Category: For Writers (Page 1 of 17)

6 Nostalgia Tips for Writers

Browsing through a box of old family photos and scrapbooks, I found myself weeping, while remembering happy events. Why such contradictory emotions? Nostalgia. 

The dictionary defines nostalgia as : a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.

That seems like a dry definition for such an emotional state.  

A further exploration of nostalgia determines it is a truly meaningful emotional experience, usually fleeting and fragile, that underlines a sense of something lost and finding it again, for one brief moment.  As one paper put it In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice .

Longing and Loss

In preparing this post I read several papers on nostalgia and they consistently pinpointed longing and loss as critical to feelings of nostalgia. That is why I cried over photos of happy times. They are gone now, the people passed away or scattered, the places changed almost beyond recognition. The happy memories are edged with loss. 

Beyond the dictionary definition, nostalgia evokes powerful emotions and thus, is useful to a writer of romance. In this genre, perhaps more than any other, the emotional reponse of the reader is paramount. We want our readers to fall in love with the hero, to weep with the disappointed, to despise the villain.

Nostalgia for Writers

    So, how can we, as writers, use the power of nostalgia to add impact to our stories?

    1. We can use it to put ourselves in an emotional state. Look at an old photo or call up an incident in your memory, that evokes nostalgia in you. Now that the writer is feeling fragile, vulnerable and maybe a little weepy, she can transfer that state to the character on the page.                                                                                                                                                             
    2. Use nostalgia triggers to hook the reader. The town of Mayberry never existed, yet millions of viewers identify with the place and the time, when they watch the Andy Griffith show. Why?  Because they long for the security and friendship and sense of belonging that attach to Aunt Bea, Opie and the rest. I’m not suggesting you set your book in Mayberry, but use a word or two to tap into that longing that resides in your reader and you’ll have them hookedon your story.                                        
    3.  Find triggers for your characters that will call forth a response from readers as well. Perhaps your heroine catches the scent of apple blossom and is swept back to a happy time in her own life. Even if your reader doesn’t like apple blossom, the sense of smell is a strong trigger for memory and they may recall their own favourite blossom or scent.  I just read an article citing red roses as a touchstone and my mind flashed to my Dad. To him, the only real flower was a red rose. In an instant, I was down the rabbit hole of memory, and the blog post that mentioned a red rose became memorable to me.                                                                                                                      
    4. We all share a longing to belong, to be part of a continum, to have roots. Help your  characters to find their HEA, by giving them that place, literal or figurative, that is “home.” The place they belong.  Call upon your own nostalgic moments to define the emotions that surround that place.    
    5.   In historical fiction, incorporating nostalgic elements can enhance the tone and setting to draw the reader into your imaginary world. Who can resist the image of a team of draft horses pulling a plough across the wide prairie? You can even mention the smell of leather harness, the dust in the nostrils of the ploughman, and the heat of the sun beating down from a cloudless sky.                                                                                                                                           
    6. Use nostalgic writing for reflection. Let your character muse on the passage of time since she was the prom queen at her high school, and all the changes and growth she has experienced since then. She may look back fondly or sadly on the girl she was then. That’s a decision for the author. Whichever it is, the reader will be drawn in — she’ll reflect on her own teen years, she’ll be emotional, maybe even shed a tear– and she’ll love your book.

    There are many ways a writer can tap into the powerful emotions that nostalgia elicits, these are only a few. Don’t pound your reader with all of them at once, but sprinkle a few bits here and there. Your story will have that little bit extra emotional writing that readers crave.

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    Visits: 11

    Join the Choir — Live!

    Happy spring, every one.

    This post is late going out because I’ve been busy with happiness. 

    This morning the World Happiness Report  came out. My country, Canada, ranks 15th in overall happiness and Finland ranks as number one, again.  Interestingly, in Canada, the under thirty cohort ranks as the unhappiest group in the country. Researchers suggest that social media is partly responsible. Younger people are on their devices much more than older Canadians. As we all know, social media highlights bad news, anger, outrage and disaster. No wonder constant users are less happy.

