Posts Tagged ‘Creative nonfiction’

Character Building from Hurdles

May 10, 2012 9 comments

choices (Photo credit: WhatiMom)

During the past few days on Claudsy’s Blog, discussions have risen about many issues. Definitions and roles began this journey of the week. A killer interview with Walt Wojtanik kicked over a massive rock to cause a landslide of hits and comments for both Walt and me.

I announced a guest blog that I’d done over in Pat McDermott’s kitchen, and took on questions about illiteracy in America yesterday. Sort of looks like I’ve been spinning the wheel of subject chances, doesn’t it?

The idea of subject chances sums it up very well. Claudsy’s Blog has always been a morphing kind of place. Like most people, I have whims. At present I’m redefining parts of blogs, types of writing projects, and future possibilities. I’m exploring both the writing world and myself.

My explorations have created a need to jump hurdles of my own making. Trained as a sociologist, with degrees in psychology, etc., my vision of the world tends to be a bit more esoteric than some people’s. I can’t look at something and see only one aspect. Too many factors go into the overall impact of each subject’s aspects.

Character building, for instance, by my current definition, refers to characters created for my stories. Developing a teenager for a short story or novel, as one example, requires knowing how a child is likely to live in a specific region, with specific types of parents, living with specific limitations, boundaries, etc. Every good writer builds a character with care and craftsmanship.

Finding character traits and circumstances doesn’t always take vast amounts of time. This afternoon a story came across my news feed, which carried one of the strongest characters I’ve seen in a very long time. The young lady in question was perfect for an idea that I’d been working on for a while.

A 15 year-old girl suffers from a rare, debilitating disease that has determined her entire life. She cannot eat as others do. A combination of an autoimmune disease and severe food allergies forbids her to eat anything by mouth other than potatoes. Sounds fictional, doesn’t it?

Her hurdle of choice is to become a professional chef. This lovely young woman wants to cook for those who can enjoy the food she’s denied. And she’s well on her way.

Talk about character. This is the type of model that makes for exquisite story characters. They are real, living and breathing in the world.

You might ask what kind of story can be built around such information. Here are some of the plotlines already under consideration.

  • YA—female lead enters cook-off where one of the requirements has the chef sampling her own developed recipe concoctions
  • YA—female lead suffers from condition which forbids eating—must come to terms with the social ramifications of the condition
  • Woman in late twenties who’s never gone out on a dinner date of any kind finds herself in a mandatory situation where she must attend such a function—perhaps work-related–and she either eats and becomes violently ill; or refuses to eat but must explain why to the other attendees; or she attends and explains her situation and proceeds to show everyone how she eats through a feeding tube. I know, drastic but doable
  • YA—female lead who develops a close friendship with a boy, and then must disclose her situation when she won’t eat his birthday cake at a party.
  • Additional scenarios can make for uncounted possibilities

Choosing the most viable scenario for the proper market is the key to succeeding. If this type of character is used wisely, several stories could come from it without having to change many of the social details. I would change quite a few of the personal details for reasons of sensitivity. Believe it or not, I don’t like exposing real people to unwarranted scrutiny.

The original story, I believe, was released so that other possible sufferers of this often misdiagnosed condition could check into its possible connection to them. I have nothing but the highest respect for this young lady and the struggle that she faces in coming years.

“Characters” like her keep my faith in human kind from sinking into the abyss of cynicism. I thank the heavens each time I find such a model for some of my characters. The next time you read a book with a character in it who keeps flashing through your mind for days or weeks afterward, stop for a moment and contemplate. Who was the model for this unforgettable character; what was the whole of her/his life?

Share your thoughts on this question of character hurdles and what they represent. Comment with your ideas, methods, and formulas.

Until then, a bientot,


For the story of Samantha Pecoraro and EoE (eosinophils of the esophagus), follow the link below.–abc-news-wellness.html

Whether for Something Old or Something New

March 5, 2012 2 comments

How often do you walk into a store, a shop, or glance into a gallery for the simple purpose of seeing what’s there?

Do you explore possibilities of new interests in your shopping experience, or do you prefer to frequent the same stores each week for the types of purchases you’ve been making for years? Do you know whether another store has the same items for 25% less than where you normally shop?

If you’ve answered “No” to the above questions, you have described your buyer’s life as running in a rut.

Writers don’t necessarily fall into this category, but it’s not unheard of, and a shake-up in one’s writing life can bring about changes for better writing. Some prefer to write only children’s stories and can’t understand why they aren’t having much luck in the acceptance department. Others write only annotated non-fiction without ever bothering to explore the creative side of that genre.

Each of us has the ability to write with more depth, with a more distinctive style, and with greater range. It’s also true that the writer, like any shopper, does herself a disservice by not exploring the options available.

Locating New Possibilities

Finding new territory is scary. It requires thought, exposure, and research. A memoirist might not want to move away from those events within her life to concentrate on how those same events affected someone else. It might not occur to her that by seeing the event through someone else’s eyes for a change, she might gain a better understanding or a greater perspective, about the event and her ties to it.

This memoirist might never realize, without exploration, that fascinating characters with intriguing stories to tell live within her grasp. If she took a few of those characters, placed them within the confines of a historical framework, and wrote a fictional piece, she might realize that she has the makings of a best-selling historical novelist.

The poet who’s never done creative non-fiction or song writing has not explored the multiple uses that exist for lyricism and verse. A whole world of lyrical work is available to those who will attempt to spread wings and fly over new territory. The act of exploring new poetic forms helps to broaden one’s view of the genre. A willingness to stretch one’s writing wings can foster many rewards.

Take the writer who loves to read about amazing new developments in science and who can envision possible new uses for the information. She has an opportunity to move into speculative science writing. The road to science fiction isn’t too distant, either. The ability to extrapolate from a tiny bit of scientific knowledge to how that knowledge could change the future is at the root of an entire genre.

Finding new turf to explore is as easy for the writer as taking her fingers for a short walk through cyberspace. The internet has given us that access and ease of travel.

Shopping for New Choices in Odd Corners

Charles Dickens wrote a great little story called “The Old Curiosity Shop.” It’s believed that Dickens chose to write this story, with its fairy tale qualities, because of the early death of his young sister-in-law. That it reads like something fit for complex YA novels of today make it just as pertinent now as when it was written.

Dickens wrote about the ills of his Victorian world. Some may argue that he spent too much time fiddling with the psychology of this story and its characters, instead of using the hit-‘em-hard approach as he’d done so often before.

Perhaps, the story worked because it took a different approach to the world of the time. Here was a young female character who wished to run away from her daily life with her grandfather. They encountered both the sweet and the sour sides of life and the world. The symbolism woven into this story could as easily reflect our present world.

Dickens risked veering away from his previous comfort zone. He chose to change his approach, his character style, and how he interpreted his world. Today, his story continues to compel the reader to find the similarities between his time and the 21st Century.

Don’t Worry About Double Coupon Days

Whether writers take themselves into a small museum or gallery that they’ve not visited before, or spend a few hours with the local historical society, the change of environment can change one’s perspective. Junk shops, through which only serious antique collectors wade, can yield tremendous potential for stories and articles.

Small galleries hold treasures that can spark new writing prompts. Unusual little museums offer loads of faces, history, and unique examples of people’s lives. By taking the time to peruse these venues, the writer leaves her comfort zone long enough to browse someone else’s.

All of these types of places can take the writer into new territory for escaping the writing rut. What she chooses to do with the new data is strictly up to her. It’s true, though, that sometimes the shopper can exit the store with prime consumables without resorting to pulling out the coupon book.