What’s on the Fridge?: A Character Writing Exercise

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Image courtesy of Karen Arnold on publicdomainpictures.net

A common piece of writing advice when it comes to characterization is to show rather than tell. But how do we do that? I have created an example scenario with one possible way to do this for your characters. This is by no means the only way to characterize someone, but this is one possible tool.

I was editing my novel when I took a quick trip for a coffee refill. I opened the fridge for the almond milk that I use as a creamer (See One Poo at a Time if you want to know why I use that instead of regular milk).

While doing this, I really looked at my fridge for the first time in a while. I thought about how it might look to another person, maybe somebody who didn’t know me. It inspired this character-building exercise.

Let’s look at what’s on my fridge together. I’m going to use this as an exercise to show how something as simple as this can explain so much about a character.

Things on my fridge:

  • Family photos
  • A Medela magnet that shows how long breast milk stays unspoiled at different temperatures
  • A magnet showing the poison control phone number
  • A stack of unfilled recall slips for various baby products (3+)
  • Two scanned sheets of baby food recipes from a book

I’m going to pretend that I’m not talking about myself and make up some explanations for what these things could say about me (These guesses may or may not be true!).

The family photos show that I’m a woman with a family and a child.

Secondly the Medela magnet shows that I’m breastfeeding. If you were writing me as a book character, maybe you’d think I value natural things and that I’m a little bit of a “crunchy” mom.

The poison control number posted on the fridge probably shows that I’m safety-minded. The unfilled recall slips say the same thing, except they could say something else as well, since they haven’t been filled out or sent off yet.

The fact that I’ve collected the 3+ recall registration slips means that I value safety, at least in theory. However, why aren’t they filled out by now?

Maybe I’m not very organized or I’m just busy. Maybe I hate filling out paperwork, even the easy kind. Maybe I’m extremely forgetful. Maybe I’m not actually all that worried about recalls, but I feel like I should turn them in anyway, so they sit on the fridge for weeks with good intentions but no follow-through. Maybe I’m just really overwhelmed with tasks (many new moms are!).

The baby food recipes can also tell you a few things, especially combined with the Medela magnet that tells you I’m breastfeeding. I may be an overachiever mom. The person who put these things up wants to breastfeed and make her baby’s food from scratch, which suggests she cares a lot about the way things are done in regard to her child.

However, where it might get interesting is in the speculation. Seeing the stack of unfilled forms, would we wonder if this character actually makes all of her baby’s food? Does she have time for that? Or is it just another good intention?

Now let’s put the character in a situation. Let’s say someone the character knows tries to give her baby a taste of a new type of store-bought baby food while the character isn’t around and without her permission. She finds out about it later. How do you think the character might react, just based on what you have seen here?

She would probably freak out a little, right? Based on what we know about the character being very concerned about her son’s feeding and safety?

Are you starting to see how these simple things, like the state of one’s fridge, can give insight to a character?

Here are some other ideas of things you can look for and describe in a character’s home to help characterize them. Describe the things:

  • Hung on the walls
  • Saved to the desktop of their computer (also overall cleanliness, order, or disorder)
  • On their desk (objects, style, cleanliness, order, disorder)
  • On their coffee table – also could be any other furniture around the house (objects on, tidiness, dust or shine, books)
  • In the medicine cabinet – self-explanatory!
  • In/on their front or back lawn, if the character has one.
  • Said in their  bumper stickers (I realized when writing this that I missed a valuable opportunity to include this for some of my book characters!)

To try this exercise out, just choose one of these areas and start describing it with one of your characters in mind.

Have fun, and if you complete the exercise feel free to share your lists in the comments!

 

 

Things that Help Me Through the Day

If you know me, you’ve probably heard about my family’s crazy days. I often end up with a 2-hour total commute most days of the week. Needless to say, our family is pretty busy! And as a new mommy, I need a few things to get me through my day and keep my energy up.

I’m going to share some things that really bring joy to my day. Even if you’re not a mom, I would recommend several of these things!

The Daily Boost

I listen to The Daily Boost podcast pretty much every week. Sometimes I listen to the podcast several times in a row, just so it can sink in. I love it because Scott Smith, the creator, always has a positive message that is also tempered with practicality. I always feel encouraged after listening and motivated to go after my personal goals.

