What Game of Thrones Is Teaching Me About Writing (Warning: Spoilers)

Something has really been bothering me about my novel – or more accurately, my lack of progress regarding said novel. I’m stuck, and I’ve only barely started it. I’ve tried identifying the problem for months now – laziness? No time? Lack of confidence? (“I’m an attorney, not a writer. How could I possibly write a novel? I have no idea what I’m doing!”) All of these are a part of the problem. But a few days ago, it occurred to me that my biggest problem is that I have no idea who my characters ARE. I mean, I have names, basic personality traits, even motivations. But they are not Actual Real People. They bore me. This is bad.

It really struck me today as I was thinking about Game of Thrones. I am completely in love with this show. I recently watched the infamous Red Wedding episode. As I watched Robb, Talisa, and Catelyn Stark butchered in that hall, I felt as if I were losing my own friends. I was shocked, heartbroken, angry, and scared. When Kahl Drago died in Daenerys’s arms, I cried as if watching the love of my life leave the earth. When the evil King Joffrey ordered the beheading of Ned Stark as his own daughters watched, I was horrified and heartbroken. I love these characters, these people. I feel like Arya could be my little sister. I love to hate that horrible Joffrey. I am thrilled that Jaime Lannister is turning into a caring person – ok, less horrible person. I really want to like Siercy, but she drives me nuts. And what I would give to have a drink with Tyrion Lannister and pick his brain. And yes, I admit that I want Daenerys to be my best friend (the dragons certainly don’t hurt).

Why? Why did I have these reactions about people who aren’t even REAL? Easy. They are not just characters. They feel like living, breathing people who I personally know. That is the genius of George RR Martin and the people behind the TV series. I read once that if a writer intends to only write about a “character” instead of a real person, that character becomes a caricature. And that is one of the worst Writer Sins, in my opinion. If you write a caricature, the reader will quickly lose interest. They simply will not care what happens to the character. And that is the death knell for any novel.

We talk about plot, and conflict, point of view, and pacing. All of these things are important, of course. But without fleshed out, three dimensional, living, breathing characters – people who have a past; people with unique fears, idiosyncrasies, a sense of humor, interests; things that makes them laugh or cry or get angry – the readers will likely stop reading. These people are interesting, and they make the reader KEEP READING.

This is probably not news to anyone other than myself. I always knew that well-developed characters were crucial to any novel. But it finally dawned on me that this is exactly the problem with my own work-in-progress. Fortunately, I am early enough in this writing process that I have plenty of time to figure out who my characters are – I have time to make them interesting, real people. I will love some, and hate others. And yes, I will have to find the courage to kill my darlings. So, now the work begins. 

By the way, Tyrion – the drink is on me. This could be fun.

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A Leaf

When the bitter cold of winter starts to thaw, I return. First, a small green bud. Against all odds, growing in spite of the cold. It is April, the time when everything grows. Flowers start to bloom, trees come alive. I am drenched with rain, but my thin, fragile veins soak it in gladly. The children get off the bus for the last time at the end of June. And the sun is out for days and days. I blossom into something beautiful – vibrant and green. I drink in the lush rains of July and August. I live through sun and rain and wind. The sun is harsh at times, but I survive. I always survive, at least for a time.

But I know when it’s early September. The sun is a little less bright, and the wind is just a bit colder. The children are back on their buses, and the dark descends more quickly. People walk outside more briskly. They cover themselves in sweaters and scarves. No more bathing suits. No more splashing in pools. The sun no longer bleaches their hair. I can feel a new season coming.

Soon, I will change. My green color will turn yellow, or perhaps orange. If I’m lucky, I’ll turn a deep, bright red. That is the ultimate color, the most beautiful, the most envied. I won’t know until it happens. And I love to be beautiful. Don’t we all? But of course it’s bittersweet. For it’s then that I know I only have a few weeks to live. At some point, when the winds swirl, and the clouds gather, and the people walk bundled in thick coats, it will happen.

