How Pieces of You and People You Know End Up in Your Characters

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Luckily, for some people I know, I don’t write a lot of villains into my novels. As I do in real life, I try to not let nasty, uncaring, judgmental, ridiculously competitive and fake people seep into my world too often. However, in the short stories I write, I let them in because I don’t have to deal with them for too long, as short stories are just that—short. However, writers have to allow what we learn about people to grace the pages of our stories and illuminate our characters; these sketches of folks should glide into our stories seamlessly. As well, the same is true with the goodness and quirkiness and loveliness of people.

For example, in my recent novel Inn Significant, I texted my friend Charles and told him that Miles was based on him and my husband—kind of a conglomeration of the two. He had no idea, and was flattered by the depiction of Miles in the book. There are people in real life who can bring liveliness and charisma and charm to the characters you are writing—so let that unfold as the characters are made up of characteristics that you see in people.

As for us as writers, how much of ourselves do we let into our stories? I have a wild imagination, so I tend to consider the character and what he or she likes and what would make them that way. For example, in Inn Signficiant, the main character is Milly, and she narrates the book. How much of Milly is in me? Well, let’s see. We both love living near the water. We both are writers and like to read. We both love cruiser bikes, though hers is pink and mine is seafoam green. We both love our families. We both know what true love feels like. We both know what heartbreak feels like. We both value a pretty simple life. We both have a sense of humor.

What we don’t share is that she has felt tragedy, as she has lost her husband in a horrific accident, and goes through a bout of depression. And while I haven’t felt loss like Milly (thankfully), I can imagine its intensity, devastation, and profoundness. I also understand what feeling depressed is like, as I bumped up against that a few years ago during a trying time in my life, and one in which I learned a few lessons about good friendships vs. yucky ones.

As writers, we have to allow these things we know and understand to help develop our characters. We do allow bits of ourselves to show up in our characters, and if it’s not a bit of us, then it’s a collection of bits of others that we know, have interacted with, have been friends with, or maybe even have had a falling out with along the way.

The main point to writing character is to believe that they are real, and then make others believe that they are real. Make them so authentic that people completely understand them. That’s not to say that the characters might not drive readers crazy at times or make them shake their heads and say “what?,” but we need to put realism into our writing.

Plot is wonderful, but people have to be able to identify with the characters.

Years ago, I read the book The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh. I read this book because I was writing Baseball Girl, and I wanted to read as much baseball fiction as I could before I published anything. While Harbaugh’s writing is absolutely beautiful—a true work of literary splendor—the characters were, to me, wholly unbelievable. I couldn’t relate to any of them, and truthfully, only finished the book because I was so deep in at that point, that I needed to see how it ended. But I didn’t enjoy it that much, if I’m being truthful. I desperately wanted to connect with any one of the five main characters in the story. I wanted to find some of their actions redeemable, and yet, I came up just feeling this way about it: meh.

My goal is not to have anyone say meh about my characters. I keep that in the back of my mind the entire time I’m writing.

So don’t leave yourself out of the equation when writing strong, memorable, and relatable characters. You have the potential to bring so much to the story.

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Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

Stuck In A Rut? 7 Suggestions To Help Get You Out

Sometimes, the very idea of doing “the same thing again” is enough to make us go mad. And I’m not talking “a little mad;” I’m talking stark-raving, “I’ve had enough” and “I don’t ever want to do this again” kind of mad. Statements like, “If I make one more meatball” or “If I fold one more pair of socks” might turn us into Jane, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s main character, in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Here’s the thing, people: we can’t get away from those mundane, dreary, monotonous, mind-numbing tasks, so we have to turn to other things to give us a lift, and bring us back to life. Here are 7 of my favorite suggestions to help get you out of that sort of tiresome rut.

