How understanding the throat chakra will improve your writing

All writing is hard, and dialogue may be one of the hardest aspects of writing. Oftentimes, we start by putting two people in a space with a conflict to create a scene. We start writing, and we get them talking to see where the conversation takes them and the story. While just letting them talk can work and eventually lead us to the core of the scene, it can also sometimes eat up valuable time.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations can help us with crafting characters and giving them voice. Now I’m going to contradict myself, because to be honest, the process of writing is one, big, messy contradiction. What is true for one scene, story, or book, might not be for another. This is the pain and perfection of the creative process. There are no formulaic answers.

Much of the day-to-day dialogue we hear in real life doesn’t belong on the page. Dialogue should be more layered than that. It should accomplish more than just making a scene. It should advance the story, further character development, and more.

The Throat Chakra is the culmination of our expression – our will – that we’ve gathered while identifying our identities in the Root Chakra, our relationships with others in the Sacral Chakra, our ability to be agents of our own lives in the Solar Plexus Chakra, and our level of love and compassion in the Heart Chakra – which is a bridge between the lower and upper chakras.

Before you attempt to get your characters talking, give some thought to all the information you’ve amassed about them by studying them through the lens of the lower four chakras. Think about their desires and motivations. Think about their self-image and self-confidence or lack thereof. Think about their fears and vulnerabilities.

Rather than force them to say what you want, let them be their own free agents. Let them show their not-so-desirable sides – even your protagonist (and even if the protagonist is you). Show them in all their frail humanity. They will thank you for it, and your readers will thank you for it.

Which of your characters has been giving you the most trouble? Write this character’s monologue, telling you what you’re not letting them say, and see what you discover. (Let her/him be in control, for a change.)

How understanding the heart chakra will improve your writing

When we get clear about each of our characters’ sense of awareness about themselves, their awareness of each other and how they interact and take action, as we discussed with the Solar Plexus Chakra, we can then move forward with writing authentic, round, dynamic supporting characters for our protagonist – even, and maybe especially – their antagonist(s).

We humans sometimes have a tendency to want to get revenge in our writing against people who have harmed us. But hard as it may be to write about our stories’ antagonists with love and compassion – especially when we’re writing memoir-based stories – it’s essential if we want to connect with readers and help them see the complexities of life and relationships in a new light. (And remember, this isn’t about writing to excuse bad behavior. It’s about exploring the complexities of the human condition.)

As the wonderful Ann Lamott says, “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad things happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not all behave perfectly all the time.”

Because like it or not, even our real-life antagonists are facets of us. Throughout life, we come up against people who serve as mirrors of us. Think of it as spiritual checks and balances. And this is the level of understanding and insight we want to impart on the page.

Do you have an antagonist you want to paint as evil and are having a hard time finding her/his humanity?

Go back to this character’s backstory, as we discussed in the post on the Root Chakra, and see what you can find in their history.

Stories about strangers – writing to create connection with people, even if you never know them

I recently wrote about how strangers can enhance our writing, and I want to elaborate more on that here based on scenarios I witnessed outside my apartment window over the course of a few weeks.

Here in Portland, we’re experiencing an epidemic in homelessness, and as a downtown dweller, I see the effects of this problem firsthand. Camps are frequently set up, then dismantled, in the two-block circumference surrounding my apartment.

Several weeks ago, a couple set up their tent right across the street from my four large windows that overlook a fairly main thoroughfare downtown. The city’s MAX train run right by, and during the day, there’s a pretty steady stream of cars. At night, the motorized traffic ebbs and I become more aware of foot traffic.

This saw this couple pitch their bright blue tent, which took up about a 5′ x 7′ area, and they put out a small welcome mat. They left no footprint other than this. One morning, when I opened my blinds to start my day, I saw the man standing outside the tent wearing his usual dark grey, wool coat over a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. A knitted tan beanie covered his head. The woman stepped out in a pair of colorful yoga pants and a hoodie, and she began to run a lint roller over his shoulders and down his back. The man picked up the walking stick that lay across their welcome mat every night – the walking stick that I imagined he had carefully crafted from a limb; it was perfectly carved and polished and it added another dignified dimension to his already dignified appearance.

