Looking Forward to Spring Cleaning…seriously.

Though February is speeding its way toward March, we just had our first significant snowfall this weekend in Southwest Virginia. And even though we’re currently living in a winter wonderland, I can’t help but have my sights set on one of the more interesting spring traditions in which so many of us participate: spring cleaning.

Though it lacks the nostalgic joy of dyeing eggs and the earthy satisfaction of sowing the first seeds of the season, in my household, we take spring cleaning seriously.

Well, I do. My husband mostly grunts and nods. Who would get excited about cleaning the ceiling fan with a pillowcase, pulling all of the shoes out of the closet, or lugging a box of old junk to Goodwill? Besides me. Anyone?

New Year ’s Day arrives after the flurry of the holidays, when the tree is still up, the gifts are still shiny and new, and the year is a clean slate. We arrive full of hope for the upcoming year, a fistful of goals in our hand and an ambitious resolution in our pocket. The first months of the year drag on, for many of us, full of gray days spent complaining about the weather and searching for our missing glove. Resolutions fall into a period of waxing and waning of purpose.

For me, the year really gets going in the spring. It’s the start of a year in a different sort of way, a beginning more in tune with the cycles of nature, of rebirth and growth and fertility. Spring cleaning can be a time to cleanse our surroundings, physically and spiritually. We can dust all of those places we always forget about, sort out that pile of papers accumulating on the corner of the desk, or sweep the remnants of the last fall leaves off the front porch.

In the delirium of cabin fever, thoughts of my spring cleaning frenzy are already swirling in my head.

Intellectual clutter…

Spring cleaning can be a time to finish or discard old projects. That scrapbook we started and then forgot? Should we finish it? Or is it possible that we went to the craft store, bought all the supplies, and came home full of enthusiasm, only to realize that we hate scrapbooking more than we hate scrubbing the toilet? The picture frame we fell in love with, but forgot to put a picture in and stick it on the mantel? In the spring, nature is in a frenzy of growth and chatter. The robin is building her nest in the holly tree. Why not clean our nests and start afresh?

And the emotional clutter…

Who isn’t notorious for filling their home with sentimental clutter? For years, I kept my high school graduation gown. Our school colors were green and gold, and, no surprise, the gentleman got to look dashing in hunter green while the ladies wore brighter-than-the-sun yellow, a color that looks flattering on no one. I hated that graduation gown, and yet for some reason, I held onto it. Finally, I had to acknowledge: I will never wear this again. I have photos of my graduation and lots of memories of high school. I don’t need that gown hanging in my closet, blazing out at me like a polyester hazmat suit.

Spring is a good time to go through the drawers, closets, bookshelves, and miscellaneous bins and get rid of the clutter that no longer serves us. Since I live in an apartment, I can’t keep every single gift everyone has ever given me. If it isn’t useful and we don’t love it, why keep it?

I have a hatbox in my closet full of mementos I don’t plan on parting with. The oddest of them is a Pokémon “finger skateboard” my youngest brother gave me. I was a teenager, and he was in fifth grade. We had nothing in common and didn’t get along well in that period of our lives, but one day, I happened to mention that I thought Pikachu was funny. My brother went to the mall with his friends and brought this mini-skateboard back for me. It makes me smile. So I keep it. 🙂 But we don’t have to keep everything.

And, ugh, physical clutter…

I can hear my husband sighing, but I like to go from room to room and make a list of everything that needs to be done. Yes, there’s occasionally always a clipboard. Some rooms are easier than others. Our bedroom, for example, is usually the easiest room in the house. The living room is harder. The baskets next to the door fill up with random items, heavy foot traffic means the carpets need to be scrubbed, and my stack of catalogs needs to be recycled. Going through all of the papers in our offices is so scary that we tend to leave that task for last. I’m still looking for a better way to deal with paper clutter. I’ll let you know when one arrives. 😛

Maybe we don’t finish everything on the list, but I get a sense of satisfaction in checking items off—even the small ones, like “clean off bottom shelf of coffee table” or “discard old textbooks.”

When we need a hard hat to enter our closets, it's spring-cleaning time.

“Out with the old, in with the new,” seems to apply better to January than to March, but as the season of rebirth heads our way, we can make room for growth in our old lives. Finishing an old short story or admitting we no longer care for it allows room for a new project. Cleaning out a door crammed with clothes that don’t fit makes it easier to find the ones that do. Clearing the physical clutter brings fresh air into the house as much as opening the window to the warm spring breeze.