    Last week, I went to a vocal workshop. I didn’t learn much about vocalizing that I didn’t already know, but the presenter made quite a case for singing in a choir. Since 99% of the particpants were choristers, he was, literally, preaching to the choir. 🙂 He did have some impressive research to back up his message. Singing promotes longer and happier life. For one thing, singing is a physical exercise and requires good breathing technique. More oxygen to the body promotes better physical health and better cognitive health. Singing makes us happy so joining the choir relieves depression.

    Singing in a choir is also a social activitiy and that brings me to the point of this post. I haven’t spent a lot of time at the keyboard this week because I’ve been meeting with friends. As we all know, reading and writing, by nature, are solitary activities. Much as we all enjoy losing ourselves in a story or getting really stuck into the writing, we need to take time away from being in our heads and go out and be with others. 

    As a writer, I keep in touch with a few writing friends — we had coffee together on Monday. Time spent with them keeps me in the writing mindset, but it also opens my mind to other points of view, to news from the writing world and to some hearty laughs over any number of things.

    Later today, my book club (readers) meets. We’ll chat about the latest book on our list — another “misfit” story — and discuss if the author was successful at involving us with her characters. If so, why. If not, why not. Kind of like the “compare and contrast” questions on a school literature exam. We’ll also catch up on each other’s family news, lament the state of the world, and find lots to laugh about.

    Tomorrow I’ll go to choir practice and the day after that I’ll visit with an older writer friend who has been bereaved. Kudos to her for knowing the value of coffee dates even in the midst of grief.

    I can read and write by myself. I can find news in the media or on-line. But I don’t get the sharing and laughter that face-to-face meetings allow. Do you know that loneliness is now ranked as a health risk? That doesn’t mean a person has no people around. The studies refer to the “lonely in a crowd” feeling. Writers and readers might recognize this as a trope in poplular fiction. But, even though it can underpin a good story, it is not good for mental health. 

    So now you know my excuses for the delay in posting this blog. 

    Now do yourself a favour and go join a choir!

     

     

    Visits: 24

    Why Use a Remote Narrator?

    It seems every magazine article, blog post or email I’ve read this week talks about getting readers to “feel” the emotions of your story. Mostly the writers conclude that writing in deep POV is the way to get that emotional reaction from readers. For those of us who’ve been in the game for a while, this is not new advice. 

    I remember when I was a brand new writer, as yet unpublished, attending a workshop with Lynn Kerstan (Yes, it was a long time ago.). She talked about getting into character when she was writing from a male point-of-view. She said she’d sprawl in her chair in typical manspread style, loosen the top button of her jeans, roll her sleeves up to the elbows and stare at the ceiling while pretending to chew on a cigar. 

    Remember, this was a long time ago. My apologies to the sensitive males among us who would never act in that way. The point is, she was trying to physically take on the characteristics of her male characater in order to write in his deep point of view.

    As I write historical fiction, I often find a visit to a museum or one of the lovely old store fronts in my town help to put me in the right frame of mind for the story. Vintage fashion is a sure key to open the door to women’s lives in the late nineteenth century.

    Given all that, I was surprised that the two most recent books I read, set the narrator at a distance from the main characters. The reader was not “in” the story, she was “watching” from the outside. 

    Why would an author do that?

    In both cases, the plot centred on survivors of extreme violence, one a soldier from WWI and the other an officer in a rural police force. One might think that the writer would want the reader to experience the trauma of these characters but perhaps that was too intense, maybe even from the author’s perspective. Perhaps she was afraid that too much gore would turn the reader away.

    Also, it wasn’t the actual traumatic event that was key to the story, it was the effect of the event on the characters years later. The retired soldier who could never close his eyes without seeing the battlefield, who could never get the stench of rotting flesh from his nostrils. The police officer who fears for his life every time he knocks on a door or makes a traffic stop.