If you’re interested in listening to this podcast, they offer a free episode every Monday.

I listen to many other podcasts since I spend a lot of time in the car, but that’s for another post.

Yoga Nidra for Sleep

Before I had a baby, I would have told you, “No, that’s impossible!” if you said I would have to learn to sleep on command. But when a newborn sleeps in short spurts and you get anxiety wondering how long you’ll get to sleep this time, you need a way to calm yourself down and take advantage of the sleep you do get!

For me, this Yoga Nidra for Sleep recording has been a lifesaver, helping me fall asleep without worrying about the next day or how soon I’ll need to wake up. Even before I had my son I used this recording, but now I rely on it even more.

I have never honestly heard the entire thing to the end, because I always fall asleep! I don’t know if it works for everyone this way, but I really can’t recommend it enough.

Mom & Baby Yoga

I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed in the lack of in-person mom and baby yoga classes. I don’t live in a big city, where I assume this sort of thing is more popular, so I went to the internet instead.

My back hurts often from nursing and carrying around my bundle of joy, but since I get to spend so little time with my son during the day, I don’t like taking time away from him to do my stretching!

Here are some videos I found that have some nice Mom & Baby yoga moves that I’ve found to be fun and safe for us.

My son likes to play with my hair as I go into a downward facing dog pose, and then he laughs when my face pops back up as I go into plank pose :). As an added benefit, I always feel a bit more calm after this!

Writing Update

I’m currently in the 3rd round of edit for my upcoming science fiction novel, with 7 out of 40 chapters edited.

I’ll have my best beta reader (my husband) read it after this round, and barring any changes he might suggest, I plan to go ahead and start shopping around for an agent after that.

My current goal is to get through 2 chapters each week.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for reading! Tell me in the comments: What gets you through the day? What are your favorite podcasts? How do you get yourself relaxed for sleep?

This post’s featured image is sourced from Pixabay by jill111, free for commercial use.

 

Life & Write

It’s been a while. Hey there. Here’s some updates on life and writing.

Life

I’ve cut out soy (in addition to the milk I already cut out) from my diet on the suggestion of my son’s doctor. If you’re just now hearing about my food elimination adventure, see my previous post about milk protein intolerance. Eliminating soy seemed daunting at first, but it turned out to be much easier to manage than I thought, mostly because I had already cut out so many food choices by eliminating milk that we only had to refine our shopping list and substitute a few items. It also doesn’t hurt that I have the most supportive spouse ever. He’s been crucial in helping me stay on the nursing path.

So much for being the woman who, when people asked, “Are you going to do formula or breastfeed?” replied, “I think I’ll try nursing, but if it’s too much work I won’t make myself crazy over it.” How carefree. How blasé! How…not how things went at all.

It was too much work. It hurt at first. It made me crazy. And, two eliminated food allergens later, I’m sticking with it. Just more proof that pre-mom me had no idea what mom-me was going to be like.

I like mom-me. She’s stronger than I realized. She also has a huge thing about germs but, hey, we all have things to work on.

Writing

It was a pretty good month for submitting stuff. I’ve been working diligently on some poetry and short stories. I’ve submitted to four different publications this month.

I’ve been working on a third round of edit for my novel, which I had taken a short break from after the birth of my son. Those I know who haven’t written books are always acting surprised that I’m still editing it. Those of you who are writers probably know…3 rounds of edit is probably on the low side ;). I’m taking it slow and steady. There’s no rush and I want the final product to be something worthwhile. I’m also allowing myself to devote some time to shorter and newer projects so that I don’t get burnt out. I do, however have a weekly chapter goal that I’m trying to stick to.

If you’ve read this entire post, thank you! There isn’t a lot of how-to information here to enrich you or anything particularly witty. Just me waving my hand through this blog and saying, “Hey. I’m still around.” Are you still around? Leave me a comment :).

One Poo at a Time

I want to talk about a new philosophy I’ve learned as a mom. There have already been many of them, and I’m sure there will be many more. But this is the one I want to talk about, because it’s the one I need most right now.