I know maybe I go a little overboard, but how do you approach spring cleaning? What method works best? At the end of the process, do you feel rejuvenated and less stressed, or exhausted and more stressed?

Sunday ROW80 and This Week in Review

Friday, I blogged about how nebulous Pierce My Heart, my latest WIP, has been feeling. I can see the potential in this story. I know what it can be, and I know it will get there. So the reason I was stuck felt beyond elusive. And I received some good advice about getting my creativity mojo back.

I started out Saturday with a character Q&A. I didn’t exactly learn anything earth-shattering about the character in question, but I realized that there was a strong theme in this story—one of self-discovery and acceptance—that I’d been overlooking.

The floodgates opened. Saturday’s writing session turned out to be more along the lines of my usual ones. And it brought this week’s writing total way past the goal of 3K. In fact, my word-count this week is more in line with the 4-7K I usually write.

A few of you directed me to some great resources that I want to mention here. First, Matthew Wright, whose most recent blog post about Tolkien provides some insights into contrasting the quiet, pedestrian aspects of life with the more extraordinary, larger-than-life moments. And second, Holly Lisle’s “One-pass Manuscript Revision.” Holly deftly deconstructs the notion that we need to revise our manuscripts 20 times before they’re ready. She writes:

“Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.”

And my weekly word-count, in summary:

  • Monday: 958
  • Tuesday: 0
  • Wednesday: 615
  • Thursday: 851
  • Friday: 0
  • Saturday: 2,055
  • Sunday: 0

That’s a total of 4,479 words, well above my goal of 3,000. And I blogged Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, meeting my second goal.

How are your goals going? Are you gaining momentum for 2012?

Finally, here’s a quote to kick off a new week:

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday ROW80 Update and Some Blog Fun

Last week I was very honored when  Alicia Street gave me the “Versatile Blogger Award.” Thanks, Alicia!

The award has several stipulations. One: I have to tell you seven random facts about myself (see below). Two: I have to post the lovely logo on my site, which isn’t a problem because I love pretty, shiny things. And three: I get to pass it on to other bloggers.

I am pleased to bestow the Versatile Blogger Award upon these people. Perhaps some of you have already received it, but I wanted to name you anyway:

David N. Walker

Kendall Grey

Coleen Patrick

And now, as per the rules, here are seven random fun facts about me:

1.)    My husband and I were together for 10 years before we tied the knot. (Hey, fools rush in.)

2.)    My favorite book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Hilarious. Delightful. Perfect.

3.)    The only thing that bugs me more than people who don’t use their turn signals (I’m not a mind-reader!) is people who wear pajamas in public. If you’re well enough to go to the grocery store, you’re well enough to wear actual pants.

4.)    I hate peaches. Don’t know why. Just do.

5.)    I love roses, especially coral roses.

6.)    I am NOT a morning person.

7.)    I am not weird. I am delightfully quirky. 🙂

My ROW80 check-in:

  • Monday I wrote 958 words. Today I wrote 615, bringing the total to 1,573. I tried the old trick of opening a blank Word doc and seeing where the muses take me. It worked out nicely tonight.
  • Working on my goal of blogging Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Unwritten Bios: How the Places We Live Shape Us

“These fields stretch out like patchwork on my granny’s quilt. She used to tell me, ‘Life is a series of strange and mysterious things.’” –Jewel, “1,000 Miles Away”

The view from Buffalo Mountain in Southwest Virginia

I’m from western Pennsylvania, a distant and strange land also known as Steelers Country. Two college degrees, countless travels, and a few moves later, those mountains still live inside me. I know people who are ashamed of where they come from. And I can’t be. I’m grateful. My ancestors—who came from Ireland and Germany to settle in Pennsylvania in the mid-19th century—made incredible sacrifices for me to have a shot at my dreams. I’ve always known how hard they worked and how much they gave, and I’ve always given life, love, and art all I’ve got.

