do the feelings impact the character that is about to step into the story?
  • How did the situations impact your character?
  • Which PPM is the longest and most detailed? This memory is probably telling you something important about your character. It is most likely a defining moment in your character’s life.

While much of what you have created may never make it into your story, what you have created will empower how your character, acts, reacts, relates and interacts within your story.

So what have you discovered? Would love to hear in the comments.

About Rhay:

The two things I love most in the world are teaching and creative writing. With my MFA in writing from Vermont College, I have had the great fortune to combine the two. Since graduating I’ve taught everything from creative writing to academic writing at the university level as well as writing workshop on the lovely island of Cyprus, in Greece and the USA, as well as offering several classes at Lawson Writers Academy. 

For more information about this month’s class, Creating Compelling Characters, visit me here: https://www.margielawson.com/product/oct-2019-create-compelling-characters/

swinging chair with cat completely relaxed and asleep

My New Reading Haven

I was walking through the hardware store when I saw it: the chair.

It wasn’t just any chair, though. This was a tomato red egg chair. To my credit, I walked away. I walked away the next two times I saw it, too. But it kept popping into my head.

My daughter loves to curl up on the sofa, and she loves to swing. This thing looked comfortable and screamed fun. It couldn’t really BE that comfortable, right?

Note: this is an affiliate link. I’m adding it in case anyone wants to see the exact chair I bought. If you buy from that link, Amazon may give me a commission.

Then I showed it to my niece, who promptly climbed into it and started swinging. Just watching her in it made me happy. “Now you!” she said.

I can be a little timid, but I’d done my research and knew it was strong enough to hold several of me, so I decided to take a gamble that I wouldn’t wind up collapsed on the concrete.

Instant comfort.

I’d read online that there was a 2 person version that doubled as a lounger. If I was going to do something this crazy, I was going to go all the way.

Since it was 4th of July and they had a sale, I cornered a sales person and asked if they could order me one.

Surprise! It wasn’t listed on the sign, but they had one left, exactly the color I wanted. To make sure, she went into the back…and returned with a fork lift.

Hm. What had I done?

She assured me that with another person, I could easily get it out of the car, and she could get it in — with the help of the fork lift. Since my niece was staying with me, I decided to count this as serendipity and the chair came home with me.

It was surprisingly easy to assemble, given that errors in assembly might result in hospitalization.

Most of the cats still think it is an alien device, potentially cat eating. My big male decided to try it out, and his response was the same as mine: instant relaxation. You can see the look of blissful rest on his furry little face.

That’s how I feel about this crazy chair, too.

It’s useful!

Since I do a lot of reading for work, it just makes sense to read in comfort, right?

If you need me any time soon, just look in the chair.

backlit colemak keyboard

Backlit Colemak Keyboard!

I use a Colemak keyboard layout. Yes, it was hard to switch, but worth it. I can now type all day without strain on my knuckles.

My husband has a beautiful backlit keyboard and I have been a little jealous. My keyboard was nice, but it had stickers…because I still need to see the letters. I’m a coder. Sometimes I need to find | (which doesn’t move on Colemak, but you get the idea).

Last week, my husband gave me a beautiful new computer for my birthday, and it came with a stunning backlit keyboard.

I immediately installed the Colemak driver so I could type and went to work…but I kept struggling because all of the keys were labelled wrong! (Standard) I had to close my eyes to type.

The documentation online did not say how to remove the keycaps, only that they were removable. Presumably this is for when you spill your drink on the keyboard as it is waterproof. I saw some videos online, but the model didn’t match and the keys looked different.

Tech support was no help.

Giving up, I thought about trying to buy a new keyboard already set up for Colemak, but they were all expensive and no way near as cool as this one.

Frustration won in the end. I pulled out my screw driver and gently pried up on one of the keys. Snap — off it came. And it wasn’t broken!

With my trusty Colemak layout in hand, I gently removed each key that needed to move and put them in the “right” place. A gentle push down and they were all set. Solid. Comfortable. Beautiful.

I don’t know that this would work on all keyboards, but I want to encourage anyone else who is desperate. If you’re willing to risk damaging the keyboard, it is possible to move the keys, at least on this MSI Interceptor!

And isn’t it cool looking?

Want your own? You can get it here. Then you just have to load the Colemak driver and move the keys around very carefully. (Note that’s an Amazon Affiliate link. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I only recommend products that I use and love.)

Happy New Year 2019

Let’s Change the World

2019 is about to rush onto the stage as 2018 slinks off in embarrassment.

The world isn’t the best place to live right now. Has anyone else noticed? People are at each others throats over politics, religion…just about everything. Seems to me, we’ve got a lot of nervous energy being directed at anyone who looks like they might be a safe target.

Let’s make a real change.

Growing up, I learned that God wanted us to give Him 10% of our wages. Maybe you learned that differently. Maybe you learned: save 10%, give 10%.

Or maybe you never learned that.

A lot of people have learned to make every penny count. The majority of people have had to. We all know hard working individuals who are struggling to get by.

And we all know the Scrooges who pinch every penny even though they have more than they could ever need.

The problem is that “more than they could ever need” is subjective. What is abundance to one may appear as starvation to another.

I want to take a moment and urge you to make 2019 a better year for yourself as well as the rest of the world.

Take a moment to be kind.

Buy someone a cup of coffee.

Tip a server 30% instead of 15%. You can afford to eat out. Celebrate that with generosity.

If you have nothing to give, at least give a smile and a word of encouragement. Notice those around you. They’re living in this ugly world, too.

Consider giving more.

