One beloved feature of the holiday season is the familiar stories we tell. It is framed by songs, books, movies, religious practices, and the unique family stories we cherish. And every one of these centers on a character or group of characters.
Understanding characters is central to comprehending fiction and much of non-fiction. It is so central, it is included in the common core standards and many of the state standards that preceded these.
As a fiction author, I do not have a viable story idea until I have envisioned a character. In fact, much of my fiction comes to me in the form of a character first.
Here is a Language Arts Lesson to help you teach this important skill.
Character Analysis Exercise: Discuss and Instruct
For this exercise, instruct your students to think of a favorite holiday character, from any form of media. There’s Rudolf and Frosty from songs, Ebenezer Scrooge from classic literature and movies, and the iconic figures of the religious practices in which the holiday season is rooted. Many of the characters appear in multiple stories. Invite your students to share, and honor the choices of every one
Discuss the ways creators help their audiences understand the characters that make their stories meaningful.
How the character looks—both the basics of the physical appearance we are born with and the things we have control of, like hair style, clothing, and accessories, reveals character. However, like the old adage about books and covers, a character cannot be fully understood by appearance alone.
What the character does—our behavior reveals far more about us than does our appearance. How does a character carry herself? How does he relate to others? What does she like to do? What does he hate to do? How does this character choose to invest his or her time?
What the character says—what we say reveals far more than the information we want to convey. It can reveal where we are from, our degree of interest, our attitudes, our moods, how we feel about the people we are interacting with and more. Even what a character doesn’t say can be revealing.
As we move “inward,” the character tells become more and more significant.
How a character thinks—our thought patterns, like what we say and do, reveals a great deal about us, and in characterization, this is where things can get really interesting. A character can speak and act one way, while carrying on an inner thought process that can stray so far as to even be contradictory. Our thoughts also reveal our general attitudes toward life—optimistic, pessimistic, cynical, enthusiastic—which in turn colors what we do and say. So, too, with characters.
How a character feels—this one is two-pronged. How does the character feel, physically, and how does the character feel, emotionally? Is she fit and healthy? Has he been injured, or does he experience a chronic illness? Our responses to how we feel color what we say or do and impact our overall attitude.
How a character feels emotionally—a fully rounded character experiences joys and sorrows, trials and challenges and has done so during the phases of their “lives” that occurred outside the framework of their story. These, too, impact behavior and choices. An intriguing or beloved character is never perfect. Furthermore, characters rarely live in a vacuum. As they work their stories out, they interact with others. They have good days, bad days, and many people in their lives. Who do they love? Who do they tolerate? Who do they loathe? This impacts how they react to and treat secondary characters. It also reveals who they are as a person.
Discuss a character from a story previously read by the class to analyze each of the above features and list class findings on the board as they come up.
Pass out the handout.
Instruct your students to give an example (or two or three—whatever you feel your students are ready for) for each of the ways creators make their characters seem real.
Another way to use the handout is to have the students work in small groups or pairs. If this approach is chosen, you could have each group present their finished analysis to the class using the document camera. This would allow you to assess for speaking standards as well.
A Step Farther
Use this character handout for the springboard to a creative writing assignment. Instruct students create a character, and then assign a short story written about this character.
Who is one of your favorite holiday characters? What qualities or traits make you love him or her?
Today I would like to introduce you to my friend, Gretchen McLellan, author of I’m Done, as well as Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 and, coming soon, Button and Bundle. Gretchen has been a friend of mine through SCBWI (that’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Oregon Chapter for many years. I hope you’ll enjoy her and her writing as much as I do.
LL: What was your inspiration for I’m Done?
Gretchen: Kids! In my former life I was a reading specialist in elementary schools. I heard, “I’m Done!” over and over and over again, but the children making this very public announcement rarely understood what being done meant.
I knew that I wanted to write a book with that title, and one day after work I decided to give it a try. I still only had a title, or so I thought. I said to myself, I’ll try this out as an animal story. (I usually write human characters.) Pick an animal, any animal. It was no stroke of genius that a beaver popped into my mind. Then my pen started moving, and this story poured out of me like water breaking through a proverbial dam.