My great-grandfather worked in the coal mines; most people in my hometown (which is named after the freakin’ coal company, no lie) can trace their roots to the coal companies in some way. It was a shit job, too. He once walked home on a broken ankle. Another time, his clothes burned off in a fire. He was a coal digger before he finally landed a “safe” job riding the back of the cart that went down into the mines to be loaded up with coal. He had to jump off the cart and flip a switch that determined which set of tracks the cart would go down. One day, not long after landing his “safe” job, he was killed when the cart jumped the tracks and pinned him. He was 40 years old. My grandmother told me, point blank, “He had a horrible, miserable life.” I wish he’d had better. If he sacrificed so his children and children’s children and on down the line could have better, I am eternally grateful for it. I try never to waste a day of it.

Now, I’m glad I don’t live in western PA anymore. There wasn’t anything left for me there. The job market had dried up, and my hometown didn’t have much to offer, not even a bookstore. But I still carry the stories of my ancestors with me. Because of their sacrifices, I’ve had amazing chances. I’ve earned two colleges degrees, taught at a major research university, and, best of all, had the chance to practice the craft of writing. I’m a storyteller, and that is an amazing gift, one for which I am eternally grateful.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been nearly six years since I left my hometown. It feels like so much longer. Today, my life is full of a new place, the beautiful mountains of Virginia and the small town I currently call home. No matter where I go, this place will stay with me.

The places we live, even if we leave them, remain inside us. They get under our skin, shaping us in ways we can’t understand until we’re away. I learned about magic and possibilities in the mountains surrounding my family’s farm. I also saw firsthand how fragile the land is, how irreplaceably precious. I’ve seen slag heaps so high they look like mountains themselves and water permanently tainted sulfuric orange thanks to acid mine drainage. But there are many places where the land is not scarred, and unspeakable beauty dwells there: ferns and grapevines, maple and apple trees, and tiny creeks swollen with clear water in the spring.

Today, nature infuses my stories. I can’t help but let it. In so many ways, my stories are born in the natural world. A full moon, a constellation, morning mist at the brow of the mountain, a tree’s gnarled roots, or the ocean’s lullaby—these are the birthplaces of my stories.

What is your unwritten story? How have the places you’ve lived left their traces on your soul?

Singing to the Muses: Pearl and the Beard

I recently saw a band that inspired me as a writer, not just because their songs roused my inner storyteller, but because they take risks as artists: Pearl and the Beard. What they’re doing is so unique, and I’ve always admired artists who follow their medium, dedicate themselves to their craft, and make it shine. Their voices are powerful, their instrumental accompaniment unique and strong. Their work reminds me that there are indefinite combinations of words, notes, or brushstrokes—infinite possibilities for how we make art.

Art feeds our creativity; it awakens the deep self and the stories and songs that sleep inside of us. I love going to a concert because I get caught up in the energy of the music. Whether it’s the symphony or a string quartet, an aria or an a cappella group, an acoustic performance or an electric one, music, like a good story, can transport us.

So here’s a taste of Pearl and the Beard’s music. I hope it inspires you as it has me. And, as Moss of “IT Crowd” once said, “You best put seat belts on your ears…because they’re about to go for the ride of their lives.”

Creative Blocks and Feelin’ Rebellious

For a rebellious person, I am remarkably straight-laced. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I don’t need drugs or alcohol to have a good time, and, as I already can’t run a mile without my lungs burning like Hades, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to make it worse by smoking cigarettes.

No, I’m not a party girl. I go to bed at 10 p.m., though if my insomnia kicks in, I’ll scribble on the yellow legal pad I keep next to my bed or read a book or magazine. I play by the rules, pay all the bills on time, stick to the speed limit, and park only in the designated areas. I am, for all intents and purposes, a good girl.

Yet I am fiercely creative, passionate about my beliefs, and, as an artist and an intellectual, willing to take risks in these arenas. When it comes to the laws of men, I am tame. When it comes to the vast, uncultivated territories of the heart and self, I am a wild pony. To be an artist, we have to be. An artist’s job, whether her medium is canvas, page, clay, or the stage, is to learn all the rules, see how elastic they are, how much they can be bent, and then to twist and weave those rules into all sorts of unusual shapes. In the wild world of creativity, I am a rebel.

the inner rebel

Lately, my inner rebel has reared her fiery head. Her hair changes every time I see her, from pink-streaked to fire-engine red to un-dyed and uncut, her clothes destroyed and paint splattered or sleek and sequined. Do you have a side of you that likes to rock out to Bon Jovi, driving through town blasting “Livin’ on a Prayer” with the windows rolled down?