    As might be expected these stories were slow moving. The change that happened occurred largely in the chracters’ minds and in their relationships. Still, the books were memorable. I’ve no doubt the characters and ideas expressed in them will dwell in  my mind. I’ll have more compassion for the police officers and others who deal with the horrors of modern society. Every day on the news we hear of a shooting or an accident with deaths. The news stories don’t tell us the gory details. 

    In the police officer story the narrator relates a bus accident with seniors. The officers spent all day “matching body parts.” And that was only one day. The horrors build on each other day after day, year after year. When you think about it, it’s a wonder any of our first responders manage to hang onto their humanity. During COVID we hailed them as heroes. They are still heroes, even if the pandemic has abated.

    The books I read were gifts. I don’t think I would choose a story with a remote POV, but I’m glad I read them. With all the experts shouting deep POV at us, it is enlightening to read from a different perspective.

    Isn’t that what makes books so wonderful? You never know what insights lurk between the covers.

     

    This week two books from “observer” narration.

    Visits: 43

    Role of the Story Teller

    One of the happiest times of my week is Saturday morning, when my husband and I listen to a story on CD. Often that story is told by Stuart McLean. I’ve written about Stuart before on this blog. Follow the link if you want to re-read. He died seven years ago this month, and yet, his stories still bring me to tears and make me laugh out loud. What a legacy. 

    Listening to his tales makes me think about the role of the story teller. As writers I’m sure we’d love to think our tales will touch people years after we’ve gone.  If so, what kind of legacy do we want to leave?

    If I were a humourist, I’d want to “leave ’em laughing,” as Stuart has done. If I were a crusader, I might like to highlight the plight of the poor, as Charles Dickens did. If I were a classicist, I might hope to retell Greek tales in modern language, like the opera composer Niccolò Zingarelli. or William Walton. 

    But I am none of those. I am a spinner of simple tales, told to a small audience, who want to read about love and happily ever after and maybe learn about a short period of history in Canada. What legacy can I leave?

    I think Stuart McLean teaches me that tales do not have to be told on a grand scale, but they do have to be told with humanity. The characters we create must be relatable. No one is all good and no one is all bad. The “hero” of McLean’s stories, Dave, is about as awkward, and inept, and well-intentioned as a man can be. I don’t think any of the listeners aspire to mimic Dave’s misadventures. I think we do covet his goodness. Dave’s schemes inevitably go awry, yet, in the end, his kindness, his basic humanity, and his affection for both friend and foe shine through. A character worth emulating. A legacy worth leaving.

    Lottie, in The Man for Her, is stubborn and headstrong. She rejects Sean’s love because he won’t bend to her will. Someone who has been disappointed in love could identify with Lottie. My hope, as an author and a caring human, is that, in the end, my story will touch that disappointed lover, show her another way, help her give love another chance.

    The Christmas short stories I share with my newsletter subscribers are intended to lift hearts, to remind us of what Christmas is about. When we look for light in the darkest days of winter,  I want to bring hope, peace, joy and love to my readers.

    The story I’m writing now is about an older heroine, who has loved and lost. Perhaps it will help someone learning one of life’s hardest lessons. Grief is universal. None of us can escape death. Our culture tries to deny death, or hide it away, but every human heart will suffer that great loss. If I can tell a story that helps one soul in grief, I have done a good thing.

    My legacy will not show up in the history books, but I hope it will touch at least one person. I hope the tales I tell will make someone’s world a better place.

    What about you, dear reader/writer? Do you wonder about your own legacy? What is your goal?

    Visits: 15

    5 Takeaways from Craft Workshop

    My writer’s group held a hybrid in-person/on-line workshop this month. Since I’ve missed the company of other writers since COVID changed the way we do business, I went to the in-person part. There weren’t a lot of us in the room, but man, was it good to reconnect. I know on-line offerings use the word “connect” but electronic connections are not at all like human connections. So, before the workshop ever began, I was in a positive frame of mind. Here are some of my takeaways from the afternoon.

