Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. A brilliant professor develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. As she loses her memory and her career, what remains of her identity? This story has stayed with me—and based on conversations I’ve had with other readers, I’m not the only one.
Birthmarked, by Caragh M. O’Brien. Gaia works as a midwife just outside the Enclave, the protected community she serves. But when officers of the Enclave imprison her parents, she starts to question the rigid rules of her society, especially the forced reassignment of children to new parents. A good book about power and the possible consequences of environmental destruction. Also includes some code-breaking!
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. Two boys trying to set a record for the world’s longest kiss form the central story, but the plotlines weave through several characters’ lives, tying together the generation of men lost to AIDS and the generation for whom coming out is more common—but not necessarily easy.
Plume, by Kathleen Flenniken. This is a book about betrayal, loss, and invisible dangers made visible. Centering on the community of Hanford, Washington, and the various forms of radiation exposure its citizens experienced, it’s a horror story and a discovery story and a love-of-family story. I reread it almost immediately; it still grips me, weeks later.
Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. Vivian Maier was a nanny who spent most of her free time perfecting her amateur-photography skills, capturing the world around her. When she died, she left behind thousands of photographs and negatives, a small fraction of which were assembled in this collection. The images are stories in themselves.
The Test: Living in the Shadow of Huntington’s Disease, by Jean Barema. There was a 50-50 chance the author had inherited the incurable, degenerative disease known as Huntington’s. This book chronicles his agonizing over whether to get the genetic test, his siblings’ and mother’s experience with the disease, and his countdown to his own test and receipt of the results. Even those of us who don’t fact Huntington’s confront many of the same questions about mortality, and the physical losses that may come with age.
Days That I’ll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, by Jonathan Cott. This book captures Lennon in his post-Beatles life, dealing with couplehood and parenthood, exploring new creative frontiers. It’s a relief to see a book that doesn’t vilify Ono as the woman who “broke up the Beatles,” but rather explores the artistic and political views that she and Lennon shared and kindled in one another.
Rapture Practice, by Aaron Hartzler. Hartzler grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. But much of what he was drawn to (partying, rock music, dating), his family viewed as sinful. This book records his ever-more-painful attempts to please the family he loves, while unable to resist exploring the music and relationships that call to him.
Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Boylan shares her own experience parenting before, during, and after her transition from male to female, and she also interviews so many other parents that the result is a rich and diverse exploration of what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a child, and how gender does (or doesn’t) affect parent-child relationships. Plenty of food for thought here.
Stories from Jonestown, by Leigh Fondakowski. I blogged about this book here—an unforgettable look at a movement that started out in hope, peace, and brotherhood, and ended in the tragedy of murder and suicide.
Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter, by Beth Kephart. Kephart explores all kinds of friendships: how those bonds form, and how they strengthen, and how and why they sometimes dissipate. And it’s as beautifully written as all her books.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A. J. Jacobs. Jacobs attempts to follow the Bible literally. He immediately confronts a few problems: which version of the Bible? How to interpret passages that are unclear or conflicting? What to do about actions that are now illegal (like stoning people)? But in studying and trying to live the Bible, he discovers plenty about both God and humankind.
Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Concise, poetic, and meditative, this is a book that’s meant to be savored and reread. It records the kind of deep pondering, the questions and discoveries, that can come to mind when we let ourselves stop and think and reconnect with the natural world.
source of recommended reads: all from library, except Gift from the Sea, Plume, and Two Boys Kissing, which were purchased.
As gatherings go, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a big one for me. It’s my favourite weekend of the year but it’s also my biggest challenge.
Approximately 600 people fill the ballroom for keynote addresses and calorie-laden meals, crowd into conference rooms for their choice of seventy-two workshops given by fifty-eight writing professions, and cram into elevators to get between the two.
It’s exhilarating, rejuvenating, motivating and terrifying! Why? Because I’m claustrophobic. Oh, not wildly so, but moderately, and the challenge is to keep myself under control so I can absorb all the benefits of the annual October weekend.
Many writers claim to be introverts, so I’m not alone in my reluctance to mix, mingle and schmooze with strangers. A lot of us would prefer to hunker down and write in solitude. That’s okay for a while. I get my best writing done in the quietness of my office, and I can learn a lot online about the craft and the publishing industry. But there are limitations to living in cyberspace, and eventually there comes a time when I have to make a choice – stay there and let my fears direct me, or take a deep breath and move out into the real world. Without making an effort to push past my reservations, I would miss out on unique opportunities for building my writing skills, getting personal exposure to writing professionals, and making new friends in the writing community.