Later that day, while I was riding the streetcar, I saw him on the corner looking for cans in the garbage, and later that day, I saw him return to their tent with a bag of groceries. I watched them share a granola bar.

At this point in my observations (and I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a voyeur, of sorts), I couldn’t deny their humanity, the grace with which they lived each day (from the snippets I witnessed), and their pride in their home, and a story started to blossom in my mind.

I needed names for these two, maybe partly because that’s what the writer in me does… but maybe more as a way to give them some humanity – a need I had, not as the privileged bestower of something they already possessed. He looked like a Mark to me, and she, like a Maria. If you’re a writer, you might be able to understand what was happening here for me… my writer’s mind was forming a story – not out of exploitation, but out of seeking to feel a connection through a story.

I considered, several times, leaving them a note – or telling them in person if they were home when I was outside – ‘thank you’ for being such good neighbors. They were q;uiet, respectful, clean, and tidy.

Over the course of these several weeks, I saw people stop by to socialize with them and move on. I saw a new man come and pitch a tent next to them. His footprint was larger and more disheveled, and a few days later, the police came and arrested the man. They took him and a little plastic packet of something away – but not before going back to his site and collecting his shoes for him. Mark talked to the police, and from what I gathered, they were allowed to stay. I watched him tidy up his neighbor’s site and neatly cover it with blankets.

Within a couple of week’s time, another couple made the sidewalk across the street from me their home, right next door to Mark and Maria. They had more and they were loud. I could hear their voices through my opened windows, and I could see Mark talking with them, but I never heard him. By now, the weather had warmed, and he had shed his wool coat for a tan corduroy blazer and continued to walk the streets with his walking stick and have people over in the evenings – many of them much younger males. With his staff, long-ish white beard, and dignified presence, I imagined him to be the wise sage in the community.

I imagined him to be an artistic soul… a wood carver or a painter. And I imagined Maria to be a dancer. I imagined them living a life together for years, creating, until a series of events changed the course of their lives and put them on the streets. I imagined the effort it took to maintain the sense of dignity I saw in them, their quiet and poised presence. I wondered whether either of them had kids and if so, where they were. Maybe these two had been imperfect parents to the point of estrangement… I don’t know.

But if this were the case – if they had made such a mess of their lives they found themselves alone (but together), sleeping in a tent on the cement in downtown Portland – they seemed to have a powerful aura of pride and self-respect about them. Maybe this quality the exuded was redemptive, and maybe the redemption came after year upon year of bad choices, missteps, and XXX

Eventually, the people who set up camp next to them brought chaos and clutter, and someone called the police, who came and made them all pack up and move. I watched Mark talk with the police, then set out to remove and pack his and Maria’s belongings and pack them in a few knapsacks. I watched him dismantle their bright blue tent and roll up their welcome mat, and I watched them set off down the sidewalk to find another spot they could call home.

A few days after they left, I was on my way to a meeting on foot, and I passed Mark on the sidewalk.I saw him coming toward me, and the impression I had of him through the window was doubled, tripled, quadrupled as he passed me. His weathered but kind face, his tired but kind eyes, and sense of peace emanated from him.

I almost said something to him. I almost stopped him. But I didn’t. At that moment, I was at a loss as to what I’d say. I doubted my own ability to say anything to this man from my privileged position that wouldn’t come across as condescending or trite. (I think part of my one-sided connection to Mark and Maria was that I have had – many times in my life – the there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I thought. I have felt close more times than make me comfortable.)

I let him walk on past and I have not seen him since. I still wonder what their real story is, and I kick myself for not stopping him to say something. I, as a person who values story so much, froze from fear. I failed to reach out and connect. I wish I knew their story, and I wonder what they would think of the one I created. Would they feel honored, insulted? Would they think it funny and naive that I even tried?

I still can’t explain my draw to these two, and I will likely always remember them as Mark and Maria, the homeless artist and dancer who live one day at a time and have found a way to experience grace and humility amidst daily uncertainty about their survival.

Maybe I’ll always think of them this way because to think otherwise might just break my heart.