    1. When the presenters from DarlingAxe.com started their talk, I was totally engaged. The title of the workshop was “Killing Your Darlings,” which is a common concept among writers and a play on the company name so it is not surprising that the afternoon was filled with wisdom and laughter and some basic writing advice dressed in new clothes. ( Kill your Darlings is writer shorthand for cutting out flowery, unnecessary words that please your creative side but do nothing for the story.) 
    2. One often hears experienced writers complaining that craft workshops have nothing to teach them but I disagree. There is always something new to learn. For years I’ve been hearing about “stimulus and response,” “scene and sequel” and it didn’t help me a bit when it came to the actual writing of my story. Sometimes intellectual concepts provide knowledge without striking the emotional chord a writer — and a reader — needs.Michelle Barker and David Griffin Brown talked about “causality.” i.e. every scene requires a character to make a decision. That decision propels the story into the next scene.  This is not a new concept, but, for me, the language was new and effective. While they talked I pondered the short story I’m writing for my newsletter readers. I knew it had problems because what my main character wanted was a negative. i.e. she didn’t want Christmas.
    3. One of the creative concepts presented was the “thread test.” This is a way to test if your idea can translate into a story. It goes like this: when A happens, B must do C before D. A is the inciting incident, B is the protagonist, C is the conflict and D equals consequences.  Eventually those consequences should lead the protagonist — and the reader — to the goal of the story. In the case of romance that goal is happily ever after. 
    4. As the afternoon progressed, aspects of story-telling were presented, examined, and remade. By the time we got to quitting time, I’d managed to rethink my Christmas story into action instead of static emotion.  I’d given the heroine an achievable goal and I’d created scenarios which would prevent her from getting it. In other words, I’d made a rudimentary outline. For a pantser that was an amazing accomplishment.
    5. When I celebrated my last birthday, I considered dropping out of my writing group. It had become a chore. I volunteered on the administrative team, but I wasn’t feeling the joy. I missed the people. In the end, I gave it another year. I’m so glad I did.If you’re struggling with your writing, I highly recommend finding a supportive writing group, taking courses, meeting up with a critique group — anything to give you real, live, human contacts. Artificial Intelligence is getting better at doing our work but it isn’t a friend. It isn’t a hug on a bad day. It isn’t a cheerleader when you finally finish that manuscript.

     

    Visits: 143

    Where is This?

    In my writing, especially the historicals, setting is important. I spend many hours drawing maps of my fictional towns, showing the placement of a school, a church, a saloon, and the layout of the streets. I find this exercise grounds me in the place and gives me a stage where the characters can act out their stories.  Even Lottie, of The Man for Her, who lives on a farm is anchored in place by the town of Prospect.

    The setting of my work in progress is not cooperating. This is a contemporary story with a mature hero/heroine love affair. They are both farmers, so the nearby town is less relevant to the story, but it is relevant to me, the author. Until I can nail down the setting to my satisfaction, I have trouble getting the characters to play their roles. Frequently, I have to backtrack to set them in physical spaces, and figure out how they got there from where they were in the previous scene. The result can be disjointed and awkward. I need to find “home” for these characters.

    One of the constraints for my setting is the action of the story. My heroine has to live in an area with a big enough population to support a farm-gate market. However, the characters need to interact on a village scale.  That is, lots of local gossip, everyone knowing everyone else’s business, the Women’s Institute, church bazaars, stockyard . . . In truth, my setting problems are the same problems that beset market farmers in real life. Live close enough to a city to sell your produce directly and the price of land is beyond your reach. Live in a more remote area and there aren’t enough local customers to make your business thrive. On-line marketing works for book sales and handcrafts, but you can’t sell fresh carrots through the mail.

    I always make my settings fictional but usually based on an actual place. I have a regional place in mind, but, for the purposes of the novel, I need to narrow the scope to a single, farming community with a small town at its heart. And, I need a place name. What about Valleyfield? Valleyview? Both of those names show up in my Canadian atlas. Do they resonate? Many real towns use the founder’s name, like Campbellton, or Chesterville, but those names don’t contribute to the story unless the story concerns Campbells or Chesters. I need something more evocative. Meadows? Leeside? Cedar Creek?  Plenty? Sweetland?