So how do I do it? When it comes to conferences, how do I make the outer me do what the inner me resists?
1. First, I plan ahead and arrange to attend with a good friend so there will be someone else there who understands my limitations. Plus it’s just plain more fun sharing the conference experience.
2. I register online from the comfort of home (the SiWC website is familiar territory and thus isn’t intimidating).
3. I make advance reservations in the host hotel so I can slip up to my room any time I need a break from the horde.
4. When I make my hotel reservations I request a lower floor so I know if I can’t deal with the elevators at any time, I will be able to walk up and down the stairs.
5. I prepare my pitch material thoroughly at home, and then leave extra time before any agent/editor appointments so I’m not rushed. That helps minimize anxiety. (It’s not a bad idea to forego these appointments at a first conference.)
6. I try to be early for workshops to get a seat on the aisle or near the back so I can slip out easily if the crowding overwhelms me. Others might choose a seat at the front where they can’t see the crowded room behind them. It’s a personal thing. :)
7. Beforehand I connect informally with some of the event organizers and presenters via Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and after the event, I make a point of seeking them out to thank them. It helps to establish familiar relationships and build a sense of community, both of which contribute to expanding my comfort zone.
What works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone who has a problem with crowds and enclosed spaces. Panic attacks are no fun, but neither is being captive to a fear of them. I’m fortunate that if I emotionally prepare myself and stay alert to potential situations, I can often avert a meltdown. (And when in doubt, I resort to a lot of prayer and a little Ativan!)
Carol J. Garvin is a writer who blogs about writing, spirituality, nature, and other topics. More about her experience at this year's Surrey Conference can be found here.
Many blessings over the winter holidays! I'll see you again early in the New Year! Happy (Almost) 2014!
In the meantime, follow me at my facebook author page and/or twitter @CynLeitichSmith, where I'll be highlighting the same kind of children's-YA writing and publishing news you expect from my weekly roundup.
|In Seussville at Universal's Islands of Adventure|
|With Greg Leitich Smith at Gingerbread Who-ville at the Four Seasons Austin|
|Gingerbread Who-ville at the Four Seasons Austin|
|LEGO Store at Downtown Disney Marketplace|
Esther Hershenhorn Recommends Snowflakes Fall by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated Steven Kellogg (Random House, 2013) from Teaching Authors. Peek: "In a Feb. 25 Publishers Weekly interview, Patricia MacLachlan shared that the snowflake motif used to underscore each individual’s uniqueness and the power of nature and time to help heal was inspired by the Connecticut Parent Teachers Association’s efforts to encourage people to create paper snowflakes to decorate the new school Sandy Hook students would be attending." See also Diverse & Impressive Picture Books of 2013 from the International Reading Association.
Online Author Visits' Holiday Offer from readergirlz. Peek: "We are a group of children’s authors that do Skype and Google visits with classrooms and book clubs across the country (we donate 25% percent of our fee to a chosen charity). To celebrate such a successful year, we are hosting a contest where two winners will get to each choose two books from among our talented author pool...winners will also get to choose a school library of their choice to receive a collection of five books valued at over $150!"
Creating an Ironic Tone in Your Fiction by Jack Smith from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "To create the right tone, you need to think about character actions, dialogue, and setting. All of these will affect the tone of your story or novel. But you also need to attend to matters of style. Being something of an iconoclast, I tend to go for irony. An ironic tone is, of course, the right tone for satire—which is my usual medium."
The winner of SCBWI's 2013 Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award is Eve Feldman, author of such works as Billy and Milly Short and Silly (Putnam) and Dog Crazy (Tambourine). Eve has been a children’s book author and SCBWI member for over twenty years. Honor grants also were awarded to authors Verla Kay and Deborah Lynn Jacobs. Verla Kay is the author of Civil War Drummer Boy (Putnam) and Hornbooks and Inkwells (Putnam) among others. Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of the young adult novels Choices (Roaring Brook Press) and Powers (Square Fish). See also Gifts by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer.
BookPeople, Random House Partner on Pen-Pal Literacy Initiative by Paige Crutcher from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Inspired by Shana Burg’s middle grade novel Laugh with the Moon, BookPeople and Random House Children’s Books have teamed up with the Austin Independent School District to launch Words Across the World, a pen-pal program connecting Austin, Tex., students with students from Malawi, Africa." See also Words Across the World from BookPeople.