But the unconscious inspiration for this story is much deeper. “I’m Done” is a deceptively simple phrase. Said with joy, frustration, or despair it takes on many meanings, all that resonate with me in the process of writing and in the journey toward publication and beyond.
LL: Describe I’m Done in 5 words:
Gretchen: a joyful celebration of perseverance
LL: What theme/s play an important role in I’m Done?
Gretchen: Perseverance. I am the poster child of perseverance. My journey to publication was as lengthy and arduous as an epic tale. At one point, I thought I was done. Finished. I was quitting writing, abandoning my dream. I knew I could not show up at another conference or retreat unpublished, ever again. I didn’t want to be an object of pity. But at the eleventh hour, I signed up for an SCBWI retreat for the last time, partially lured by the last-day-of-the-early-bird-discount email and the news that there was still a critique slot left with an agent, and partly because I wanted to see my friends.
It turns out I wasn’t done yet.
In that critique slot, I met my wonderful agent. I have two published picture books with three more on the calendar.
I didn’t give up and neither does Little Beaver.
LL: What is it about I’m Done that has turned out to be the most meaningful to you?
Gretchen: Definitely the relationships I’ve made in the making of the book, first with my editor, second with my illustrator.
Working with my editor was a joy. We had several rounds of written revisions that made the story better and better. Finally, the story was ready for the art. Then the f&gs (the folded and gathered pages of the printed but unbound book) arrived, and we had a phone meeting to discuss them. Sometime during the nearly two hours we spent on the phone together, I stopped and said, “Can you believe that we get to do this for work! This is so much fun!” Revising with her was a peak experience.
Next, the unexpected relationship with my illustrator, Catherine Lazar Odell, has been meaningful as well. Authors and illustrators rarely communicate. I have never written or spoken directly with any of my four illustrators during the process of making our books. If I’m invited to comment on the illustrations, my comments are filtered by the editor and art director, and rightfully so. I respect this process. Maybe it’s because Catherine’s and my editor realized how close we lived to each other that she broke protocol. But after the book had gone to press, she asked us if we’d like to exchange emails. We both did. What came next was up to us. Now I have the pleasure of gushing in person about how wonderful her artwork is and doing events together.
LL: What is the most fun you’ve had with I’m Done since its release?
Gretchen: Doing story times at bookstores with an audience of families. I love creating all the adjunct activities that go with my books for story times. My story times involve puppets, fingerplays, chants and crafts, and are always under revision as I try to improve each time. Sharing the stage doing Little Beaver’s voice and not only reading aloud with Catherine but watching her draw Little Beaver with kids is fantastic.
LL: Which of your picture books was easiest to write? Why?
Gretchen: I think I’m Done!, probably because it had been incubating, unbeknownst to me, for a long time. When I sat down to write, it came to me whole with a nibble, nibble, snap. Naturally, I made lots of changes to the first draft, and after the book sold (to Holiday House) made a lot more, before and after the art was in. But the story was there from the beginning.
But being “done” with a manuscript is often defined by the deadline to get the book to print so it can make its release date😊. I’d still like to make a change or two.
LL: Which of your picture books is your favorite?
Gretchen: I’m working with one of my editors on a picture book named I Hate Favorites! Does that answer your question?
LL: Funny! …on to the next question– How does your training as a reading specialist influence your writing?
Gretchen: I have shared a lot of books with a lot of children. I know the spell a good story can cast. Those that speak beautifully to children’s curiosity and hearts and honor who they are and their current developmental challenges are received with a quiet, active listening that is magic during a read-aloud. I try to write so that magic can occur. That involves knowing where kids are in their development as readers and as little human beings.
When I use repetition, rhyme, assonance and word play, I know I am writing in a way that is both pleasing to the ear, but also developing phonemic awareness, a necessary skill in becoming a reader. The nibble nibble snap, scoop scoop pat repetition and onomatopoeia of flish flish swish and wing wing zing in I’m Done! are examples.