I will fall. Sometimes gently, sometimes urgently. And there is nothing I can do to stop it. If I’m lucky, I will fall into a soft pile. If the winds are harsh that day, I may fall onto the street, or on top of a car. A child may pick me up and give me to her mother. Or I may fall to the ground unnoticed and unappreciated. I never know until it happens. And until it happens, there is always hope – always a chance I will be lovingly cradled and welcomed into someone’s house to be admired. Oh, to be held and photographed and loved. But even then, eventually, I will crumble. I will fall apart and sink back into the earth. I will turn to dust. I will die.

But don’t cry for me. I will be back someday. After the snows have come and gone, and the ice has melted, and the children have put away their chunky snowsuits and winter boots, I will live again. After the lakes have turned back to water, and the days stretch on endlessly, I will return. No, I will not truly be “me” anymore, but I will be a version of me. And I will grow and become green again. And I will breathe in the sun and the rain and be happy to be alive. The children have gotten bigger! And their voices have grown more confident. And new babies have been born. And old people have died. I have missed so much. Every year, I miss so much life.

And through it all, I survive for a time, such a short season. I can only see so much of this beautiful earth. But I’m a lucky one. I come back. I always come back.

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Thirty Days of Writing

During the month of September, I participated in the monthly writing challenge on 750words.com. Thirty straight days of writing at least 750 words. The words could be anything I wanted: journal writing, creative writing, venting, anything.

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I am proud to say I did it! Thirty straight days of writing. It was both easier and harder than I expected. And here is what I learned: 

1) Writing every day is vitally important to keep the creative juices flowing.

2) Writing every day is like any other habit – when you don’t feel like doing it one day, do it anyway. You’ll be happy you did. You will never regret it afterward. Hmm, sounds like exercising.

3) Writing is hard.

4) Writing is fun, and rewarding, and wonderful.

5) Some of my stuff is terrible and can’t be redeemed. Other pieces have real promise. I usually feel a writer’s high during the latter.

6) Writing every day just to say you did it every day is not necessarily the best approach. Getting the words on paper is not enough. You need to spend time editing and polishing and FINISHING stories, blog posts, etc.

7) I freaking love my new MacBook Air.

8) I can actually, truly call myself a writer now. The proverbial lightbulb went off.

9) Writing is so good for the soul. It’s cathartic. And sometimes you don’t know what’s been bothering you until you do a braindump.

10) I want to make this my life, not just a hobby. Yes, I do. I know this now.

 

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The Blue Moon Rise

I went to the beach with my sister and my daughter on the night of the recent blue moon. As writers are wont to do, I could not resist writing a bit about the experience. This was written on my iphone (efficient!) with just a bit of editing afterward. Enjoy. 🙂

The swollen moon rises over the shoreline. The sun is still falling behind the trees, and it is just barely dusk. People are starting to abandon the beach but we stake our claim in the sand. My daughter makes slow, lazy circles in the sand by her feet with a stick. She talks of rocks and seaweed and swimming. I only marvel at the stunning orange orb above the sea.

I have always favored the soft, subtle glow of the moon over the aggressive heat of the sun. I have said that my delicate Irish skin cannot handle the sunlight, and my pattern of freckles prove the point. But the truth is that I have always preferred the night. The moon has always pulled me in with its magic and mystery. I am a textbook night owl-I typically fall into bed only when my eyes can no longer stay open and my body longs for sleep. I cherish the time late at night when everyone else is dreaming and I can enjoy the night alone-just me and the moon.

I named my daughter Rhiannon, in part because one of the meanings of her name is “moon goddess.” Like me, she is drawn to the nighttime. At the young age of nine, she frequently battles insomnia and spends many nights in my bedroom. I draw my breath in now as I see her frolicking in the water, the moon shining in her hair. It is the last gasp of summer, the final weekend of August. She is already back in school, but we can still cherish these moments. The sand between our toes, the lullaby of waves crashing on the shore, and the caress of our beloved moon upon the earth.