Since my son was born, we’ve become well-acquainted with his pediatrician, mostly due to a problem that started cropping up in his second month: milk protein intolerance. We’re exclusively breastfeeding, and what this means is that my son has a reaction to dairy if I eat it. This reaction was manifesting as blood in his poop. Terrifying, right?

If there’s one thing true about me, it’s that I’m stubborn. I feel that I worked too hard and went through too much pain in the beginning of breastfeeding for it to become comfortable and a good bonding experience for us, so I sure as hell don’t want to stop until I feel he has reaped the full benefits! So, the answer was simple: cut out all dairy from my diet, even “hidden” dairy in the ingredients section disguised as whey, casein, buttermilk, etc.  I scoured allergen information for restaurants. I became intimately familiar with the all-bold MILK pronouncement on the ingredients section of foods, often followed by a “Really?!?!” and a groan. My husband also became familiar with these things, since he does a lot of our shopping and wants to help support my success with the diet (isn’t he cool?).

Some of the things that include dairy are surprising: the particular brand of Worcestershire sauce in our fridge, for one.  McDonald’s fries (yeah, look it up!). Certain pretzels. I no longer eat anything processed if I can’t examine the ingredients, because milk inclusion in processed foods has no reliable pattern.

Every time since the diagnosis, when my son has a bowel movement, I also

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Image credit (in the public domain): https://pixabay.com/en/poop-shit-wc-2024794/

get a small amount of anxiety. I get anxiety because I’m afraid to open the diaper and see blood in it again. Afraid we’ll have to go to the doctor again this week only to be told to “keep monitoring it” and that “all dairy may not be out of your systems yet.” Afraid of the next step in the elimination diet, if that’s necessary. Will it be soy? Will it be wheat? Will I be able to cope with the diet changes if that’s the case?

Then my husband said something to me one morning that made a lot of sense (cue husband’s I’m right! bragging).

“One poo at a time,” he said. “Just take it one poo at a time.”

And that’s what I’m trying to do right now, guys. With everything, not just this. I suggest you do that too.

Poo happens. Take it one poo at a time.

We Made It!

It's a boy!
It’s a boy!

My son has entered the world! I have a beautiful, healthy, sweet baby boy. We’re so happy and grateful for our new addition to our family! I’ve been taking a break from blogging to adjust to mommyhood.

Even though it’s been quiet here on the blog, I’ve still been writing. I’m currently 10,000 words deep into a short story that I started the week before my due date. I’m almost finished with the first draft and I hope to have it done in the next few days. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a sci-fi story (I suppose I’m on a bit of a sci-fi kick) that will contain my first attempt at a real twist ending. How have I done this, you ask? Well, let’s just say I’m a lot better at multitasking now. And it’s completely possible to type while nursing.

Before I go I want to give a little plug for a contest I’m entering, and there’s still a day left to enter! It closes at the end of tomorrow. If you want to participate, it’s a contest for any 200-word excerpt written by you. It can be published previously or not. Join me and give it a whirl if you want! You can enter here.

 

Today’s my Due Date

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Photo courtesy of Axelle B from Publicdomainpictures.net

As I sit here, I’m writing on my baby’s due date.

I can barely believe it’s here. And yet, today is really just like any other day. Babies often don’t come on their due dates. They come when they’re ready. We’ll see what happens!

As I shrug off the anxious requests for updates with yet another “No, nothing yet [I did say I’d tell you, right??],” it’s natural to want to consider what this new change is going to mean for my life.

I know that once my son is here, nothing will ever be the same again. But I am determined about one thing. It won’t mean an end to my writing. I will continue to do it, because it makes me feel happy. Most of all, it’s what brings me meaning in my life. So even if I need to slip it into little windows of time, I’m going to make sure I take that time.

I’ve spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy writing poetry and submitting to some online journals in the hope that maybe I’ll get some nice surprises during or after my maternity leave. I think there is always a way to keep doing something you love, if you want it badly enough.

I am curious about whether it really is like people say: That having a child is like discovering a room [an undiscovered capacity for love] inside yourself that you never knew was there before. If that’s true, I can hardly see how that would be a bad thing! If anything, I think connecting to a human experience like that can only enrich my writing.

