Wednesday Wanderer: Developing Characters

ImageHave you ever known someone who gets blamed for everything? Or, even worse, a person who blames other people for everything?

I’m currently wrapping up a standalone book, An Amish Buggy Ride, that has hit really close to home. It deals with a family member who constantly blames his older sister, Kate, for all of his problems. No matter what happens in his life, David can manipulate every situation to point the finger of blame at his sister. This has been going on for so long in Kate’s life that barely a shell of a person remains.

In the book, David has a drinking problem. Rather than face the issue (and consequences resulting from his trysts with alcohol), he manages to find a way to blame Kate. True to the typical victim, she takes the mental abuse, absorbing the impact and eventually believing that he might actually have a valid point. It takes Samuel Esh to show Kate that she bears no guilt for David’s situation resulting from his alcoholism. 

Writing this book has been extremely interesting. When developing characters, a writer has to know everything about them…what makes them happy and sad, how they will react to situations and conversations, their weaknesses and their flaws. I recently read a book on plotting story lines and developing characters. The author said that writers tend to pull not just from their own experiences but from their own personalities to create main characters. 

I paused when I read that sentence and thought about David and Kate. 

In both my professional and personal life, I have run into many Davids…people who cannot look at a situation to see how they may have contributed to the outcome (which is usually not to their liking if they are complaining about it). It’s always someone else’s fault. The finger is pointed at anyone else who is out to get them or to make them look bad. At least, that’s how they see it. In the case of David in my story, he wasn’t supposed to be drinking…not just from a legal perspective but from a cultural perspective. Yet, the bottle was found and the results of his drunken behavior triggered a chain reaction. 

Of course, I have also known people like Kate, too willing to take more than their fair share of the responsibility to the point that they are blamed for everything…bad grades, poor finances, gambling debts, substance abuse, parenting issues, relationship woes, job troubles, economic crisis, global warming…you get the picture. In the case of Kate in my story, her willingness to permit this mental abuse at the hands of her brother has been a progression. You see, it never happens overnight but is drawn out over a period of time. It’s to the point that Kate doesn’t even realized that it has happened.

And then along comes Samuel…the person who gives her the strength to recognize and understand what is happening. With his help, she faces it head on. 

The idea for this story came to me at a Writer’s Group. Just simple brainstorming over a writing activity with other authors and writers. The exercise involved free-writing about snow falling. For some reason, I immediately envisioned an Amish buggy covered in snow. When I left the meeting, I kept thinking about the idea. It wouldn’t leave me. When that happens, I know that it’s a story that must be written.

As with all of my books, it’s a team effort. Brainstorming, writing, editing, rewriting, more brainstorming…there is a team of people who flesh out the story. Truly, anyone who writes alone without the help of a team is missing something. But the characters spoke to me from that snowy night on a backroad in Lancaster, PA. Before you knew it, the story created itself and, upon reflection, I noticed the different themes emerge. Interestingly, these themes resonated with my team in different ways. They, too, had felt like Kate at different points in their lives…whether from an employer, friend, or spouse! Kate’s situation may be framed in an Amish setting but clearly it is a universal problem. 

This book, to be published in October 2014, is different…a little edgy…a challenge to write and…from my pre-readers…a story that doesn’t leave when the book is over. I’ll keep you posted on its progress. ;-)

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Speaking Engagements: Bullying and Domestic Violence

It’s that time of year again when people are starting to reach out to me. I’m happy to say that I can use the hard experiences of my life to educate other people, hopefully to save them from making similar mistakes in their lives.

This week, I’ve been invited to speak at a pharmaceutical company regarding both issues, drawing on my own unfortunate life experiences. It’s amazing that there truly is little to no difference between the two issues: bullying and domestic violence both involve the manipulation and control of others’ emotions. 

According to nobullying.org: 

Bullying comes in various forms, and there is no unified definition of it that is accepted by science, governments, and educational systems. Many factors appear to be related to bullying, and one of the more recently explored of those factors is violence in the home. Domestic violence now appears to be highly correlated with the incidence of bullying found in schools. And it isn’t just related to the perpetrators of bullying. Perhaps surprisingly, domestic violence demonstrates a positive correlation with three groups that are involved: The bullies, the victims, and those who demonstrate both conditions.  

In the home, it can create an environment of enormous stress, the constant feeling of walking around on eggshells, especially when/if illegal drugs addiction and alcoholism are involved. In the school and workplace, the same stress exists along with feelings of hopelessness. 

As I begin my tour, speaking about my experiences and sharing what I have learned about how to escape and to protect yourself, I welcome others to step forward and speak out against these two societal issues. Since 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point in their life, look around you and realize that it could be someone sitting next to you. As for children (and adults), social media increasingly facilitates the aggressive attacks on individuals: “The means for, and likelihood of, bullying increase proportionately as technology continues to advance. Other previously identified risk factors included tobacco, drug, and alcohol use/abuse; poor academic performance; and mental health problems.” (nobullying.org). Many times, these perpetrators will project their own issues onto their victims as a means of denying their problem. 

It’s a vicious cycle. Through education, we can address the societal problems caused by these horrible acts of mental and physical violence. As my speaking tour begins to get scheduled for autumn 2014, I welcome invitations to speak at your organizations. 

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Good Friday, Good Thoughts

After the Palm Sunday tragedy (losing baby Zeb, my zebra), I didn’t feel much like writing this week. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things. It’s just such a hard reality to face that he’s gone.

Sometimes those things happen in life: the unexpected, the unwanted, the undeserved. But, as my super de duper smart husband always says, “Homeostasis, my dear.”

Roughly 2000 years ago, an innocent lamb was slaughtered to save the world from sin. Three days later, he rose to join his heavenly Father. The sorrow and tears of Friday turned to joy and laughter on Sunday. It’s amazing, really, to think of the sacrifice made on our behalf. Are we worthy of such a selfless act? The answer is no but Jesus did it anyway.

Sometimes sacrifice has to happen in life. In order to get to the good, we have to suffer through the bad. I’ve faced many hardships in my life, almost always with the attitude that God knows what is best for me. He has reasons and plans for what happens in my life. Who am I to question Him? Years of toxic unhappiness were finally replaced with the joy that my husband brought into my little family’s life. A stressful career was replaced with cancer (and yes, I consider dealing with cancer a good replacement for where I worked). Fourteen years of writer’s block (or, rather, being told that I couldn’t do it and it was a silly dream) were replaced with a husband who encouraged me to keep pushing myself and try.

As I stand in the shadow of the cross today, I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for…my children, my husband, my parents, my sister, my nieces and nephew, my friends, my FB family, and all of my readers who believe in me and my writing!

Homeostasis. The balancing act of life. All things happen for a reason and…somehow…even the worst of things work out in the end. You just have to believe…

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