Using music to enhance your writing

Music has always held an important place in my life. I grew up in the 60s listening to the sounds of my mom’s melodic 33 1/3 vinyl records fill our modest midwestern home. From the Beatles and Herb Alpert to Johnny Rivers and Elvis, their lyrics and tunes were a foundation of my childhood and influenced the formation of my identity. American Bandstand and Soul Train were staples of my existence, and every Saturday night, my family and I would wander down to the Legion Hall in our small town to square dance and country jitterbug to the moveable sounds of The Coon Brothers, a band from another nearby small town.

Some of the first money I ever spent was on a small, battery-operated, portable record player when I was seven or eight, I think. It was about 6”x12” with a sliding handle and removable cover that exposed the tiny turntable, capable of accommodating any record size. When I saw this beauty sitting on the shelf at our local electronics store, I made an arrangement with the owner that I would pay my $2/week allowance toward the record player, which cost $32. For 16 weeks, I faithfully took my $2 to Ellison’s, made my payment, and received a receipt that showed me how close I was to walking home with my coveted music maker.

After I got the record player, I bought a carrying case and started stocking it with 45s, which meant that I became the DJ for parties, lunchtime, and recess at school. While not as compact as an iPod or iPhone, I was able to cart my tunes with me wherever I went. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Wild Thing,” “The Twist,” and “Sugar, Sugar,” to name a minuscule few, were the soundtrack of my childhood, and whenever I call up those songs now, the memory of them brings a nostalgic joy and takes me back to happy moments with my friends and family.

That feeling we get when we’re transported by a song from the past is called music-evoked nostalgia. It’s no surprise that scientists have studied the effects of music on our brains, and a significant discovery is that while music sparks emotional responses in us all, the same songs don’t affect us all the same. That is, based on our individual likes and dislikes and our past experiences with particular types of music and particular songs, different people will respond differently – at the brain level – to the same song.

Despite the ear scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, I still love “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Steeler’s Wheel. It was always a favorite of mine, with its catchy, upbeat melody, having been popular when I was 14 and pop music was a focal point in my life. The new association didn’t make me dislike the song – not in the least. It just made me stop and think about the lyrics more, how the song and the scene belonged together, and how there’s a discontinuity between the sound of the song and the story it tells.

Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” still strikes a chord of dread in me. Just the thought of it takes me back to the night I faked my way into the movie theater to see The Exorcist at 15, only to be scared out of my wits by Linda Blair’s demonic performance and the fact that my bed-side radio quit working – for just that night – when I tried to play it to drown out the sound of the song looping in my head.

Movies heavily rely on music to set the tone and help tell the story. Many directors and filmmakers lay music over the top of their films, and then some, like Jim Jarmusch, weave the music into his films. Some movies with music as a focal point of the story were novels first, like Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.

In the case of these three, the novelists chose to make music a primary character in the story, and if we’re writing a story from a different era, a great way to set the tone is to reference popular music of the time.

Some writers use music to put them in the mood. To write, that is. And some need to have it playing in the background while they write, which would drive me crazy, but to each their individual own.

Music evokes emotion in the moment, cements an era in her hearts, and transports us back to the past, feelings and all. Music is part of the fabric of our lives and our histories, and we can use it to enhance our writing in a variety of ways.

How do you use music to enhance your writing, and what songs take you back to a place and time from the past?

 

 

How understanding the solar plexus chakra will improve your writing

A common expectation from readers is that we show them the development of our characters. Readers want to see characters learn and change. A common method for creating this expected arc is to create plot points that put characters in situations that will challenge their modes of operation, create friction, and require new decisions to surpass the obstacle to reach their desires.

When we embrace the elements of the third chakra – the Solar Plexus chakra – we can begin to look at our characters in a more complex way. We can take their awareness about themselves and the world – in relation to their responses to other characters – that we discovered by looking through the lens of the second – Sacral Chakra – and allow our characters to turn those reflections from others back on themselves. This is where self-awareness comes from.

This is not to say that all characters will achieve high levels of self-awareness over the course of their individual stories. In fact, most of them will not. But as the writer of their stories, we need to be able to discern what we know about them and what they know about themselves. And we need to be able to impart those differences to our readers.

 

What do your characters know about themselves, what do you know about them,
and how do you know the difference?