    What do you think, dear readers? I really need to anchor this story on the land. Drop your suggestions into the comments section. If I use one of yours I’ll credit you on the title page of the book.

    Visits: 114

    Five Reasons Authors Love Orphans

    One of the fundamental aspects of writing a novel is developing a cast of characters to act out the story you want to tell. These characters will come from work/play relationships, hobby groups, proximity . . . and family. 

    Since family is the first and most significant set of characters we encounter in real life, we would expect family to be paramount in the development of a story. Cinderella’s step-mother starts the ball rolling in that fairy tale. A foolish mother, a gaggle of sisters, and a negligent father create the impetus for Pride and Prejudice, while Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights is a terrible dad in all respects.

    Yet, despite the seminal role of family in real life, in fiction, especially romantic fiction, the family is often absent. Why? I have a few suggestions.

    1.  A young woman without a family, is extra vulnerable.  This vulnerability opens up many avenues for story. She may be victim, heroine, fighter, or survivor. 
    2. The absent family may be the seed for a quest story. Our orphan sets out to discover her roots and perhaps some long-lost relatives. 
    3. An orphan is a perfect foil for a misfit story. She may be adopted into a family that exploits her, or tries to shape her in their own image. Modern history is full of tales of Indigenous children taken into non-indigenous families. No matter how well treated, the orphan knows she is “different.” Of course, if she is treated badly, that is a whole other story.
    4. The orphan’s tale may be a story of self-discovery. Who am I? Did my mother abandon me? Where is my self-worth?
    5. A character without a family becomes a story of survival. How does she earn her bread? Where can she live? What obstacles must she overcome to achieve happiness and security?

     

    My list is not exhaustive nor immutable. Clever writers take those tropes and turn them upside down all the time. I’m reading a Jennifer Crusie book where the heroine not only has a family and a best friend, she goes home to mother when her love-life falls apart. The results are hilarious.

    “Barbie” has no progenitors yet the movie maker gave her a great life, a journey or self-discovery and a good ending. 

    Still, I’d bet most of us want to have a happy family, live in a comfortable home, and know where we came from. We want big family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and birthdays, and summers at the lake. We’d like “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Waltons” as the backdrop of our daily lives. That’s why “fiction” is fiction. Given a choice, most of us don’t want to go hungry, or fall prey to criminals, or be homeless, or . . .  But fiction thrives on a host of calamities afflicting the main characters. At heart, readers are voyeurs. We peer in at the lives of others and thrill to their adventures, ache for their mistakes, long for them to find true love — all from the comfort of our armchairs. 

    To all my friends in Canada, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving with wonderful family gatherings.

    Visits: 262

    5 Ways to “Garden” a Story

    Most fiction writers are familiar with the concept of plotter/pantser for getting a story onto the page. The term is shorthand for describing those who write extensive outlines (plotter) organizing each plot point, character development, and twist, before beginning the actual writing of the story. Proponents of this method point to its efficiency. Knowing all the important points ahead of time speeds up the writing and lets the author keep a tight schedule.

    The pantser (flying by the seat of your pants) has an idea about a story and plunges into the writing, trusting that the plot, character and surprise twists will appear as she tells the story. Proponents of this method say it keeps the writing fresh and keeps the author engaged as she discovers the story along with the reader. Jo Beverley described this method as “flying into the mists.”

    Now I’ve heard a new term for someone setting out to write a novel – gardener. The term is  attributed to George R.R. Martin.

    I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. . . . The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. . . .― George R. R. Martin

    Many writers who consider themselves “gardeners” object to the “drop in a seed and water it” analogy. As we all know, writing is much harder than that. Still, the notion of gardening or growing a story inch by inch is a definite contrast to the plotter who lays out every twist and turn before putting pen to paper. 

    So, here are five principles I’ve learned as a writer who grows her story and keeps a garden.