When I use an unfamiliar word (for the picture book set) I know I am adding to their vocabulary, sometimes giving children a word at the center of an experience that they don’t yet have a name for. For example, in Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, I explore the word bittersweet. The story is about the bittersweet of saying good-bye to a beloved teacher at the end of the school year. In the story Mrs. McBee explains the word to her class with a simile. “It’s like a swirly ice-cream cone with sad and happy twisted together.”
I am intentional about my word choice, aware of the role of picture books in building vocabulary. I don’t write down to the picture book audience, but I also try not to overload them with too many new vocabulary words either. In the reading field we talk about concept load. I can remember having too many new vocabulary terms loaded on me in school. It made me feel both ignorant and like screaming. I don’t want to make this mistake with my readers.
I am very aware that children’s background knowledge, or schema, influences their comprehension of a text. I ask myself what I can reasonably assume that a child knows about the topic (including vocabulary) and this influences what I state directly and what I can leave to the reader to infer. This is important in fiction and nonfiction texts. Reading builds schema, which improves future comprehension. Furthermore, illustrations in picture books do lots of heavy lifting in providing visual information that aids comprehension. I write with the illustrations in mind too.
LL: Describe your early life as a reader/writer.
Gretchen:One of my most precious memories of school is my teacher reading Charlotte’s Web aloud. I couldn’t wait to go to school every day to hear more of that book. I can’t separate my early life as a reader/writer from my life as a listener. I still love the spoken word and listen regularly to books on CD.
I became a letter writer early, because I moved so much. Back in the days before instant communication, if I didn’t write the friends I had to leave behind, these friendships would die. I lived overseas and making international calls was too expensive. So I wrote letters.
My dreams of being a writer came much later when I discovered picture books as a mom.
LL: Describe your “literate lifestyle” now.
Gretchen: On the back flap of I’m Done! is the following:
Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan writes everywhere she can–in barns and bookstores, bathtubs and beds, cars and coffeehouses. She has yet to write in a beaver lodge.
That about says it all. I write where ever I can with whatever time I have, and I try to write every day. I have several projects going at once, setting one aside to gain the perspective of distance and shifting to another. Since publication, I have been doing a lot of business and promotional writing. This kind of writing doesn’t exactly feed my soul. But it is an unanticipated necessity in the life of an author. I need to write fiction to feel balanced.
LL: What are you presently working on, and what’s next for you?
Gretchen: I am revising several picture books and a couple middle-grade novels. I’m always open to the rush of a new idea and honor ideas when they come, because they come with their tanks full. I’ve got a lot of projects stuck in a long line at the pumps.
LL: How can Literate Lives readers help you get the word out about I’m Done?
Gretchen: If readers are willing, requesting the book at their local library is always helpful. Libraries usually honor patrons’ requests, and it’s easy to make one from the comfort of your favorite chair and computer.
Reviewing books on Amazon and Goodreads is helpful as well. This can be as simple as rating the book with the number of stars it deserves for you or writing a quick review that could guide readers to the book.
I think I’m Done! is right for many audiences for many reasons.
For children it’s an entertaining and humorous story about the value of perseverance/persistence and the joy of completing a task that you are proud of.
For parents and teachers, it’s a story that can lead to discussions about what it means to be done and what it takes to stick with something.
It’s a story that promotes social and emotional development. How many of us were criticized for not doing something well when no one ever defined what the job at hand entailed in the first place? I’m hoping that at home and at school, the story will help adults help children understand expectations more clearly and experience success more regularly.
If Literate Lives readers have Preschool-2nd grade teachers in their lives, a recommendation would be fantastic. Every teacher has heard “I’m Done!” and every teacher is looking for texts that promote emotional intelligence, reading development, community, and the value of perseverance.
In addition, I have resources available on gretchenmclellan.com for teachers to download e.g. a Readers’ Theatre adaptation of the story, chants, and blackline masters for crafts.
It wasn’t until I held the f&gs for I’m Done! that I realized the story is a metaphor for writing—and so much more. How do you know when you’re done with a novel? How do you develop the internal guide that tells you to stop writing or painting or carving before it’s too late? I think this book speaks to young and old alike in so many ways. It speaks about the support we need in our creative work, how comradery can be so important to completing a project (and a distraction too!) and how we must develop an inner sense of quality, form, and beauty to know when we are done. So this book is for you too!