I work with writers who are often forced to give their work away for free just to reach new readers. What if you tracked down that author whose free book you loved and bought the rest of a series…even if you didn’t have time to read them? What if you found their donation or Patreon links and blessed them? Those sorts of gifts make the difference between an author giving up and one who writes prolifically. Don’t have money? Follow their blog, and leave a comment periodically. Write a review. These are free things that can inspire them!

The world is full of hurting people. In the US, giving someone $5 doesn’t seem like it will help. Find a way to support someone elsewhere in the world. Look beyond our borders.

Give someone a sheep or help finance a well.

Want to stay closer to home? How about donating to Flint, Michigan?

One of my favorite places to send even a small amount is to a young man named Gideon who is studying to be a doctor in Nigeria. His college tuition is a tiny fraction of what it would be in the US, and even a small amount makes a huge difference in his life. When he graduates, he will have a huge impact on his entire community.

On those bad days, when the world seems to be coming apart, it is encouraging to think beyond ourselves and see that we can help others. No politics required.

Consider your buying practices.

This may be the hardest change to make.

When you can get books for free, why should you pay for them?

If you can negotiate a better price, why should you pay more?

If someone is willing to work for less, why shouldn’t we benefit?

The answer is simple: by paying more, you are giving someone (usually a creative individual) the opportunity to earn a living wage. Doctors, dentists, and lawyers all expect to be paid. Gardeners, writers, and graphic artists need to be paid if you want them to keep creating and making the world more beautiful.

Pay extra to buy products not made by slave labor. Research the companies you deal with, and be willing to pay more to those whose employees are earning a living wage.

Let’s use our dollars to empower companies to do better by their workers. Let’s use our cents to fund a more creative world.

Let’s change the world.

Let’s make 2019 something to be proud of.

Happy New Year!

peaceful landscape sunny sky

Why I Love Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is what happens when you have no unread messages in your email inbox.

Wait? That’s a thing?

Yep. Gmail even has a special happy blue background with a bright sun to celebrate the moment when you’ve reached that blissful point.

I have clients who have thousands of emails pending, and I’m continually having to help fight the fires of forgotten customers and misplaced reminders. (The classic nightmare is forgetting to renew anti-spam on a website. Add a free-for-all attack by spammers to an already over-full inbox and you might as well give up and revert to snail mail.)

I strive for Inbox Zero.

I’m not there every day, but I do see the happy sun peeking out from behind the clouds of email every few days.

Want to see it?

Here’s how:

Let things be done.

Are you afraid of losing things in your email archives? If so, switch to Gmail or another program that archives your completed email messages.

Learn to search those messages.

If it is done, mark it as completed and let the archives handle it. You’ll be able to find it whenever you need it, and as a bonus you’ll be able to find important active items when they aren’t hidden by these mountains of work you’ve already handled.

Answer everything you can right now.

If you have a bunch of emails that just need a “yes” or “no” or some bit of quick information, spend a few moments responding.

My extra father taught me most of what I know about business. He said, “Touch a thing once. Try to make it so you don’t need to touch it again.”

You’re already looking at your email. You’re already distracted.

Something you need to put on your calendar? Do it now and mark that email done.

If you need more than just a few moments to complete the task, it can stay until a later step.

Decide when you will do the rest.

Give each item a quick moment of consideration. Does this belong on a to-do list? Or is it just something that you need a few moments of peace to formulate a more thorough reply?

Gmail and many other mail programs offer you the ability to “snooze” or “schedule” an email. If this item is not something you can or will handle right now, decide when you want to see it, and schedule it for then.

I recently had a promo bit that I needed to do for a class I’m teaching. Some amazing graphics showed up in my inbox. They were perfect, but it was too soon to do the promo. I scheduled that email to reappear on the day I wanted to do the promo. When that day came, the email popped into my inbox and I quickly shared to social media. Promo done!

Set items to appear when you need them.

Store reference material.

Do you need that recipe to use later? Print it and put it in your recipe box. Or better yet, zap it into Evernote. (Note: I’m a partner with Evernote and that’s a tracking link. I love teaching folks how to use it to simplify their lives! When enough people click on my tracking links, Evernote will help me promote my classes.)

Having systems that you can trust to store your information where you can find it will eliminate piles of paper on the counter and avalanches of email in your inbox.

Create automated tools to filter your email.

This may take you 15 minutes to learn to do well. It will save you hours.

In your email program, learn how to filter emails into folders.

For example, all of my NaNoWriMo emails go into a folder automatically. Purchase receipts are another good thing to filter.

Once you have the filters set up, decide how to handle that folder.

Many of my folders are things that I need to see, but don’t need to save. I open the folder once a day, skip the content, and then delete the entire folder.

Learn what tools your chosen email system offers, and then take a few moments to learn to use them well.

Consider email bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy is never our first choice, but if you’ve got more than 3000 unread emails, you’re probably in trouble.

Perform the steps above on the most recent hundred or so emails, and then archive everything.

Poof: instant happy email box.

Now, after you recover from the trauma of that moment, take a deep breath and commit to going through your email at least once a day with the goal of hitting Inbox Zero.

Yes, you will have misplaced some important things.

The good news is that everyone already expected you to have lost their email, so they’ll probably email you again. Anything truly urgent will surface, and everything is archived.

Reap the rewards.

People are frequently stunned by how quickly I respond to an email.

Of course I respond quickly! It is between me and my happy sunshine!

Once you’ve lived with Inbox Zero for a few days, you’ll begin to see how much more productive and efficient you are. You’ll see how much less time you’re wasting staring at ALL those emails. You’ll also learn that your inbox is no longer a source of fear and stress. Fear and stress lead to procrastination. Procrastination leads to an inbox full of unread messages.

When you can see all of your inbox at one glance, you’ll be less likely to miss important messages.

Have you tried Inbox Zero? What has your experience been? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!