The Surprising Secret to Creating Believable, Engaging Characters Your Readers Will Never Forget

We all know a good story when we read, watch, or hear one. But do you have a clear idea of what makes one story better than another? We could likely create a long list: vivid descriptions, compelling conflict, evocative emotional landscape, intriguing storylines, and much, much more. And while all of these are necessary for a good story, what’s the one thing that if it were missing there would be no story?

Character.

Many people are moved to write stories because they seek to make meaning of this crazy, beautifully confounding thing called life. And they’re compelled to explore the human condition, which means delving deep into the kaleidoscope of human motivation and behavior. This is why creating believable, engaging characters that your readers will never forget is essential. It’s also an art.

Constructing an interesting storyline that satisfies your readers’ need to know the answer to “what happened next?” is important, but when all is said and done, if your readers go away wondering “why?” did that character do that thing, they’ll go away frustrated and unsatisfied.

We want to understand why we do the things we do, and we look to characters for those answers. There’s a way to get to the core of that inquiry. We can study the ancient chakra system, which will help us begin to drill down inside a character’s core to unravel all her hidden desires and fears. This will better inform our creation of her, and it will help our readers embrace her as a flawed, yet lovable, character that they become emotionally invested in.

Stay tuned for more about how we can use this ancient, esoteric system as a practical application to writing deep, profound characters that come off the page and stay with our readers long after they’ve put our work down.

To get you moving in that direction, call a character to mind. Maybe it’s one from an in-progress short story, novel, or creative non-fiction piece. Or maybe you want to make one up for this exercise. (Think simply if you’re creating one: gender, age, physical appearance.)

Put your character on a plane or a train (or some other mode of transportation) en route to visit family for the holidays, and answer this question: What tacit agreement does this character have with her/his family?

Now write at least two pages about what unfolds as the character approaches, or arrives, at her/his destination.

Then either share your piece of writing or let us know what that process was like in the comments below.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Am I a hypocrite?

Am I a hypocrite?

Some days it feels that way…

While I’m over here posting on my social media sites with the intention to inspire others to focus on their passions and put their writing first or organizing for my next workshop, or talk to do the same, I find that I, regularly, have very little – if any – time to write.

Because I’ve almost always been in a position of being the navigator – both in my personal life and at work – I think I have an underlying belief that I always have to look like I have it figured out to be strong and supportive and inspirational for others.

In the interest of transparency and authenticity, this post is a bit more personal than most, and I’m writing to share what my days are like – struggles included – so that you know you’re not alone and so you know that your being on the receiving end of my posts, newsletters, and all else makes a difference.

I’ve been acutely aware recently of a nagging feeling that I’ve lost my way, to a degree… not with my desire to create a life around writing and helping others write, but with the minutia of my day-to-day life.

As many of you know, I’ve been a college professor for many years now, and things have changed. Higher education is not held in high regard as it once was, and many students view their educations as a commodity they’ve purchased. Respect for professors seems to be a thing of the past. This reality creates a drudgery that morphs into a kind of ennui that I just can’t shake. (There are, of course, students who are exceptions to this, and they are the ones who make my showing up still feel worthwhile.)

I’m also a copywriter for a company that rents vacation homes, and as I know is true for many of you, the grind of an hourly paying job has worn on me. Yet, while it’s past time for me to move on, I’m not quite in a position yet to let the job go. That said, though, I have made a promise to myself that by the end of this year, I will. One bright light is that I will be cutting back my hours to half as of May 1 for health reasons. (More about that in a minute…)

When I’m feeling discombobulated, one of the things I do to clear my head is to visit Portland Art Museum. There’s an ongoing, rotating exhibit on the lower level called Object Stories. Currently, the exhibit is about disabilities. There are four exhibits, each focusing on an individual and her/his plight with some sort of disability. And there’s the interactive portion of the exhibit. One wall is filled with stickie notes where people have written down their disabilities. It’s a little overwhelming but mostly touching and poignant.

Another wall contains buttons that viewers can take and wear to spark conversations about disabilities. Oftentimes, many people with disabilities operate much the same way I mentioned above regarding my perceived “need” to feel like I’m appearing “normal” or on top of things – the beacon of light, the strong sail in the wind – or just merely a desire to seem like everyone else.

I know this because I’m one of them. I took two of the buttons. One reads, “I have a neurological hidden disability.” The other reads, “I have a physical hidden disability.” I’m still getting used to using “I” and “disability” in the same sentence, but both of these statements are true. (I’ve yet to wear them in public, though, because, to be honest, I dread the well-meaning advice and illl-informed questions. And while I know this is the point… it feels like one more thing to juggle and manage.)

And so, this is yet another obstacle in my path to live the kind of writing life I want, to grow a business that allows me to do that, and to fulfill my passion and purpose to help others tell their stories.

Since 2005, I have struggled with a chronic illness no one could name. After seeing numerous doctors, not being believed, being dismissed, and ultimately, sent away in frustration, I have found two doctors who – at long last – believed me when they heard my story, knew what I was talking about, and are helping me sort it all out.

I’ve had a diagnosis of fibromyalgia (in the past), a possible diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome (in the more recent past), and have discovered that I have a problem with Sulphur toxicity (my body doesn’t process Sulphur but creates a gas, which has been, basically, poisoning me). We’re still unraveling this 13-year clusterfuck, but at least I’m feeling hopeful.

Part of my reason in cutting back my hours at one of the jobs is to give myself some time to breathe, heal, and get my legs… So far, the plan is that I’ll soon be starting home injections (B12) and a series of IV treatments. Specifically, I’ll be undergoing UVBI treatments – Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation. And it’s just what it sounds like, my blood will be irradiated with ultraviolet light.