Middle Grade Novels and Relationships by Dianne K. Salerni from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Chances are they will never tame a gryphon, battle a Cyclops, or find a lost treasure, but they will experience broken promises, unexpected friendships, betrayal, and random acts of kindness." See also Things Left Unspoken by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed.
Where's the Diversity? The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List &Interview with Author Charles Yu from Lee and Low. Peek: "Only three out of the 124 authors who appeared on the list during 2012 are people of color." See Audrey's Top Eight Multicultural Titles for 2013 from Rich in Color.
Character Descriptions: Learn from the Pros by Jodie Renner from Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...my clients often tend to over-describe characters, with too much emphasis on specific visual details. Readers...enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of piecing things together and drawing their own conclusions about characters."
Lasso A Daydream by Nikki Grimes from Teaching Books. Peek: "By the time I was ten, I could lasso a daydream and ride the wind."
Multicultural Holiday Books: a bibliography by Nicole Lee Martin from ALSC Blog. Peek: "The Public Awareness Committee makes a special effort to promote programs and books that celebrate multiculturalism through promotion of El día de los niños/ El día de los libros, commonly known as Día, and...you will find some of my favorite multicultural holiday picture books."
- PDF copy of The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes (craft)(international)
- signed copy Penguin Cha-Cha by Kristi Valiant (Random House), bookmark, sticker, and magnet (PB)(U.S. only)
- the Watersmeet trilogy--Watersmeet, The Centaur's Daughter and The Keeper by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Skyscape, 2009-2013) and a Kindle Paperwhite (YA)(U.S. only)
See also a giveaway of a paperback copy of The Diviners by Libba Bray and tie-in tote from Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books and a five-book giveaway of World After by Susan Ee from Adventures in YA Publishing.
This Week at Cynsations
- Kathi Appelt & N. Griffin on The Whole Stupid Way We Are
- Sam Bond on Operation Golden Llama (Cousins in Action) & Self-Publishing
- Carla Killough McClafferty on Revealing Your Heart in Nonfiction
- e.E. Charlton-Trujillo on Your Book, Your (Marketing) Niche from the Trench
- Greg Pincus on Writing & Marketing with Serious Lead Time
- Becca Puglisi on Where Do Character Strengths Come From?
|Seussville at Universal's Islands of Adventure|
It's almost time for Cynsations holiday hiatus. I'm still writing, still on deadline, but the great news is that I think I've figured out a more exciting, satisfying and costly ending to my work in progress.
Congratulations to Cory Putnam Oaks on the sale of "Dinosaur Boy" to Aubrey Poole at Sourcebooks, in a two-book deal!
Congratulations to the Spirit of Texas Reading Program 2014 Middle School Authors, including Cynthia Levinson, Katherine Catmull and Kelly Milner Halls!
- Can We Talk about Susan's Fabulous Adventures After Narnia?
- If Disney Princesses Invaded "Star Wars"
- Writing Over the Holidays
- Spread Some Holiday Good Cheer With Ballou High School & Pledge To Read 5 Books With the Students (via Gwenda Bond)
- Parody Video: What's the Spleen Do?
- Uma Krishnaswami: A Broken Pavement, an Election, a Pile of Books & Me
- Joy Preble: Captain Kirk Liked My Wings & Other Austin Comic Con Tales
Writing for Children & Young Adults at 10 a.m. PST Dec. 18 from WritersWebTV. Peek: "...if you want to write for children, you need more than just a good story – what age group are you writing for, what are the demands of that market? How long should your book be? We’ll answer all these questions and give you essential tips and techniques to capture a young reader." Featuring picture book creators Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Michael Emberley; Norton Virgien, Emmy award winning director of ‘Henry Hugglemonster’ and ‘Doc McStuffins’; literary agent Polly Nolan, (previously editorial director of Macmillan Children’s Books); and award-winning novelist Meg Rosoff. Note: Enroll to watch live for free or purchase for €49.
And then there is the matter of how our feelings about books change over time. I struggled through Babbitt as a high-schooler, but I've reread it voluntarily as an adult, and like it much better now. Some books I started out liking, but have grown to love upon subsequent rereads.
And then there are the books that lose something upon rereading. The main character who seemed so romantic is just annoying now. The fantasy world that once fascinated has become a bit of a yawn. Previously unnoticed racist subtext oozes to the surface.
We change, and the world around us changes, so there's no wonder our feelings about books change. If I did rate books, they would probably not carry a single number, but a graph of numbers, charting my rising and falling assessment over time.