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An Ode to YA

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

What I am about to say has been written many times before, and most likely by authors who are more profound and articulate. But I nevertheless feel called to write a short ode to the beauty and wonder that is YA (young adult) fiction.

First, I want to read books with a good story and interesting characters. Of course, any genre can fit into this category. But I have found that a lot of YA just does this really well. It seems to be a very competitive field, and thus many of the stories are rich and emotional and satisfying. These authors are at the top of their game. Speaking of authors, these YA writers are just so – YOUNG. I mean, early twenties – maybe younger. I am closer to 40 than 30 (eeek) and just starting my own writing journey. To be able to write stories like they do – at such a young age – well, I am simply blown away by the talent that is out there.

Ultimately, YA speaks to me so loudly and clearly for one reason: I was once a young child who loved to read. I started reading at the age of 3, and never stopped. Especially between the ages of 7 and 12, I read constantly. I did not play with dolls. I did not particulary enjoy playing with kids my age. I was not a hermit exactly – I just did not enjoy what they enjoyed. Instead of spending my time playing with other kids, I turned inward and lived inside my own head. I became absorbed in stories, and fell in love with characters who were not so different from me. I grew up with Judy Blume. To this day, the best Christmas present I ever received was from an aunt I did not really know. But this aunt gave me a set of four Judy Blume books, and I will always be grateful for that, and for her. I read one book after another after another. And when I ran out of books, my mother or father would take me to the library to borrow more. I could not get enough. There were so many worlds to discover, so many fascinating characters to fall in love with.

Even as a teenager, I craved a good story to escape the world. I was not terribly popular, I was not “cool” and I felt out of place in middle school and high school. And yes, there were times I was bullied – and this was back in the day when bullying was just a part of life. The media did not talk about it, and there were no posters lining the school walls encouraging us to love everyone. Just when I thought I couldn’t get out of bed and face another day, I cracked open a book and read about someone just like me – someone smart, and sensitive, and faced with challenges every single day – someone who has cried herself to sleep more times than she can count. I become their friend and cheered them on. And they cheered me on, too. They helped me to survive just one more day, and then another.

And suddenly, I was amazed to discover I survived the teenage years. I was in college, and realized that the things that seperated us when we were younger were just not that important anymore. I bonded with people over our shared love of literature, and writing, and history. I become close friends with my roommate and classmates. We stayed up all night studying for finals, and talked about life over coffee and bagels. And yes, we drank -a lot -and laughed and loved and grew up together.

And then I become an adult, but did not actually feel like a grown up. I was faced with bills and mortgages and responsibilities. I found that special someone and got married and birthed a beautiful baby girl. I had a busy, full time job, with little time just for me. But then something amazing happened. My daughter got a little older, and my spouse got a hobby, and I realized that it’s ok – no, it’s crucial – that I have a “thing” too.

So, I thought about what I used to love. I remembered what kept me up all night and busy every day. I recalled my obsessions. What did I love most of all? Reading.

I enjoy many genres, and have read plenty of books written for adults. But I always go back to YA. For me, nothing else can compare. Yes, I enjoy the plots, and the conflicts, and the wonderful writing. But most of all, I can relate to these characters – these wonderful, flawed, perfect characters – and I realize that even though I no longer struggle with teenage problems, I remember these problems so well. They shaped who I am today. These authors have done something amazing and miraculous: they have poured their hearts out to the world so we, the readers, can understand that we are never alone.

So on behalf of other readers out there, young and old, I thank you, the author of YA, for helping us grow up and helping us realize that we are not so different after all.

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Babe

I have put off writing about him, delayed the inevitable. I could not fathom the idea of sharing my pain with anyone. No, that’s not it. I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to condense his personality into words on a page-I couldn’t do him justice. The problem, though, is that not only did I avoid writing about him, I avoided writing, period. I thought about writing, and even read about writing. But I just could not force myself to write anything at all.