Lately, my life has been wrapped up in deadlines and rules, and remarkably little writing has been getting done. My day jobs and chores have taken over. I’ve been feeling restless, yearning to uproot myself and do something spontaneous. Crazy for me isn’t what most people think of. I have no desire to go out and get wild and crazy in the typical sense. I can’t imagine why anyone would.

Crazy for me is a Wiccan ritual under a full moon, a desert yoga retreat in search of serenity, getting my hands dirty in the garden, opening a notebook or blank Word document and following the muses’ furious chatter. Crazy for me is creativity. Creativity is coming alive.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

Our lives should be a balance of stillness and electricity, yin and yang, the usual and the unusual. When the balance gets thrown off, for me, that’s when the restless rebel rears her head. We all need to play and have fun. When I’m bored and fenced in, the inner artist wonders why I’ve only got two tattoos, why I haven’t lived in Paris, or why I’m ignoring all of the stories and poems that long to fight their way to the surface.

But I know enough now to recognize that I don’t need to hop in my little blue Yaris and drive to Arizona or yank out my passport and catch a plane to London. And I’ve always known that I don’t need parties full of people or glitter in the air. What I need is a blank page, an open mind, and a space for my restless imagination to run wild.

When I’m restless, it’s the wide open space of the page that I’m craving. That’s the artist in me. As long as my creative side has a space of her own, I’m on the right path. Even the quietest, the tamest among us has a rebellious side.

What about you? How do you rebel? What makes you come alive?

Big Decisions: Sitting out a dance

pretty in pink photo from www.sxc.hu.When I was twenty, a journalism professor gave me some of the best career advice I’ve ever received: “You’re the belle of the ball. Dance with everyone.” He meant, “If an opportunity comes up, you take it.” When it comes to your job, take every opportunity you’re given.

And I have. And you know what? It’s served me well in the years since then. So well, in fact, that (*knock wood*) I’m finally in a position I never thought I’d be in. The position to say, “No, I’m gonna sit this one out.” I never thought that day would arrive.

For the time being, I’m putting my teaching career on hold. (For those of you who don’t know, I have taught an advanced PR writing course at a university for the last few years.) I finally told the department yesterday that I wouldn’t be teaching in the spring. This decision has been weighing on me for a while now. I’m making serious progress in my fiction writing career. I’m finding my voice as a blogger, my footing as a social-media user, and revising a few manuscripts to query. I have a plan, specific goals, and a path. And I’m really, really freakin’ happy about it.

ballet dancerBut I had arrived at the point where I was dancing the tarantella instead of waltzing. And long-term tarantella is bad on the body, the mind, and the soul. My brain was turning to mush, which was killing my creativity and taking a toll on my health.

That’s not to say I’ll never teach again. I’m fairly certain that I will, because I consider teaching to be a very fulfilling vocation. Saying no to teaching—even temporarily—was a difficult choice. It’s a short-term sacrifice for a lifelong dream and long-term goal: pursuing my writing career. But there will be other dances.

I can’t help but feel that I’m setting out on a new path, starting a new chapter in my career. New chapters are scary, but also exciting. And I’m excited to see what words I will pen—and oh, yes, the places I will go.

Thanks to all my blogging buddies, Twitter peeps, and Team WANA1011 for sharing your writing experiences, thus helping me screw my courage to the sticking place and make this decision. Y’all rock! 🙂 (And yes, I went from Seuss to Shakespeare in under 10 seconds. Is that a record?)

Have you ever reached such a turning point in your career? What big decisions have you made in order to follow your dreams?

What I’ve learned from love: How to build a writing life—and a life, period.

In 2009, I lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. It was a short battle. He was diagnosed a few weeks before my wedding; he died two months later.

In the way he lived his life, he taught me how to love, how to be a good person, how to lead a good life. He wasn’t wealthy or famous. He’d worked in a coal mine, fought and was wounded in WWII, and worked in maintenance at my future alma mater.

But the day of his memorial service, the funeral home was packed with people. Some hadn’t seen him in thirty years, but they remembered when he’d helped them rebuild their house after the flood; they remembered the kind of man he was. He wasn’t perfect, but he was generous, and he had a strength of spirit, a contagious warmth and happiness, and a sense of pride that came from everyday, simple things. No one was ever prouder of their family than he was; no one ever loved deeper than he did.