And hey, I’ve even heard that people are more creative while sleepy, and who is more sleep-deprived than a new parent?

My book is still with two beta readers, and I haven’t decided whether I’ll bring in more or not yet. We’ll see!

Now I’m going to go work on a short story, because

  1. It’s going to distract me from the uncertainty of not knowing when the baby will arrive.
  2. The baby hasn’t yet arrived and that means I can still get a few more writing projects started before things get crazy! 🙂
  3. I’m finally feeling a bit more recovered after finishing my book draft, so it’s time to start working on some bigger stuff again[besides poetry!].

Next time I post here, I might have my babe here! What a thought.

 

A Bite of Winter Word Candy

The Midwest has been experiencing our share of winter weather, and I hope all of you have been staying safe!

I wanted to share a poem by Shekhar Aiyar published by Able Muse called Crash, Trance, Winter. I hope you take a few moments to read it, because it’s only eight lines long! Even though it’s a poem about something incredibly stressful and unpleasant (a car crash), the author manages to make it sound beautiful.

Stay safe and warm this winter!

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Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

 

Thoughts on the Store-Bought Cake Draft

On New Year’s Eve, I finished the second draft of my novel (yay!), which is also the reason why I did not post here in December. All of my creative efforts were funneled into that draft.

The Importance of Multiple Drafts

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of revision in writing. It’s a huge milestone to create a second draft because it signals a fundamental change in the status of one’s manuscript. Instead of being as substantive as a puddle of unset jello, it’s looking more like the consistency of a beautiful cheesecake!

Or, to use another metaphor, a piece of writing is like a cake. Your first draft is pretty crappy, kind of like your first attempt at making a cake from a box mix. Maybe only your loved ones are willing to look at it, and even they have to reach a bit to compliment it. “Oh, it looks so nice,” they say. Really, though, a child probably could have done it. And maybe that child wouldn’t have confused salt for sugar. Oops!

You’ve definitely accomplished something, though, and a crappy cake from a box is better than having no cake at all. This draft is crucial. You have to start somewhere or you can never get better!

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On second thought, maybe strawberries weren’t the best garnish for a bubble-gum flavored cake. Don’t worry! You’ll figure it out in your next revision. Image from publicdomainpictures.net.

 

Your second draft is really something to be proud of. It looks like the sort of cake you might order from a big chain store. Nothing mind-blowing to be sure, but it has the look of something professional. The design and other choices make sense. You started using some proper tools, and it really shows up on that icing. People will probably be really excited to consume this, and they might be pretty impressed that you created it!

 

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After the second draft, things are looking pretty nice. You won’t have as much trouble finding people to eat this cake! Image from publicdomainpictures.net.

So what happens if you persevere and keep improving upon that draft until you get to your 3rd+ draft? That’s when you end up with something that has finesse and artistry. The draft has a cohesive theme and style, and you can tell that every choice was made deliberately and executed beautifully.

There are layers upon layers of complexity: the cake might have tiers and multiple fillings and realistic-looking sugared garnishes. You start using phrases like ganache when describing your creations. No regular person could make a cake like this. It takes skill and years of training. It might even have a simple design, but it will nonetheless be executed with expert precision. This is the final draft.

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When you finish your final draft of your creation, people will start clamoring for your cakes. Your friends will be jealous. Rose petals will appear out of thin air because your cake is just that magical. Yum. Image from pixabay.com.

If my predictions and hopes are correct, my journey from second to third draft will be a bit less strenuous than the immense jump from the first draft to the second draft.

I Finished my Store-Bought Cake Draft!

My goal for December was to finish my second draft. And lo, right on the 31st, I finished those edits. I had pregnancy-friendly sparkling grape juice and my husband cooked my favorite food (steak!) in support. There was much celebrating and feasting in the Bennett house that day.

But something that surprised me, something that I haven’t heard many other people or writers discuss, is how I felt after finishing that draft. For months and months I’ve been striving toward the same goal: to get my draft ready for other eyes (finish the 2nd draft) before my baby arrives. I’ve used all kinds of different tactics to achieve that goal: I’ve been waking up early, squeezing in writing time during lunch breaks at work, and staying up late. I gave up several of my downtime activities like playing video games or watching much TV during the week. I even scaled back some of my involvement in certain writing critique groups in support of my one goal.