    1.The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. 

    Visiting a garden centre last week, the clerk behind the counter said “I love this job. I’ve been here five years and I’m still learning more.

    For writers, the learning never stops. Read — books, articles, blogs — about writing. Listen to podcasts. Attend workshops. Read widely. There is always more to learn about the art of storytelling. 

    2. Know the soil.

    In gardening, knowing the acidity of your soil, the amount of sunshine it receives in a day, and the drainage it receives  helps you to choose plants that thrive in such conditions.

    In fiction, the expectations of the genre are key to a successful career. If you write romance, readers expect a happily-ever-after. If you write mystery, you’d better reveal “who dunnit” by the last page.  If you write thrillers, we expect justice to prevail. If you disappoint readers in these basic expectations, they won’t buy your next book and they will discourage others from exploring your list. Know your genre. Understand your readers.

    3. Thin — kill your darlings.

    I hate thinning my plants.  I sew thickly because that’s the way to ensure good germination . Yet when all those tiny seeds sprout, I have to thin to make room for the remaining plants to mature. Did I mention I really hate doing this? It seems so unfair to take a happy little carrot and throw it on the compost so its brother can have more room. But thinning is necessary to produce healthy plants. Hint: sometimes I’ll transplant the extras to my neighbour’s garden so the chore isn’t so painful.

    The same applies to writing.

    In the first draft, throw down all your ideas, worry about sorting them later, just get it all on the page. Once you’ve written “the end” it is time to start thinning. Some of your best prose may not advance the story one little bit, so it has to come out. If you can’t bring yourself to throw it on the compost, save it in an “outtakes” file. Saving it will soothe your feelings, but,  warn you, my outtakes file is full to bursting and none of that beautiful writing has proven useful in another manuscript. However you do it, you must “thin” your seedlings.

     

    4. Trust your process 

    George Martin to the contrary, there is more to gardening than dropping a seed in a hole and adding water. Gardeners plant, water, weed, support, fend off predators, till . . . the list is endless. But gardeners also know that the nature of plants is to grow. Even when we are not in the garden, nature is nudging our little seed to produce a perfect, red, ripe tomato.

    Sometimes a writer needs to get out of the way and let the story take shape as it wants to. She needs to trust her muse and her instincts. She needs to let her subconscious drive the story, even when she is on her knees digging out crab grass, or staring aimlessly at the clouds. Those random thoughts and sudden inspirations are gold in the writer’s creativity bank.

    5. Do it for joy.

    Gardeners grow flowers for their beauty. They spend money on heirloom tomato plants that don’t produce enough fruit to repay the purchase price. If a gardener were in it just for the money, she’d put down paving stones and buy her produce at the farmers market. 

    Writers can’t focus on the money alone. Of course we’d all like to have fat royalty cheques rolling in every month. But if dollars is the only motivation, there are easier and more lucrative ways to earn it. Seek the joy in your writing. Can money match the satisfaction of writing “the end” to a story you’ve created from your own imagination? Hours at the keyboard will make your back ache, your shoulders tighten and your bottom spread. Who would risk that for mere dollars? But many thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world suffer the pain, and discouragement, and loneliness of a writing life because nothing else can match the joy they feel at spinning a tale and sharing it with others.

    prize ribbons bring joy to the gardener

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Visits: 76

    What I Did on Summer Vacation

    new school scribbler

    Here we are in the first week of school already. How did that happen? Where did summer go? When I decided to take a little holiday from blogging I did not expect the break to be so long. So, since school is in, it’s appropriate to write an assignment on what did on my summer vacation?

    A trip “home” to see my brothers and their families shaped summer for me. I have not travelled since before COVID and I haven’t seen my family for at least five years. As my generation is ageing, I knew it was time for an in-person visit. The travelling part of our trip did not go well. Planes were late. Our rental car was a wreck. Medications were lost along the way. We arrived at an unknown house in the middle of the night and the house number was invisible. By that time we were so tired we opened the unlocked door and climbed into the empty bed we could see from the hall. We hoped we were in the right house, but if we weren’t we had a “Goldilocks” story to tell in the morning. 