It brings home to me like nothing else how subjective ratings can be, how personal our responses to books are sometimes.
|Author photo by Leigh Elise|
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
N. Griffin is the first-time author of The Whole Stupid Way We Are (Atheneum, 2013). From the promotional copy:
It’s Maine. It’s winter. And it’s freezing stinkin' cold!
Dinah is wildly worried about her best friend, Skint. He won’t wear a coat. Refuses to wear a coat. It’s twelve degrees out, and he won’t wear a coat.
So Dinah’s going to figure out how to help. That’s what Dinah does—she helps. But she’s too busy trying to help to notice that sometimes, she’s doing more harm than good. Seeing the trees instead of the forest? That’s Dinah.
And Skint isn’t going to be the one to tell her. He’s got his own problems. He’s worried about a little boy whose dad won’t let him visit his mom. He’s worried about an elderly couple in a too-cold house down the street.
But the wedge between what drives Dinah and what concerns Skint is wide enough for a big old slab of ice. Because Skint’s own father is in trouble. Because Skint’s mother refuses to ask for help even though she’s at her breaking point. And because Dinah might just decide to...help. She thinks she’s cracking through a sheet of ice, but what’s actually there is an entire iceberg.
KA: First of all congratulations on being recognized as a “Flying Start” by Publishers Weekly! That’s a sweet recognition for you and your first book, The Whole Stupid Way We Are. In addition, the story of Dinah and Skint is getting quite a bit of critical acclaim.
NG: Thank you so much, Kathi! I was really grateful for this—it was so surprising and lovely to see that other people liked Dinah and Skint, too.
KA: Would you first of all, tell us where Dinah and Skint came from? Who are they and what would you like us to know most about both of them?
NG: What a neat question! Both Dinah and Skint came from all over the place even as both of them also came from parts of me. Dinah is a kind of willfully childlike teenager, which I know can be either super irritating or super appealing to people without many reactions in between. I’ve known a lot of teens (heck, even a lot of adults) like this.
I tend to love that kind of person, because in so many instances, there is so much awareness behind that retreat into childhood—a sense of keenly experienced or understood pain. And I think that is exactly true of Dinah. She knows just how hard life can be, for herself but almost more especially for other people, and she’s having none of it, on everyone’s behalf.
But another big part of the creation of Skint was my belief that we sell our teens short. We are so quick to paint them as selfish and dippy that we disregard the truth that many kids and teens do feel the weight of the world and human suffering very keenly. The problem is our culture neither expects teens’ care nor offers them many clear paths to take action on that care, when action is, I think, the only antidote to the anger and powerlessness that we feel in the face of injustice.
So Skint is sort of an amalgam of these aspects of lots of kids I’ve known (and also parts of teen-me, but he is smarter and funnier than I ever was) as well as being possessed of a fully invented personality of his own.
KA: The weather in this book stands almost as a metaphor for the way that the characters and the readers too have to chip through the ice to get to a warm place. The freezing cold makes an appearance on almost every page, and in fact, while I read it, I felt shivery. And yet, Skint refuses to wear a coat. I kept wanting to throw a blanket over him, so I understand Dinah’s urge to protect him. What was going on there? Why the exposure to the elements?
NG: I think that sometimes, when something is unbearable, we do things to obliterate everything as a way of shutting out the unbearable as well as the feelings that come along with that.
In The Whole Stupid Way We Are, Skint is terrified, rage-filled and full of despair because of his home situation—a situation that is so overwhelming and so large a secret that is it more than anyone could bear alone. And Skint can’t. So, for me, his non-coat-wearing creates a physical discomfort so great it blasts away all those feelings and replaces them with the pure, physical misery of freezing.
I think there’s also a large dose of self-punishment in there, too. Other people might use drugs, not eat, cut, listen to loud music or play video games to do the same thing, but Skint freezes.
It kills me, too.
KA: The local church plays a large role here as well. And in fact, Dinah’s father is the Choir Director. Nevertheless, you skillfully kept religion out of the story for the most part. Still, the church serves as the “village” for this story. Can you talk about that?
|Photo by Tobin Anderson|
At the same time, I think that it can be impossibly hard to reconcile the idea of love with the truth of suffering. And this is, I think, one of the central ideas of the book. So it made sense to me that a church would be front and center and the backdrop of everything, and that different characters would respond in vastly different ways to awfulness of that contradiction.
Also I am a fool for a potluck.