LL: Thank you, Gretchen! It is so interesting to learn about I’m Done! in particular, and how you craft your books to help build early literacy skills in young readers. Little Beaver’s story, and your own, are both so encouraging.
I don’t know about my readers, but I most definitely have a little one on my Christmas list who I think might be receiving a copy of I’m Done! this December.
Gretchen’s story about her first book sale continues to inspire me as I seek publication for my own novels.
Have you ever felt, after a lot of hard work, that you were “done” before life surprised you with a wonderful opportunity? Please use the comment box below to share your story.
This summer has been a “medical” summer. As those of you who are teachers know, any procedure that can be postponed until summer break usually is, and that is precisely what happened with this household of educators.
The positive side of this quiet summer is that I have had a lot of time for reading, both books and on the web. In fact, I saved so many articles for this “Best Ereads” post that I had to delete a few in order to not to run over long. So, these are actually the best of the best articles and blog posts I’ve read this summer so far.
A cautionary tale… This title seems to say it all, or does it? Although I accept, in fact already believed, that eye/hand coordination can impact academic performance, the article does not conclude that gross motor skills, as the title implies, is the key. The most important thing I learned from this article is that it is essential to read critically, and to exercise this skill with all media, especially electronic.
This article explores the value of imagination, which is greatly unappreciated world-wide. According to Rivandeneira, “Imagination is a practical means for achieving and enabling…commonly valued skills.” I whole-heartedly agree. Imagination is not only a necessity for children and artists, it is the engine behind problem-solving and the creation of every practical thing that makes life in the twenty-first century good. Keep exercising yours and encourage your loved ones to exercise theirs.
“For those who identify as introverts, the interior journey offers an alternative path to deeper meaning—one steeped in silence and solitude, rest and simplicity, wisdom and tradition, beauty and mystery.” — Lacy Ellman
Being an introvert myself, it has been so exciting to find so much being written on the study of introversion and the introvert lifestyle. (Quite Revolution, the blog on which I found this article, is one of my favorites.) I really valued Ellman’s contributions to the discussion.
Jane Yolen is the queen of Folkloric Fantasy, the genre in which I write, and so I both enjoyed and was inspired by Windling’s profile of the prolific author. In addition to talking about Yolen’s fiction writing, Windling and Yolen discuss the centrality of writing in her life, a topic highly espoused here at Literate Lives. Enjoy!
As an introvert, I often find myself overwhelmed by the rapidity of communication options, deluge of information, and unending bombardment of the twenty-four hour news cycle. Therefore, I really appreciate Ta-Hehisi Coates and Jen Pollock Michel’s call for thinkers to be given time to think before being expected to provide insight and answers. This is a provocative read.
To facilitate your journey into the life of the mind, here are some writing prompts for August from A Symphony of Praise.
Yikes! I’m still running long. The following are posts deal primarily with fiction writing and the professional writer’s life, two areas in which I seek to continue learning and growing in skill:
This last is for both writers and Language Arts teachers: “Grammar and the Singular ‘They,’‘” by Steve Laube. This article addresses an issue I struggle with, especially here on the blog. I want to be gender inclusive. I will often alternate between he and she, but even doing that, things can get clunky. Therefore, I found this article by literary agent Steve Laube very helpful.
What have you been reading online this summer? Any particular article that inspired or excited you? Please share the title and link in the comment box below. Let’s encourage one another!
It is nearly the Fourth of July–that sizzling, sparkling, savory celebration of the birth of the U.S.A. What better holiday to stimulate writing with sensory details!
Whether writing to capture your life, writing to entertain or inform, or writing for the pure pleasure of simply writing, sensory details add richness, depth, and realism to your writing.
What are sensory details? These are details that can only be detected through the use of your senses:
the beauty of a white frosted birthday cake topped with strawberries and blueberries
the vanilla scent of the frosting
the sweet tang of the berries on your tongue
the scrap of your fork on the plate
the silky texture as you swipe your finger through the frosting
Happy Birthday U.S.A.
