“Ya Know What I Mean?”

 

8647203304_0e9dfda704One of my relatives is fantastic…colorful…quirky.

At least a dozen times in the space of a fifteen-minute conversation, she ends a sentence with, “Ya know what I mean?”

Here’s an example of something she would say:  “I left the house and realized I hadn’t closed the garage door. I had to drive all the way back. It almost made me late to work. Ya know what I mean?”

I try to overlook it, even though at times it is VERY distracting.

However, it is the perfect example of something authors can use to make their characters real…human…interesting…unforgettable.

There’s a fine line, though, between making our characters unique and belittling or mocking certain traits/habits they might have. The very thing you and I might think is clever, might offend a reader—especially if they happen to identify, on a personal level, with what you have written.

Imagine a nail biter reading about a character that constantly bites her nails.

Or someone with a small tic or speech impediment that encounters a character in a book that has the same difficulty.

How can we use some of these characteristics and still be empathetic?

First of all, we need to realize that these characteristics evoke real feelings in readers. Then, being sensitive to that fact, we make sure that we don’t present them as flaws to their worth as a person…don’t use them as demeaning remarks.

In fact, we can turn some of them around, making them their “saving grace,” their “redeeming quality”…the very thing that serves to transform other characters in the story as they come to know and love them.

Just last week, I started working on a new novel—one involving a mentally handicapped young man. From page one, it must be a constant effort on my part to be true to his intrinsic worth as a person. Although some of the things he does are humorous, the thrust of the story is not to laugh at him, but show the growth of the other characters in the story because of his involvement in their lives.

Sensitivity to our readers—and our characters—is just one more thing authors must keep in mind when choosing vocabulary, writing scenes, and developing characters.

Ya know what I mean?

(Note: The character arc is the subject of a previous post. See in “archived posts.”)

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Changing Desires Into Habits

Is writing a habit or a desire for you?

Let’s be sure we distinguish the difference between the two:

A habit is something we do as a regular tendency or practice. Almost without thinking about it, we just do it.

A desire is a strong wish or want. Thus, it IS thought about—sometimes thought about A LOT—but it may, or may not, actually happen. And certainly doesn’t happen on its own, without effort on our part.

So, just what does it take to move writing out of the desire category and form it into a habit?

Glad you asked.

They say to form a habit, it takes breaking the old habit and replacing it with a new habit.

That takes, according to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho-Cybernetics, a minimum of 21 days for the old image in our brains to disappear.

Then, according to Phillippa Lally, University of London researcher, it takes from 66 to 500 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

Let’s see. That comes out to be a total of 3-18 months for the entire process.

It may seem easier for you to keep writing in the desire category than spend the time necessary to build writing as a habit, but…

are you really content with a life filled with only desires???

A life as a non-writer?

A life as a dreamer of dreams, but with no dreams realized?

Be honest. Because this is where the rubber meets the road…where the pen meets the paper, isn’t it?

This is a new year. Honor yourself by taking those dreams of being a writer and acting on them.

Realize them this year by forming the habit of writing.

Make a reasonable writing plan.

Reaffirm your plan every day by sticking to it.

Re-evaluate your plan on a quarterly basis (at the very least).

Recognize that you may need help: from “how-to” books, conferences, pep-talks from other writers, a mentor, and so on.

If you will do this, next January you should be able to say “I AM A WRITER!”

Get that? NOT “I desire to be a writer,” but instead you’ll enjoy the fact that you will have formed the habit of writing.

Actors, ice-skaters, gymnasts, singers, magicians…they ALL had to form habits of being what they desired to be.

Writers are no different.

We have to replace the old habits of watching too much television or taking long afternoon naps or shopping  too often and replace them with actively writing every day or we will NOT meet the goal.

So, let me ask you again:

Is writing just a desire for you? Or are you willing to do what it takes to make it a habit?