My artwork from "Wine & Canvas" Night.
My artwork from “Wine & Canvas” Night.
  1. Try something new. It’s so cliché, I know, but isn’t this what our parents taught us? If you’re tired of something, go try something new. Recently, one of my friends organized a night out at a local restaurant where we painted and drank wine and had social time. It’s called “Wine & Canvas” and it’s not something we would typically do; however, it was just what we wanted to do, and we all said we’d do it again, even though none of us is Picasso. ChaCha.com
  2. Do something all by yourself—yes—without anyone tagging along. Yesterday, my son went to our golf club and practiced hitting from the tees and also worked on his chipping. My husband was sick, and so he went all by himself. He’s only 14. When I went to pick him up, I found him in the club restaurant sitting at a table alone enjoying lunch while he watched the Redskins game. I was so proud of him for not being afraid to do something by himself; he feels quite at home at the club. In fact, he feels comfortable enough to do what he did without batting an eye. I love his sense of independence. I remember a couple of times when I wanted to see a film and no one wanted to go with me. I went by myself. It’s sort of liberating to walk into the theatre and know it’s you, your Coke, your bucket of popcorn, and your movie. Doing something by yourself doesn’t make you a loser; it shows you are confident enough to not give a rip that you’re doing it alone.
  3. Color. Yes, you heard me…color. How long has it been since you sat at a table with a piece of paper, picked up a 16-pack of Crayola crayons, and just colored (and not with your kids). The little things we take for granted as children—all the play time, the creativity, the ingenuity that was so valued—can get lost when we become adults unless you MAKE TIME for it. If coloring doesn’t float your boat, paint, draw, write a poem, craft a love letter, or build a model airplane or a tree house. Do something that allows you to remind yourself that deep within you, there was a hint of something genius (or at least mildly genius).

    Photo credit: Prevention Magazine
    Photo credit: Prevention Magazine
  4. Float away in a bubble bath. Even today, I still use Calgon’s old advertising slogan: Calgon—take me away. Allow yourself to relax in the bathtub. Bring a book or magazine in there with you, some candles, some classical or spa music, and just float away for a half an hour or so. We tend to shower under time constraints: we have to get to work, we have to run to school, we have to attend an event. A bath is a much more leisurely activity that requires you to actually STOP and SIT and SOAK. And before you plunge into this idea, go to your nearest drugstore and buy yourself some sumptuous bath bubbles, bath salts, or bath liquid. The scents are alluring and you can decompress luxuriously.
  5. Take time to be a GOOD friend. Now is not the time for me to tell my woes of disappointing friendships, but when I moved last year, several people I considered good friends hardly noticed I was leaving (one in particular I counted as a very dear friend). I didn’t get so much as a hug or wave, let alone a card or a follow-up phone call to see how we had made out. It was quite hurtful; it forced me to consider over the last year what it takes to be a good friend and taught me, even at this stage of middle age, what kinds of friends I don’t want. We are truly lucky if we can count our dearest friends on one hand. My friend Jenny and I classify “good friends” as those who would nurse us if we were sick or dying. We all know who those people are in our lives, so take time out to be that GOOD FRIEND to those you care for deeply. Nurture those relationships. Additionally, take time to be open to new friendships, as some new ones might surprise you and be absolutely delightful (this is where I say “thank you” to all my new, welcoming friends). You never know when someone might need you, in both small ways and big ways. It really can make the biggest difference in someone’s life.
  6. Read something that knocks your socks off and makes you think. I can’t tell you how sometimes the right thing to do is to “step outside your comfort zone.” Reading the book “Unbroken” has completely changed my  perception of World War II. And, it was a leap of faith. Recommended by family members and friends, I read this book and couldn’t put it down. This got me out of a rut in no time flat; I was forced to think about someone other than myself, and it felt really good to consider what those men went through. Additionally, I have discussed the book with many other people, so it was a conversation starter and a relationship builder. It has made me appreciate our freedom, our soldiers, and our veterans much more deeply. Don’t be afraid to venture into a new area with your reading. You never know where it could take you or what you could discover about yourself and others.

    Take a cue from this elegant couple...Prince William and Kate Middleton
    Take a cue from this elegant couple…Prince William and Kate Middleton. Photo credit: ibtimes.com
  7. Dress Up and Do Something Fancy. I know what you’re going to say: no one dresses up anymore, not for anything except an occasional wedding or funeral. It’s sad, really. I marvel at what people wear to the theatre (as in Broadway-style theatre) and church these days. While I love “comfort clothes,” I miss the way people used to dress, in sophisticated clothes for a night on the town. When we see a well-dressed person these days (or even more so, a well-dressed couple), we take notice. Wow, we think, they are looking snappy. And yet, we are celebrity obsessed and want to see what they wear to the Oscars and to the MTV awards, etc. etc. So why don’t we do the same every now and then? Host a party and ask folks to dress up; go out on the town with your date and dress to the nines; have a ladies night out and get swanky. It might very well get you out of a rut.

I’m sure I could come up with more, but on this Monday, these are my favorites. Pick one and do it. Then tell me all about it.

The Reviews Are Rolling In & An Excerpt From The Book. What People Are Saying About “Beneath the Mimosa Tree.”

Fran O'Brien's (now just called O'Brien's), one of the locations in my novel. Annapolis, Maryland.

Dear Readers,

Well, it’s been two weeks today since I let it go out into the world. So now what are people saying about my debut novel entitled “Beneath the Mimosa Tree?