Fourth of July Writing Exercise
Fourth of July celebrations are so full of sensory detail:
the crisp red white and blue of a flag
the sulfurous scent of fireworks
the tangy taste of bar-b-que
the sizzle of sparklers
the warmth of the sun against your skin
This exercise can be done by yourself, or done with your family. For each person participating in this exercise you will need either a pocket-sized tablet, five index cards, or a piece of paper divided into 5 sections and a pen or pencil that will fit into your pocket or purse.
Preparation: Label either one page, one card, or one section for each of the senses–sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch.
You, or each of you, will carry this with you throughout the day and evening, and pause periodically to record what you observe with your senses.
At the end of the evening, or the next day, look over your list.
For those who like to journal, use this list as you capture the holiday in words.
For those who like to write poetry, use this list as the pre-write for a poem.
For those who write fiction, use this list to create a scene.
For those who write non-fiction, use this list to write an article about July 4, 2018 as celebrated in your community.
Have fun. Participating in this exercise will help you capture and savor the very specific and particular details of your Fourth of July.
Using the comment box below, let’s share 3 to 5 items from our lists or a bit of the writing that results from it. Again, have fun, and let’s encourage one another!
Last week, as I worked endlessly on my school computer sorting files, typing out procedures, and making preparations for leaving my job (a job my boss, colleagues, and I had pretty much invented as we went along because it was an entirely new position for our building), I yearned to curl up in a cozy chair and journal by hand (instead of on the computer as I usually do).
So this week, when I had a chance to catch up on reading some articles I’d been saving for a long time to enjoy, one in particular, The New York Times’ “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” from June of 2014 caught my eye.
What I read impacted me powerfully, not only as a writer, but also as a grandparent and nurturer of literacy.
Some of the Findings of a Variety of Studies:
Writing by hand activates more regions of the brain than keyboarding.
Young children who learn to write at the same time they learn to read, learn to read more quickly.
People generating ideas in print or cursive, generate more ideas than those using a keyboard.
Students who take notes by hand, rather than by keyboard, are better able to understand and remember the information from lecturers and other auditory sources.
The Implications for Me
I have always written out the rough drafts of stories, poems, and novels longhand and will definitely continue to do so.
I also print out the work I want to revise and revise in pencil on paper. I will continue to do so.
I will start to vary my journaling practice between computer and paper, depending on my mood and the nature of the thinking in which I want to engage. I can always scan in what was written by hand if I want to keep everything together.
The Implications forMy Grandparenting Style
I had been thinking a lot about ways to have fun with my grandkids this summer. We live just fifteen minutes away, so activities like picnics and craft projects have always been high on our list. However, just because we live nearby does not mean we cannot write to each other. This summer I will write to one grandchild each week and enclose a card and self-addressed stamped envelope to encourage them to write back. (Why not write to all of them once a week? I do not want this practice to become overwhelming or a burden for them, or by familiarity, to lessen the delight in getting a hand written letter now and then.)
The Implications forThis Blog
As the creator of Literate Lives , I will encourage you, my readers to sometimes put pen or pencil to paper, and to ask your children or students (come fall) to, now and then, do the same.
What do you think about this information on writing by hand? How do you want to incorporate this practice in your, your kids’, or your students’ lives? Please use the comment box below to share. Let’s encourage one another!
I had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this spring and so accumulated a lot of candidates in by “best ereads of the season file.” Finally I narrowed them down to these six reflecting on parenting, reading, writing, and the mind.
Hello, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation
In Parents: Let Go of Graduation Nostalgia, by Jennifer Grant, the author chronicles her resistance to the nostalgia and even grief that can accompany a child’s graduation. With the premise that yes, our years of parenting were magical and significant, it is wise to savor where we are, perhaps even with younger siblings, and the opportunities that will open up for us and our graduates as they move into their adult lives.
Reading and Family Life
These next two articles celebrate the fun and health benefits of a reading life.
In How to Make Reading Fun: 25 Ideas Kids Will Love, by Jean Reagan. Reagan includes innovative ideas like having your child read a wordless book to you, reading a book which might include words or names you find difficult to pronounce, and much, much more.