    After that, things got better. I saw all of my brothers and many of my nieces, nephews and “greats” — two of whom I had never met. Then there was the thirteen year old I’d last seen as a toddler. What a surprise. Intellectually, I know the children have been growing older. I send them notes on every birthday and have their years of birth recorded so I can keep track. But memory plays tricks. Even though the calendar says ten-year-old, my mental image is of a little one taking her first steps.

    At the other end of the scale are my siblings. I’m taken aback when I see the aches and pains of old age in my younger siblings. Even though they have changed, I’m certain I’m the same as ever — until I look in the mirror that is.  Then I’m convinced it is one of those trick mirrors from the circus and the image I see is not really what I look like. Delusion, denial and disbelief!

     Despite the outward changes, our affection for each other remains undiminished. Our family jokes still resonate. I see my father in my brothers’ faces and they see Mom in mine. It is reassuring to know that our essential selves are still there. Since I’m working on a story with an older heroine, I’ve made notes of my family reunion and called it research.

    The rest of my summer was spent gardening, harvesting, and preserving. I made stuff to take to the Fall Fair. I won some ribbons and got shut out in zinnias. I hear the phrase “next year . . .” echoing in my mind and wonder when I’ll get too old for all this. OTOH, so long as I keep gardening, I’ll always look forward with hope. That’s not a bad ambition. 

     

    Visits: 72

    If You Could Do It Over

    In its simplest terms, the premise of Matt Haig’s  The Midnight Library is the do-over. In the moment between death and eternity, our protagonist, and some others, have a chance to relive their lives, making different choices. They can undo their mistakes, to atone for harm they caused, see the world as a different person, be a different person. 

    It’s an intriguing idea but I’m not inclined to spend much time applying it to my own life. Robert Frost wrote of “the road less travelled by” and the notion has teased the human imagination for years. But, in real life, we don’t get to back up and make another choice. In real life, we move forward, mistakes and all. Regret is a natural emotion, but wallowing in  past sorrows is a recipe for discontent in the present and despair for the future. 

    But, while I reject the idea as a real person, as an author it fires my imagination. Every time I put pen to paper, (or fingers to keyboard) in my story, I’m making a choice for the characters–and for everything else, for that matter. 

    If I set my story in a small town, I’ve given up the possibility of writing glitz and glamour.  If I set it on a ranch, I’d better be prepared to write about horses and cows and maybe sheep. If the heroine comes from a large family, the hero will have to win their approval. If she is an only child, or an orphan, she’ll be carrying that baggage and the love story will have to reflect that background.

    But the real choices for an author come in the actions of my character. If she accepts a job in a foreign country, she will have a different story than if she takes one in the next town. When I decide which action she takes, I’m locking her into that life, even if it is fictional. There is no do-over for the book unless I toss what I’ve written and take a different course.

    Authors like to play “what if.” For example, what if Scarlett O’Hara had loved Rhett Butler more than Tara? If she had had a chance for a do-over would she have acted differently? What would that have done to the story? Would you read it? 

    In my own book, Her One True Love, the heroine has a choice between two men. That choice will determine the rest of her life. Does she choose to marry the Mountie?  She’ll have a life of adventure. She’ll have to follow him to postings all over the country. She’ll live with the knowledge that he is often in danger. She may become a bit of a sleuth herself helping him with his unsolved cases. Is that the life she wants?

    Or, she can marry the preacher. She’ll have a settled life, near her sister. She’ll be the cynosure of the gossips for the rest of her life. She’ll play a major role in her husband’s ministry. She’ll be expected to teach Sunday School, and pour tea, and keep an immaculate house. Is that the life she wants?

    As the main character of The Midnight Library discovers, no life is perfect.

    But as readers or authors, we get to try out as many as our imaginations can conceive.

    What about you, dear reader? Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you’d taken a different road?

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