Monday, August 20, 2012

Give Your Characters A Mirror of Erised

Harry seeing his parents in the Mirror of Erised

My youngest, who's nearly six, has a full-blown Harry Potter obsession. Most of it is channeled via Lego, but there is also dressing up like the boy wizard and now writing his own version of the first few books: it's preschool Harry Potter fanfic!

(This is my third go-around through J.K. Rowling's series with each of my children. Each time I marvel at what a storyteller she is. What an imagination to come up with all those characters, quirky spells, Quidditch... the list goes on.)

Anyway, youngest was drawing his pictures and I was taking dictation. The page we were working on was about the Mirror of Erised (Desire backwards) in which characters can see what they most desire. For Harry, it's his dead parents; for Ron, it's being Head Boy and Quidditch captain--the desire of a younger sibling to escape from the shadows of his older brothers. For Dumbledore--well, Dumbledore claims he sees a pair of socks. But you can never quite trust that Dumbledore, can you?

As my young artist explained all this, I had a flash of inspiration. Often, it takes me a whole first draft to figure out what a character truly desires. What if, right at the beginning of the process, I wheeled in their very own Mirror of Erised, sat them before it, and asked them to tell me what they saw?

There's something about this technique--sort of like interviewing your characters--that appeals to me. I think I'll try it the next novel I write. I'll let you know how it goes!

What techniques (or tricks!) do you use to excavate your character's desires? 

(P.s. I'm reviewing New Zealand author Susan Brocker's historical MG novel, The Drover's Quest--which I loved--on Project Mayhem today. If you want to win a copy, head on over.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Writing by Rivers--and thoughts on Rudisha versus Bolt

My youngest throwing stones into Railroad Creek

I have had quite the splendid last month. First, I got to go to one of my favorite places for vacation--Holden Village--and was freed from all the hurlyburly of modern life. Heck, at Holden you can't even get a cellphone signal! Then, I catapulted back into the thick of things with my own personal Olympic marathon, staying up almost every night until midnight for the past two weeks. Talk about a schizophrenic experience.

In the Washington Cascades, dwarved by mountain peaks, I sat writing for three hours each morning. My usual writing spot was beside the fast-flowing Railroad Creek, its waters icy with snow melt. There is something about writing by rivers. Perhaps it's a variant of feng shui, but ideas cascaded about me. (I even got an idea for an adult mystery to go with the YA I'm currently working on.) When I write at home, writing always competes with running a household, making sure the kids are on track for their various activities, and planning meals. (And meals, and yet more meals!) One of the liberating things about Holden was having three meals a day cooked for me. It freed up my creative energies for actual creation.

Then, back we came to the Olympics. We missed the Queen parachuting into the stadium, as we were still out of media range. But we have sat through two weeks of sporting endeavors and personal narratives, watching as old stars continue their successes (Michael Phelps) and new stars come alive (Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas.)

I marveled at the perseverance of these athletes. The Olympics occur only every four years. Many of them try and try--I'm thinking of Allyson Felix here, who won silver medals at two previous Olympics and finally won her gold in the 200m.

I also found myself facing a realization that glitzy self-promotion turns me off. Usain Bolt is undoubtedly talented, but his blowing of his own trumpet is tiresome. I found myself comparing him to David Rudisha, the soft-spoken Masai who destroyed the world record in winning the 800 meters.

It's not that I believe that Rudisha is without ego, but he did not overuse the Boltian phrase "living legend." Instead, as quoted in The Washington Post, he dedicated his victory to his father:

(Rudisha) said he was inspired by the massive crowd in London, but dedicated the record to somebody watching on TV from another continent — his father, Daniel Rudisha, who anchored Kenya to a silver medal in the 4x400 relay at the 1968 Olympics at Mexico.
“I know he’s always proud of me, he’s the one who encourages me to come this far,” he said. “He’s a big inspiration in my career.
“I wanted to go a step ahead. To break the world record is a big achievement. He wanted to do it in the 400 but he couldn’t do it. So, for his son to do it ... "

Finally, if you want to read about how watching the Olympics devolved into a mouse chase, read this blog post by one of my favorite writers, Beth Kephart. I truly believe that Beth cannot write a dull sentence. (And I'm glad to know that she too is an Olympic fan.)

Now, the workaday world beckons. I want to finish my first draft before the end of the year, so wish me luck as I train for my own "gold medal."