In life, it’s easy to get caught up in the game. We want to be published writers, achieve some measure of financial success, or save up for a rainy day or our golden years. And those are all important things. But they can’t be end goals.

A year ago, I first started seriously researching my path as a writer. I found out about the indie writer scene via writers like Kait Nolan. I joined Virginia Romance Writers, where I met writers like Shara Lanel and Nara Malone, who taught me about small epubs and the world of digital publishing. I learned about POD, which allows smaller publishers to offer print versions of books without having to do large press runs. I bought a Kindle and got hooked on the digital book scene. I learned more about how the publishing industry works and what I should expect.

What I’ve learned from my family is that work is important, but it’s only one part of our lives. We have to choose the writing path that works for us as individuals, one that allows us to meet our personal and professional goals. I’ve put in some long, hard hours of introspection. I’m still finding my path, and I know that my journey will be full of changes and surprises I didn’t anticipate.

Whether my book sells a hundred copies or a million, my grandfather would’ve been equally proud. I know my husband will rejoice for me the day I sell my first book, but my worth in his eyes and in that of my friends’ and family’s is not based on my rank in sales.

Author Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote in a blog post entitled “Publishing is Like a Hot Love Affair”:

In the end it all depends on what you want as an author. Don’t kid yourself thinking there’s only one way to publish or that any path is easier than another. And don’t jump into that hot love affair with your eyes closed. It’s a wild ride and one that could end really ugly if you don’t research, gain a great amount of patience, and work hard every single day. Luck only happens to those who put themselves in its path.

Art matters. Writing matters. Craft matters. But we write about life. That’s why having options as writers is so important. Whether you go Big Six, small press, indie, or a combination thereof, your path will be the one that you feel is right for you.

It’s not about doing what’s the easiest or hardest, what’s most ambitious or most comfortable. Your writing goals have to align with your personal goals. If the rebel in you screams indie and you believe you can pull it off, go for it. If you say it’s Big Six or bust, pursue it. We have to be true to ourselves and our values. We have to know what’s truly important to us or else risk getting caught up in the rat race and losing ourselves.

Accessed at stock xchng.Springsteen was born to run; I was born to write. But I live for late-night laugh fests with my best friends, for Saturday morning family breakfasts, for kisses and stargazing, and for the tiny moments that bring me happiness or deeper awareness. My stories and publishing journey will always incorporate those things.

And what about you? What’s your path? How does it align with your personal goals? What guides your footsteps on your writing journey? And how have the ones you love inspired you?

On failure, discipline, and other life lessons from writing

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has helped me in my life outside of writing. It’s not just that writing and effective communication skills are valuable assets (which they are!), but that the trials and tribulations of building a writing career make us stronger, if only we’re willing to learn from them. I think two of the biggest things I’ve learned from my writing career so far are the ability to learn from failure and the importance of discipline, which is a combination of goal-setting, dedication, and follow-through.

Failure:

Whether it’s a rejection, a bad review, or simply acknowledging that a story or a scene isn’t working, we can turn failure into a means to achieve our goals. We can fight failure or blame it on others. We can say the market isn’t ready. We can say family constraints got in the way of our writing. Those things might be true. But the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the market, not the situation. When we do this, failure can become a learning experience. When we were kids, we fell when learning how to walk, and yet we learned anyway. Failure is harder for grownups, but still valuable.

I’m one of those stubborn optimists in life who’s always insisting that you have to risk failure to succeed. The most successful people in life are those who are willing to take professional risks. Now, they have to be calculated risks. You can’t just jump off a proverbial cliff to test if you can fly. You have to do research, learn the right skills, and put those skills to work. But ultimately, we will risk rejection, bad reviews, and even snarky comments, to put our writing to the test. It’s the only way to succeed. And then, when we fail, we reassess and try again, armed with the knowledge we’ve gained.

Discipline:

So many of us “creative types” are thinkers, and it’s easy to get stuck in our heads brainstorming and never put our fingers to the keyboard. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to the birds and admire the trees, and while it might be a vital part of my life or my writing process, it’s not going to get the book done. Unless you’re a published writer with an agent and editor and tight deadlines, no one is leaning over you telling you to get this done. Indie writers have their fellow writers, crit partners, and readers to hold them to deadlines. Especially in the beginning, when you’re setting your own deadlines, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get there when I get there.” No two writers will have the same process.

