Once upon a time in the rarely talked about Frosty sector of Fantasyland, a tale is told about a magenta-haired girl named Wren. Wren lived with her parents in an Igloo where they had to put down stakes for back-door reasons. The maid was slender and so innocent she would blush when she would hear her name being called.
One morning while picking frozen Apricots (which would be squashed to sell for desserts) she was distressed to see her Igloo home begin to soften. Her Father, a thief whose only talent was looting and plundering, would be no help in this or any other crises. Wren’s distraught Mother looked out of the scullery window, lips pursed in anger, as her house warmed into a puddle.
Fear was now at its zenith when, like a bolt of lightening, an incredible memory of great significance came to her. She recalled a hidden bag of magic seeds purloined some time ago and given to her by, you guessed it, her husband as his gift for Valentine’s Day and to celebrate the day their child was born. She felt it came to her just at the right time and anyway funny stuff happens in Fantasyland.
Could it be that her shifty mate’s love gift would be their salvation?
Now unearthed from under the floorboards, the small leather pouch yielded a papyrus that read; “WARNING PLANT ONLY ONE OKRA POD AT A TIME” In smaller yet and nearly unreadable lettering at the very bottom of the page it read: “Enchanted Farmers Inc. Herby release any and all responsibility for the undisciplined growth of these contents,” and in even smaller print was, “Shuck at your own risk.”
The pod grew, all the igloos disappeared, and magenta-haired Wren, her mother, and the now celebrated ex-pilferer continue to live quite contentedly in their ever expanding house in the little known and rarely talked about Frosty sector of Fantasyland.
The assignment is to write a poem, memoir, or non-fiction in 200 words or less using at least 10 words from a list of 113. The subject is St. Valentine’s Day. This assignment from an instructor who’s own poem on the subject is titled Road Kill. Mercy! (1) Given the title of her poem, it doesn’t surprise me that the list includes the words: ruthlessly (2), undertaker (3), and algebra (4).
If I’d ever been to Paris (5), Madagascar(6), Amsterdam (7), or (8) Iceland, I might wax poetic about their beauty. And I don’t find the romance in okra (9) in the marketplace (10).
It’s all extra credit now baby!
St. Valentine poem of love.
Giving up on a Litany-
A wave is acknowledgement of existence
A smile is acknowledgement of love
A blow job is acknowledgement of the universe.
OK, ok. Not one word in the above poem is from the list. I think existence, universe, and blow job were worthy candidates. Especially since hiccup (11), bellybutton (12). and sober (13) made the list. I hiccup for your love. Doesn’t make it. Is your bellybutton an innie or an outie? Hardly romantic. My sober thoughts make me drunk for your love. No.
Your character wants more than one thing and probably her desires are in opposition. An example of this we can all understand: She values being slim—she’s a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. But she values rich sugar-laden desserts—she craves them in fact. She’d kill for a profiterole right now…. You get the idea! Conflicting desires are the heart of complex characterization and tense, compelling writing.
A plausible and complex character will have a couple of strong desires that are in conflict. This is like life. It feels real to the reader and gives you a chance to further characterize through showing how and which desire he chooses.
Dramatize small incidents of conflicting values in scenes. Build these small choices to foreshadow the larger choices to come. She is going to choose values or desires that demonstrate her personality. Be sure to write-in the character’s attitude toward the choice. Think, mixed feelings. Remember, narration and back story will help here, but the riskiest way to inform the reader is through narration. Be sure that the narration doesn’t just recap what the reader already knows. It needs to deliver new information or a new perspective. Dialog is a good medium to use. Try having your secondary characters talk about the character with the conundrum.
Identify what emotions the character is feeling.
Double check that you’ve laid the groundwork for the mixed feelings by dramatizing the causes of each in earlier scenes.
Decide how you want to portray two contradictory feelings: in the same scene, in alternate scenes, through narrative, through character thoughts, or through some combination of techniques.
Include emotional indicators (sensory language, gesture, expression, etc.) for the reader to share in each emotion the character feels.
Prompt: What if you really did what you want to do? (Wood, The Pocket Muse)
Write a flash fiction or short story in the first person on what would happen if the character went ahead and did what (s)he always secretly wanted to do. Show your reader how this big desire might be in direct conflict with the character’s values and develop the process of choosing.
“I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart”
Week by Week, A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts & Meditations by Amber Lea Starfire is filled with just the kind of information needed to help beginning journal writers get started and will fuel the imaginations of more experienced writers. The quotes that open each section are worth the purchase. But Amber Lea Starfire offers much more in this inspiring, well-structured book. She provides prompts and exercises that even fiction writers will find helpful in creating the interior lives of characters. This book is a gift to anyone who wishes to step into the world of self-expression through journaling or memoir writing.
I am a long time fan of Natalie Goldberg. But I fear I have outgrown her. As I review my favorite of her books, Wild Mind, I realize that focusing on drinking a glass of water or on Zen breathing is not only tedious but doesn’t help my work at all.
One of the things I admire most about Natalie is she not afraid to change. From her complete embrace of Zen practice in Writing Down the Bones to the discovery that her Zen instructor was not all she thought him to be, revealed in The Great Failure, she writes with truth and clarity. But I actually have advanced beyond her advice.
It is possible to outgrow our Gurus. We learn everything we can, then move onto to another person, another message or a new author who is just a few steps ahead of us in enlightenment or skill. And we follow her.
How do you know you’ve moved on? Pull out your favorite books and read those original pieces that encouraged you to try writing or trapeze or accounting. Is the advice still relevant? Then great, read it and get a jolt of your original mojo. If the advice and language seems dated, then you know you’ve moved on, congratulations on your growth!
I am still a fan of Goldberg’s. What now inspires me is not her advice for writing practice but her complete willingness to live out loud and share her wild mind, great failures, and all with the rest of us.