For those of us with an overactive sense of guilt about the time we put in reading, Andre Calilhanna‘s Can Reading Books Lead to Better Health?is a refreshing antidote. With headers that include, “Increases Longevity by 23%” and “Reduces Stress,” lovers of reading can throw guilt out the window and indulge in their favorite pastime with a clear conscience.
For writers working on planning and story structure, The Triangle of Structure for Writers, by Sarah Sally Hamer, is informative and provides a handy 3-sentence fill-in-the-blank exercise for crafting an effective inciting incident.
A Quiet Mind
One of the issues I struggle with is quieting my mind. Unless I am reading, writing, or–okay, I admit it, staring at the television, it ceaselessly ruminates, reflects, remembers, worries, plans, and imagines, which in reasonable quantities is, perhaps, a useful trait for a writer to have. Running out of ideas is definitely not an issue. However, resting and simply enjoying the moment is. Therefore, I connected immediately with and was inspired by Mindfulness and Memory, by Pamela Moore. Even the image chosen to accompany the article is deeply soothing, and the active form of mindfulness she describes is something that feels so much more doable with a busy mind like mine.
Have you found any great articles on the web? If so, please use the comment box to share them with us (include author and title or web address, please). Tell a little about why you liked it. Let’s encourage one another.
As she muses whether or not writing is a real job (spoiler alert, it is) Lamb considers that perhaps writing “may be a mental condition” which she labels “Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome” and describes as “a compulsive need to tell stories.” Then she lists the symptoms.
Do I Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome? Do you?
” T.I.S.” in Youth
Of the 6 symptoms Lamb listed for children and young adults, 4 definitely would characterize my childhood, and even my life after:
“Preferred reading books, writing stories or drawing dragons 74% more than sports”—although I would have to change that percentage to 100.
“Had a 300% greater likelihood of being found in school library when compared to non T.I.S. peers”—This was particularly true during high school. It was so much easier than attempting to socialize! (As an adult I have, more than once, served as a library volunteer, and am now the “librarian” on my one room school site.)
“Displayed a 92.4% chance of ‘royally sucking’ at Dodgeball (data is inconclusive about skill level or simple desire to be ‘OUT’ so as to return to reading Goosebumps)”—Again, for me, the percentage would need to be raised to 100. Also, since I never willingly played Dodgeball (the only occasions when I did were for P.E.) there was, alas, absolutely zero chance of getting back to a book when ‘OUT’.
“Demonstrated early addictive behaviors with office supplies. Parents who suspect their child might have T.I.S. should look for noticeable pupil dilation when shopping for school supplies”—My favorite toy as a child was my size 64 box of Crayola Crayons. To this day, I love browsing stationery stores, the school supplies sections of stores, and the paper and art material sections of crafts stores. I love paper, notebooks, journals, index cards, glitter gel pens, mechanical pencils, and Prismacolor colored pencils.
Am I a Writer?
According to Lamb, “a primary symptom of T.I.S. is that writers angst over what makes them ‘real.’” Yup, I have been guilty of that and so have many of my writing friends.
Of Lamb’s 8 diagnostic questions, I confess to having committed 6:
“Display visible signs of distress, pain, and at times, explosive violence when shown sentences such as…‘Their are no more donuts in the brake room’”—Yes, I confess these kinds of errors can make me crazy—but only when committed by people I do not know and love. I am grateful for any communication from any of my friends and loved ones and would never, ever mentally edit their writing.
“Exhibit significant cognitive-tactile impairment when texting (refusal to employ ‘ur’, ‘IDK, ‘BRB’ or even the seemingly innocuous ‘lol’)”–Yep. See the next trait.
“Insist on using full sentences and proper punctuation”—Yeah, guilty. However, I have begun to have fun with emoticons. I particularly enjoy hearts, kittens, flowers, and suns.
“Can become agitated with certain trigger words such as bae, turnt or fleek”—My biggie is the news media’s abuse of the word “troop” when they use it to refer to a single individual.
“See nothing wrong with discussing rates of body decomposition, history of guillotines, The Black Death, or bot flies at social functions involving food”—my most recent exploration for the novel I am working on was figuring out when rigor mortis sets in, and when it goes away, however I have not had opportunity to discuss it at a social function.