You can reach out to other writers on Twitter (hashtags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writegoal, #MyWANA, or #1k1hr) or blogs (A Round of Words in 80 Days, http://aroundofwordsin80days, or #ROW80) or participate in NaNoWriMo. Or you can build your own goals and stick to them. You have to find the process that works for you (even if it’s trial and error, and there’s failure involved along the way) and stick to it. If great ideas made great writers, there would be a lot more great books in the world. But the great idea has to be in the hands of someone dedicated enough to follow the story and polish it until the words sing.

We have to be willing to just breathe through the failures, which are a necessary part of success. In investing, the greater the potential yields of an investment, the higher the risk. And writing is a risky business. You have to be willing to weather the storms. And discipline, even if we have days where we totally blow our writing quota, helps us hone our craft and accomplish our goals. And both require us to just breathe through the process. As I continue my journey, I know there are plenty more lessons in store.

What life lesson has writing taught you?

Working with characters during revision

An alternate title for this post was: Dealing with Zoe.

See, I love Zoe, the female lead in Made of Shadows. She’s intense, passionate, fiery, compassionate, and maybe a little nuts. Okay, a little might be understating. Zoe is a woman on the edge. The martial arts skills and motorcycle don’t help.

photo from stock.xchng

So when editing Zoe’s story, sometimes it’s hard to tone her down. I realize I need a little distance from MOS to see the places where Zoe’s zest is adding to the plot and when it’s just distracting. Like I said, I care about her. I want the reader to care about her, too, which means I’ll have to learn to love her a little less, so I can edit her story properly.

She’s an absolute contrast to Lithe, of Pierce My Heart, my other WIP. Lithe is a soft-spoken introvert. She’s also a tough-as-nails fae investigator, but her motto, if she had one, would be, “Grace under pressure.” Sometimes I’ve worried that Lithe’s voice isn’t strong enough. Unlike Zoe, I worry that there’s not enough of Lithe shining through in the story.

Thus, one of my primary focuses for the next few months is going to be character development.

Our characters need to be relatable and likable. If the reader doesn’t care about what happens to Zoe or Lithe, then why keep reading? We want our readers to love the characters as much as we do. And if we’ve stuck around long enough to tell their stories, chances are that we do love them.

What complicates the issue is that our characters need to be consistent. This doesn’t just mean that in chapter one our character (let’s call her Lucinda) is a diehard vegetarian and in the next chapter she’s woofing down filet mignon. Character consistency is about more than favorite foods and hair color–it’s about the psyches of our characters, who they are deep down and how that influences their actions.

"Rodrigo, your kisses rock my world. Let me tell you my deepest, darkest secrets."

If Lucinda is perennially mistrustful, we need to make sure she doesn’t just easily open up to other characters. (As in, “Oh, Rodrigo, you’re a really good kisser. Why don’t I tell you about my traumatic childhood?”) Every action needs to be consistent with who she is. It’s not just about what the author wants to happen or where the plot needs to go; it’s about what Lucinda would do next, or what she would do given the next progression in the story. So if she opens up to Rodrigo, there needs to be a damn good reason, and one that’s consistent with her character.

But Lucinda also needs to change, affected by the circumstances of the plot and her interactions with other characters. Lucinda on page 1 can’t solve the situation (say, defeat the bad guy). If she could, we wouldn’t be writing a novel about her. Something has to happen between page 1 and page 300 that allows her to emerge victorious (if that’s the plot). Lucinda needs to change.

The character arc needs to mesh with the plot arc. Maybe Lucinda learns to trust, and trusting allows her to let someone in who can help her defeat the bad guys. She changes from a loner to someone capable of teamwork and trust.

And that’s where I’m at right now: reading books and blogs about character development. I know my characters. I need to make sure the reader does as well, and that each action is believable and appropriate. I hit a turning point while writing MOS. I’d been stuck for a while, not knowing where the story should go next. I tried a new approach. I stepped back  and asked, “What would Blake do?” Ah, bingo. “And what would Zoe’s reaction be?” Ah, naturally. I let the characters drive the story, and the plot unfolded before me.

What about you? What are your stumbling blocks with character? Any advice for working with character during the revision stage?