I thought I’d let these lovely comments do all the talking, but before I do, I wanted to share an excerpt from the novel just to stir your interest if it hasn’t already been stirred. Then, enjoy reading what people are saying.

We independent authors can use all the support we can get to spread the word about our work. For those of you who have liked the book, thanks for your kind recommendations to others. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

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A Short Excerpt from “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” Part II. The story is told in alternating voices. Here’s Annabelle’s voice…

ANNABELLE

When we made our way off the boat and up to the house, empty picnic basket in hand, Michael helped me hobble back to my front door. We stood there for a moment, a little uneasy, not sure as to how to say goodbye. He touched the side of my arm and looked at me in the eyes.

“So that was okay, right? All good?” he said, wanting and needing me to confirm that we hadn’t lost anything, but rather gained something during the day together.

“No,” I said, feeling unusually flirtatious. “It was better than okay.”

He looked surprised for a second, then his smile took over his face. I’ll remember that look for as long as I live.

“I’m glad,” he said, and his hand moved from my upper arm, down past my elbow to my hand, which he took in his own and brought to his lips. He kissed the top of it. I liked the way his warm, wet lips felt on my skin.

“Should we do this again?” he asked. I nodded.

“Okay, then, we’ll figure out another time,” he said.

He turned toward his house, his shoulder square and his posture perfect, and walked away from me. I let him take about twenty steps.

“Michael—” I found myself shouting, and then, doing the best run-shuffle I could manage, ignoring the throbbing in my ankle, ran to him. He turned, and it was I—I who reached for him and kissed him for the very first time. I felt a sensation in my legs I hadn’t yet felt in my seventeen years; they went weak and wobbly, and Michael, his mouth pressed against mine, seemed to catch me. His hands were holding my face, and I don’t know if I breathed at all in the time we stood there, melding into each other. However, I was certain of one thing: the presence of an aching pain from my foot was absent, and I felt only heat and tasted the warmth of love for the first time on that September day.

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And now for the reviews…

Pusser's at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel. It used to be called the Afterdeck, and Michael visits it in the book.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While traveling through the lives of Annabelle and Michael, Verni takes you on a journey through beautiful Annapolis, MD with stops in New York and London. Verni’s characters immediately come to life on the pages and I found myself not wanting it to end. I believe everyone will identify with this touching story of family, friends, love, loss….and life lessons learned as we grow up.

–Stacey Janes

Just finished your novel and loved it! You are such a talented writer. I loved the character development. I want to know more about Annabelle and Michael. 🙂 Congratulations!

–Linda Lynch

If you are looking for a good read for Spring Break, I highly recommend “Beneath the Mimosa Tree” by Stephanie Verni. I bought it for my Nook yesterday afternoon, and couldn’t put it down! Check out her blog too… stephsscribe.com.

–Julie Heleba

I loved the book—everything about it. I even had a tear or two at the end. It gives many hope that time heals all wounds. Congratulations to you. Need a sequel!!!

–Kimberly Keith

Stephanie Verni has created a wonderful story of love, life decisions, friendship, and forgiveness with her beautifully written book “Beneath the Mimosa Tree.” This is a story we can all relate to in some way, and I feel Stephanie did a tremendous job of creating two characters that were real and vulnerable. I also loved the bonds of friendship with the supporting characters and how they each supported their friend through life no matter what. I was captivated from page one!

–Tammy Rossbach

Simply wonderful. You can tell the author has put her heart into the novel. Well written and the style flows well. A read for a sunny day on a lounger.

–Mrs. N. Ormerod

This is me holding my draft copy of the novel. See how I'm in absolute disbelief that I finally finished the thing?

I found this novel captivating from beginning to end. Stephanie Verni creatively portrays a beautiful story of two young people’s love and its evolution in “Beneath the Mimosa Tree.” The story is written through the eyes of the two main characters, Michael and Annabelle. Verni imaginatively flips from one character to the other, leaving the reader always wanting more. She also paints the backdrop, predominantly Annapolis, Maryland, but also London and New York, vividly. I almost felt as if I was with the characters as the story unfolded. All in all, it was a great feel good book, perfect read for a vacation.

–Darlene Norton

Just wanted to let you know that I broke my rule and read your book over the weekend, even though I am half way through another book. I was just too tempted by your pretty cover I guess. I enjoyed the story very much! What a sweet story. I loved Michael and Annabelle and their quest for forgiveness and a happy future! Enjoy your success and then get busy on the second novel.

–Mary Best

Just finished “Beneath the Mimosa Tree” and loved it! Thank you so much for writing the book! Could you, please, get started on another “best seller!”

–Maureen Spearman