With all those sacrifices in mind, I think I expected to feel a sense of relief when the great effort was over. I imagined I would feel a tremendous sense of achievement and that my whole being would be able to relax in knowing my goal was met and that my book was solidly on its way out into the world. I thought I would feel less stressed knowing that the hard work of my book would be already done before my child arrived and upended all my routines.

I am incredibly happy and proud and relieved to have met my goal, but the overwhelming feeling that was biggest after finishing that draft was something else. The word that best describes it is emptiness.

Post-Draft Ennui

Emptiness upon meeting my big stretch goal. Is that bizarre? In the week after I met this goal, I felt as though I were missing something or someone in my life! I felt like a drifter with no purpose. My new free time felt more like a chore that I had to take care of somehow rather than a freedom.

I missed the crazed, deadline-induced mania of putting my all into something and to have a clear purpose for every unused moment. I realized that the process of creating this second draft, which had been so difficult, was something that I would actually miss.

I know the obvious answer to this feeling is to start working on the third draft, but I think it is important to give the draft some time to breathe, and also to let myself recover from the tremendous sprint that was finishing it.

So I’m living in this slightly uncomfortable moment and allowing (read: forcing!) myself  to do some things I have not had time to do for a while (not to mention relax during my last month of pregnancy!). Movies, shows, games, play, leisure, and socialization. These things are important too.

That’s why I’m dedicating at least this week to relaxation and reconnecting with the parts of my life that have been pushed out of the picture for a while. After that, I’ll be looking for beta readers and turning this average little store-bought cake draft into a refined, tiered, wedding-cake draft!

What about you?  Do you ever have a sense of loss after finishing a big project? Did you ever have an experience where you expected to feel one way and ended up feeling something completely different? If you’re a writer, what metaphor would you use to describe the unskilled, glorious mess that is your first draft?

 

I have a new home

I have a new home. Two new homes, really. I’m attempting to live in both at one time.

One is this new website and blog that I’ve created after a long time away from blogging. If you’ve known me for longer than two years, then  you’ll know I used to sustain a photography blog. I let it smolder and sizzle out into nothing when I decided that I wanted to talk about more than just photography and shift my focus primarily on the craft of creative writing instead.

It also took some time for me to rationalize spending time on a blog instead of working on my novel. Did I mention that yet? No? Oh, sorry. I’m working on a novel. That’s probably going to be a large part of what I discuss here, along with general thoughts on writing.

I realized I needed an outlet for my thoughts on writing when, after a particularly scintillating and life-affirming writing session, I started to write a Facebook post about my thoughts on revision and craft. It was only after the paragraphs and lines kept spinning out of me like a never-ending skein of yarn that I realized I had a little more to say than what would be appropriate for a Facebook post. I decided it would be more merciful to allow my dear friends to opt into these thoughts of mine rather than be assaulted with a block of text in their news feeds. So the post got the copy/paste treatment and was saved for my future blog rather than being splattered on the walls of social media.

This blog is one of my new homes. The other is the apartment I recently moved into with my husband, my dog, and my baby-to-be. I guess that’s another thing to tell you about me: I’m expecting a baby soon.

We moved into an apartment after three years of owning our own home, and it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment. I’m still learning the ebbs and flows of this soundscape full of crying children, heavy footsteps, and barking dogs. Sometimes I sit and imagine what the source of certain mystery sounds could be, but I can only imagine using the very limited information provided to me. I learn a little bit about the people who live around me every time I heard their sounds, but mostly I must simply imagine what (the hell!) they could be doing up there.

That is what I hope to do with this blog. I invite you to come put your ear to the drywall and listen in to the creaks and groans of my life, this writing life, and to fill in the gaps of your imagination with the few details I can give you. And maybe, by inhabiting this space together as neighbors, we can fill these pages with life. Life, and the sound of humans discussing ideas together. Online, I guess that sounds most like fingers tapping on keyboards.

Be a good human, won’t you, and leave something in the comments.