Being one who always looks for the beauty, benefit, and best outcome of every situation, the idea of having my blood irradiated with light makes me smile. Maybe when it’s all said and done, I’ll sparkle a little more than I have in a long time. And maybe having the decreased hours will actually allow me more space for work I love and more time for what matters to me the most… my own writing, growing my business and clientele, and satisfying my deep desire to help people get stories outside themselves. Because I believe that this act alone – sharing stories – is what heals us, others, and the world.

So please know that over these next few months, when you see prompts, inspirational quotes, articles, and anything else I might share with you about writing, that even though I might be struggling to create the life I want, knowing that you’re on the receiving end keeps me focused, putting one foot in front of the other, and believing I can do the work I’m here to do.

We’re all in this together, folks, so let’s support each other. If you want to voice your struggles and obstacles with writing and/or creating your ideal life, please feel free to post them on the closed Writing Through the Body Facebook page. It’s a page focused on writing, yes. And it’s also a page for writers, who are people living in a culture that doesn’t value creativity and tells us that endeavors like writing are frivolous – a luxury. There’s power in numbers, so let’s stick together, support each other, and make our desires a reality.

Thanks for reading, for following my circuitous path to realizing my dreams, and for believing I have something to offer you. It keeps me going, and I appreciate it ever so much.

Sending you tons of love and mad writing mojo…

Best,

Johnnie
XXXXX

 

 

Why I love teaching Writing Through the Body

AllSpheres_eBookCover_DarkBackI’ve been fortunate enough to step into the community at For Goodness Sake in Truckee, a group of people who are conscious, spiritual, forward thinking, and loving. And I was fortunate enough to be allowed to teach a free Writing Through the Body workshop there in December to a rapt audience who clearly appreciated what this process has to offer. It was the kind of validation I needed post-AFest to keep on my path of creating the Writing Through the Body enterprise I envision.

In this free four-hour workshop, I share information about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi concept of flow and Candice Pert’s discoveries about our emotions and our subconscious and how they relate to our chakras. I also talk about my thought process I went through in creating Writing Through the Body and what I’ve learned over the years from my students about the freedom that comes when we tap the subconscious. I give a general meditation that targets all the chakras, accompanied by a few writing prompts. And after the break, I give them a sample of the meditation and writing prompts from both the fiction workshop and the memoir workshop.

I love talking about Writing Through the Body because I believe in it so much. I believe it’s founded on some solid thinking, even scientific thinking. And I love talking about it and teaching it because I see the benefits people realize, even in this short, condensed version.

It’s gratifying to me to see the shifts in people, to have people tell me afterward about all the ideas they suddenly have again and what they wrote that surprised them during the workshop. And I love receiving the emails afterward and learning about dreams and epiphanies had and how they’re putting what they gained to good use and are writing, either for the first time or again, after a long period of being blocked.

I plan to do more of these free workshops in 2015 as I continue to create and build my stable of Writing Through the Body products and services. Here are some things you can expect to see:

  • A FREE eBook (which will contain the contents of the free workshop I gave at For Goodness Sake)
  • More teleseminars for both fiction and non-fiction
  • A full 7-module digital WTB course for both fiction and non-fiction
  • Weekend and 7-week face-to-face WTB workshops
  • A WTB book, in print form (outlining and drafting have begun)

If you haven’t already and would like to be on the email list, please opt-in in the upper right-hand corner of this page. You’ll automatically receive my “10 Ways to Banish Writer’s Block” immediately. And when I finish the eBook, I’ll send that to you, as well, free of charge.

Thanks to everyone who continues to be interested in Writing Through the Body, who is spreading the word about its effectiveness, and for having the courage to write and share your stories with the world. We need them.

Much love,

XXXXX
Johnnie

 

Writing can heal your body: The science behind it

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I’ve been saying for a long time that writing can heal us on all levels. I’m guessing this is nothing new to those who write because I’m willing to assume that everyone who writes earnestly, including those who have maintained regular journal entries, have experienced a healing of some sort, whether it be a clearing of psychic debris or emotional weight. It stands to reason, then, that if writing clear our minds and emotions, and lightens our spirits, and that because our thoughts and emotions directly influence our physical health, writing can heal our bodies, too.

In this article by Rachel Grate at Arts.Mic, a group of New Zealand researchers have tracked the healing trajectories of patients with medical biopsy wounds. She also writes, “Even those who suffer from specific diseases can improve their health through writing. Studies have shown that people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”

She also writes that “One study found that blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to the effect from running or listening to music.” With that in mind, I’ll sign off here and get to work on my next blog post about why people procrastinate writing…

How do the benefits of writing show up in your life?

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
XXX

Writing is Re-writing: Just get it outside yourself

As a college writing instructor, I found that one of the most difficult concepts for students to embrace is that writing is re-writing. None of us gets it right the first time. So many who claim they want to write either don’t want to put for the effort of re-writing or are driven by perfectionism and want their first drafts to be their final drafts.

That never happens.

As Anne Lamott says in her excellent and entertaining book on writing, Bird by Bird, in a chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts,” “All good writers write them.”

I like to think of the analogy of a potter spinning clay. The first draft is the act of throwing the clay onto the potter’s wheel. Just as the clay has to be extracted from its package to be turned into something meaningful and useful, the same is true of our words. We have to extract them from our mind – get them outside ourselves – before we can begin to shape them into something meaningful and useful.

While working on a first draft, just get it outside yourself. Dump the words on the page or screen the way a potter throws the clay on the wheel. Don’t worry about organization, sentence structure, word choice, or punctuation.

After the words are outside your busy brain, then and only then, can you do something with them.

Try it. Do a word dump. Just one page. Do it now…

Then re-work it
5 times
10 times
20 times
… or however many times it takes.