KA: One of the most riveting scenes is the one with the dancing donkey. Where did that come from?
NG: Oh, I love Walter the donkey! I still think about him all the time. He came to me in a flash—I always knew just the type of sad/not sad activities Dinah and Skint would love—what I wound up calling “Fantastic or Excruciating?” adventures, or FoE’s, in the book. These are performances, usually, that are so on the border between phenomenal and cringe-worthy that’s it’s tough to sit through them because you feel the passion and need of the performers so keenly and you want things to go well for them.
So one morning I was thinking about this when Walter stepped politely into my mind and I got all weepy because I loved him so much. Which is kind of obnoxious, when you think about it.
I moved my own self! Come on, Griffin.
KA: Each of your characters is so carefully drawn, so alive. One of my favorites is Dinah’s baby brother, Beagie. Through him, you gave us the wonderful phrase, “boss of light.” In fact, the story is shot through with the struggle between light and dark. Can you talk about that? And why Beagie? Why is he the fulcrum for the opposing sides?
NG: Thank you for loving Beagie! I still love him, too. Heck, I guess I still love all of those characters.
Good old Beagie was in the book from the start and I didn’t really think much about why until a lot later. He’s thirteen months old, which is an age I love and am fascinated by—a time when a lot of babies are furious because they want so badly to talk but can’t yet. Their frustration at their powerlessness makes them roar around, acting like the boss of things, which reaction makes perfect sense to me.
And so, in retrospect, I can see how my subconscious plucked a Beagie forth as another way to think about the tension between wanting power and the hideousness of not having it. But who’s to say?
Beagie is Beagie and he wants his sippy cup right now, please.
KA: This book is a testament to the very real ramifications of mental illness and the way it impacts families, friends, villages. You shone a light on the struggle that especially the caregivers have to face, including shame, which seems to underlie much of what Skint and his mother are coping with. But it’s Dinah’s reaction that is so telling. Would you talk about that?
NG: Sure. Dinah is a girl who has experienced death through the loss of an elderly relative, and that grief is keen and unyielding for her. So, I think in large part, she can’t bear for Skint to feel any pain even remotely akin to that, and she makes it her impossible business to save him from it.
But I also think, in her secret heart, she doesn’t want her own pain to be triggered in any way, and that makes her avoid, at least in part, the magnitude of Skint’s true pain as well.
I think this is such a familiar predicament to a lot of people, especially teenagers. I know I was very much this way as a younger girl. Poor Dinah. It’s an awful setup to want to save someone so badly.
KA: What do you hope your young readers will find here? What do you want to give them in return for reading this story?
NG: I hope that they experience the book as a true reflection of what it can be like to struggle with the hard things I’ve been talking about in these responses, whether they’ve had those kinds of struggles or not.
But I also hope they find a lot of light and humor in the book, and that their reading gives them the option of thinking about Dinah and Skint as friends they’d want to hang out with.
I did try to put in a lot of funny bits, y’all.
KA: On a more personal note, can you tell us a wee bit about your writing life?
NG: Oh, my writing life is a vile thing, people. I have a lot of anxiety around writing and every word is a battle. I have no tips for this. We terrified types must just bash through and salute our brethren and sistren who struggle along like this, too.
But here is an underdeveloped picture of the comfy chaise in which I do a lot of the struggling.
KA: And finally, what is next? And when will we see it?
NG: Next up is an untrammeledly fun book—a cheerful middle grade mystery with a pair of best friend detectives. It’s untitled as yet because I am so vastly bad at thinking of titles. But the detective children are named Smashie and Dontel and I love them. That book is scheduled for fall 2014 from Candlewick.
And right now, I am working on a new YA and I will be done with that in about 2079, probably. Maybe 2078 if I really get on the stick. Yargh.
Thank you so much for having me, Cyn and Kathi! You all are superheroine tangerine pies.
KA: I can’t wait.
About Kathi Appelt
Kathi Appelt’s books have won numerous national and state awards.
Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the Pen USA Award, and was a finalist for the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award. Her most recent novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, was also a National Book Award Finalist. Kathi serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.
Her cats are named Jazz, Hoss, D’jango, Peach, Mingus and Chica.
Quick, name a favorite literary or movie character. Now, what is it about him/her that’s so appealing?
In all likelihood, the reason you love that character is because he or she embodies a trait that you value: Atticus Finch’s bravery, George Bailey’s selflessness, James Bond’s charisma.