“Are known to choose mates based off vocabulary, intellect, appreciation for Monty Python, and ability to operate, repair, and set up laser printers (leading to an abnormally high ratio of writers choosing engineer ‘types’ as partners)”—Now this one is only partially true. My guy, while being a math teacher and our home “technical expert,” also likes music and books similar to what I like, is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, and trustworthy people I know, and is simply an awesome life partner; I would have been a fool to let him get away!
I definitely have T.I.S. (Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome). Not only do I have it, I embrace it. I love to write; it helps me make sense of the world. And I love to write fiction because it’s just, plain fun.
Do you struggle with T.I.S? Well, there’s no better way to deal with it than to write. So, tell me, what are your symptoms? What are your joys? Please use the comment box, below, to share your thoughts. I am so eager to hear from you. Let’s encourage one another!
In this post, on HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com, K.M. Weiland shares the experiences that made her a writer, the questions that had her doubting her career choice, the wisdom of others that provided answers to her questions, and the five reasons she is able to conclude “writing is important to the world.”
Don’t take my word for it. Go read the post now, and then come back.
Wasn’t That Inspiring!
I’m tempted to quote so much of what she said, but of course, you’ve already read it. Instead I’d like to comment and elaborate on her 5 conclusions and how they resonate for me.
5 Reasons I Agree Writing, and Thereby Reading, Stories, both Fiction and Non, is of Value for Us Personally and for Our World:
“1. Stories give us good truths.” They show us how the world works. They inspire us to be better and often show us how. Stories, both fictional and non, are therefore empowering.
“2. Stories give us bad truths.” Stories, again both fiction and non-fiction, can serve as warnings. They provide a training ground for discovering strategies and ways of being that work and ones that do not. Better yet, as a reader, you get to discover these things vicariously, rather than have to suffer the consequences of dangerous, foolish, or selfish/narrow-minded actions.
“3. Stories open our minds and teach us empathy.” Effective educators know that reading fiction and experiencing life through a character’s mind and heart, expands our and our students’ wealth of experience. They show us how other people’s feelings and thought processes work, as we experience them through character. Thus story, both fiction and non, helps develop empathy for others.
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also:the capacity for this
In a world that seems to be growing smaller, more crowded, and more conflicted each day, empathy is an absolutely essential skill for living together in harmony.
“4. Stories offer us archetypal role models.” Weiland asks “if you’ve ever been in the midst of a difficult experience or faced by an overwhelming decision—and you were helped in remembering a character who endured something similar?” Have you? I know I have. At one very difficult time in my life inspiration provided by a fictional character helped buy my children 15 more years with an intact, functional nuclear family.
“5. Stories teach us to hope.” In our messy, messy world and our imperfect, challenging lives it can be tempting to just give up. But stories show us the effort to not just survive, but thrive is worthwhile. They remind us that light and hope remain in our world. While we cannot live lives of unadulterated bliss, times of joy, of love, of peace do exist, and if we make wise choices on our journeys, we will experience them and carry their memories within us along the way.
What do you feel is the value of reading and writing? In focusing on Weiland’s post, is there anything you think I missed? Please share in the comment space below. I love to hear from you!
In the book Mere Christianity, Lewis reflects on the nature of reality:
Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match–all at equal distances from each other…or distances that regularly increased…. In face, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four,…and one has a ring.
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. This is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.
I Should Feel We Were Making It Up
This principle applies not just to Christian apologetics, but to fiction writing as well. (Isn’t it interesting to note that Lewis was also a fiction writer, a literature professor, and medieval literature specialist.)
If the setting in our stories is too simple, too predictable, readers will feel like we’re just making it all up (which, of course, we are) rather than experience being swept up in the fictional dream.
For our fiction’s settings to feel real, they need to be complex, to contain variations–twists, surprises, imperfections, and to make even contemporary settings highly individual, particular, even a bit peculiar in their specificity
In the comment space below, please share the title and author of a work you read recently in which the author made the setting feel real. What was it that made it seem like it “could not be made up.” Or, are you a writer? Feel free to share an excerpt from your work illustrating a “reality” rendered in a way that seems it “could not be made up.”