It has been a few months since we said goodbye to our cat Babe. Of course, it is always unbearably painful to lose a pet. They become part of the family. A family member without the drama-a being who loves you unconditionally, innocently. Yes, cats tend to be aloof and carry attitudes with them. And so did Babe. But he was different. He loved to cuddle-he would snuggle up against your neck, nudging as close to you as possible without suffocating you. His purr was deafening. He would look into your eyes as if he could see your soul. We liked to call him “psycho” from time to time, especially as a young cat. His favorite thing to play with was a dried apricot. With an eye on some imaginary bird, he would run full speed toward the sliding glass door and smack into it head-on. He talked back if he didn’t like the answers to his questions.

As a Himalayan mix, his fur was long and prone to tangling. He couldn’t decide if he loved or hated being brushed, so he would alternate reactions between bliss and attack mode. He was a very high strung kitty, and when we had him groomed, it was no simple feat. We learned the hard way that he required sedation for this process. It seems that groomers do not appreciate cats who try to claw them to death over a bath.

The decision to have him put to rest was heartbreaking. He was almost 15 and had been steadily declining. The grief was almost too much to bear at times. Even now, I expect to hear his crazy hungry meow when I come home. The silence is terrible. I wait for him to jump on my lap at night after dinner, but it remains empty. I think I hear him in the kitchen. I think I see him out of the corner of my eye. I would give anything for just five more minutes with him, to hold him close and smell his fur and become one with his blissful purr. Shock gives way to grief, which turns into acceptance. No, not acceptance-but getting used to his absence. At first, the pain is like a punch in the chest-it brings you to your knees and steals your breath. You want to live under the covers for the rest of your life. Eventually, the punch turns into a pang. You can continue with your day, your thought, your chore-but of course the sadness is still there. From past experience, I know that the pang will lessen and become a smile as the memoirs play like a movie in your head. I am not there yet. I am slightly past punch into the pang phase. I still miss him desperately, but I feel like life can go on, maybe even go on happily.

The great curse of a writer is that you HAVE to write. And unless you’re in the middle of the great American novel, you inevitably write about your own life. For me, that is what comes most naturally. And if you are going through a difficult period in your life, that difficulty demands to be memorialized in some form, whether it be a memoir or a short story based on life events. Until I was able to write about Babe , I was unable and unwilling to write about anything at all. Today, I am ready. I honor his memory by sharing his story, and I take the first steps toward healing. At least for today, he is my muse. I would love to think that in at least some small way, he always will be.

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Overcoming Writer Panic Attacks-A Brief Study

It has occurred to me that the whole point of having a blog is to actually write and post words occasionally. As a writer, this should come easily to me. Alas, it does not. Everything I write has to be “perfect.” Therefore, words stay in my head, or on 750words.com, or in a password-protected app on my iPad, never to see the light of day. If my ultimate goal is to be published, I need to smack myself around a little and put myself out there. I need to be BRAVE. I need to risk public ridicule. Oh geez, I’m already losing my nerve!

OK, deep breaths. The real problem is that I am plagued with the conviction that although I am called to write, I am not all that skilled at it. No, that is not quite right. I think I am somewhat skilled, but not enough to STAND OUT. There are so many incredibly gifted, talented writers out there, and really – what makes little old me special? I posted such a question on Twitter recently in the midst of a Writer Panic Attack. I must say, the responses were interesting. Other writers admitted to similar feelings, which of course made me feel better. (Misery loves company, I suppose).

But my favorite responses clarified something fascinating: I am a unique person with unique experiences. Therefore, I have something to offer that no one else does. And if you are a writer, the same applies to you. How cool is that? (Answer: very). So, let’s get out there and show the world our stuff. If I can do it, so can you.

Happy Blogging! 🙂 Kendra

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