It’s not surprising that these icons landed in the top ten of AFI’s Top 100 Heroes and Villains list. While flaws play a part in eliciting reader empathy, it is a character’s ability to overcome his weakness that inspires the audience.
And what enables the hero to win the day? Usually, it’s his positive attributes—his persistence, confidence, responsibility, or ambition—that allow him to succeed. This is why it’s crucial that we pick the right attributes for our characters.
But how do you know which ones are a good fit for your hero? Fully-realized characters, like real people, aren’t formed out of the air. They’re a result of many different elements that come together to make the character who he is in the current story.
When determining which attributes your character will embrace, consider the following influencers:
Genetics: Since this one is simple, we’ll get it out of the way first. Some traits, like intelligence, talent, and creativity, are simply handed-down through DNA. Having a character share a trait with his mother, grandfather, or even a distant uncle can add believability to his embodiment of that trait.
Upbringing and Caregivers: Everything about your character’s first role models will influence him, from their personal values to the way they spoke to him to the amount and quality of time they spent with him.
If his relationship with his caregivers was positive, he may adopt their attributes as his own as a way of showing respect. If the relationship wasn’t great, he may shun the qualities that they espoused so as to create distance. Family dynamics play a huge role in forming personality; this should definitely be taken into consideration when choosing positive attributes for your hero.
Negative Experiences: While these wounding events from the past are most often associated with the formation of flaws, positive attributes can develop from them, too. The victim of a vicious attack may become cautious and alert because of it. The boy whose father never kept his word may grow up to value honesty. The oldest child of a neglectful parent may learn, by necessity, to embrace maturity and resourcefulness.
Without a doubt, flaws do tend to form when we experience these traumatizing events, but positives can come out of them, too. Keep that in mind when mining your character’s backstory for potential strengths.
Physical Environment: A character who grew up in the mountains is going to have a different perspective than someone who was raised in the big city. Americans tend to value things that Parisians or Brazilians or even Canadians don’t. Physical environments are formative—the ones from the past, and even the place where your character lives now. A southern belle who moves to downtown Chicago is likely going to experience some personality shifts during her transition.
Your character’s environment will subtly influence the kind of person that she becomes; choose her living places deliberately so her attributes will make sense to readers.
Like caregivers, past and present peers can greatly impact who your character becomes, so take them into consideration.
Values and Ethics: This one is a biggie, because, in my opinion, it overrides all of the other factors.
The bottom line: your character will adopt or reject attributes based on what he or she believes. Does she place a high value on her reputation and what others think? Then she will likely espouse propriety and discretion while rejecting uninhibitedness. Your character’s morals and personal beliefs will play a powerful role in the formation of her strengths. If you want her to make sense to readers, make sure that her values, ethics, and positive attributes line up.
Every character needs some strong positive qualities so she’ll be capable of reaching her goals and drawing in readers. While the easiest method would be to pick and choose random attributes, doing so will result in a character that lacks authenticity.
To avoid this, explore your hero’s backstory. Dig into these developmental factors to learn as much about them and their effect on your hero as possible. With this kind of information, you’ll be able to create a realistic and well-rounded protagonist armed with the qualities she needs to succeed.
And who knows? Maybe she’ll end up on somebody’s Top 10 List someday.
Becca Puglisi is the co-creator of The Bookshelf Muse, an award winning online resource for writers. She has also authored a number of nonfiction resource books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Emotion; The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes; and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws.
A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches webinars through WANA International, and can be found online at her Writers Helping Writers website.
Enter to win a PDF copy of The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes from Cynsations. Eligibility: international. Author sponsored. Enter here.
Sorry, I got carried away there. Anyway, the snow also gave me a poem--the first draft of a poem, anyway.
In other news, this post by Sean Williams on Janni Simner's blog was much appreciated. He writes: "It’s a natural law that careers go up and down. When I started out, up was the only way my career could go. Now, it could go either way ..." I liked it because I remember expecting, before I published, that I would struggle for a long time but once I "broke through," I would keep moving upward, steadily. I thought every success would be followed by a bigger success. I think many writers expect this, without even articulating it, because it seems so commonsensical: you work hard and you're patient, then you get the reward, right? Nobody talks about how sometimes the reward falls and breaks, or how the next reward may be farther away than expected. But a downturn is not necessarily permanent, either. A setback doesn't mean that a career is over--especially in a business that's changing so quickly. There are ways and genres of publishing now that weren't viable even six or seven years ago.
The only certainty is change.