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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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people

So, I’m thinking about pirates…….

…….of the argh! and avast, me mateys! type that roamed the high seas on tall ships. I’m not exactly sure why, because historically speaking, they were not people to trifle with and often left a great swathe of blood behind. Perhaps it’s that sense of adventure that seems to accompany them, the call of the open sea, the wind ruffling through one’s hair as the sun beats down. Human survival against Nature’s unforgiving trials.

Whatever the case, I’m thinking about pirates. Both men and women chose to pursue that life going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Rather than focus on Hollywood’s sensationalized ideal of pirates, I’m thinking of several factors never fully explored. What drove them to piracy, to eschew convention and respectable society to embark on voyages that did not guarantee safety or security?

Whether it was Anne Bonny or Blackbeard or Ching Shih, they were not born pirates. Was it circumstance and personality that led them to their profession? Money, or lack thereof, that tore them away from their families? Was it survival or a choice freely made? Resentment of not being able to find their true calling due to rigid caste and/or societal rules?

I don’t suppose there’s any one solid answer for the pirates of the past, or those of contemporary times. I suspect that it may be a combination of many things that drive them to it.

Still, I’m thinking about pirates, the ones of yore, the type modeled from and idealized by the Hollywood Dream Factory. Their tall ships fascinate me. I wonder what they thought or dreamed about in the quiet moments on the ocean. Whether they had any regrets about or spared not a thought at all for those whose lives they altered forever.

I’m thinking about pirates. I’m thinking about two very different stories that have not seen the light of day in many years. I’m thinking about how pirates are actually incredibly symbolic metaphors for change, natural, man-made and maybe even supernatural.

I’m thinking about pirates.

So, as 2014 winds down…….

……..and 2015 fast approaches, I’ve been ruminating on some observations and thoughts that have occurred to me over the last year.

Turns out, they also make good writing points.

*Every experience you have, the good, the bad, the ugly, belongs to you. This, of course, also means that the other people in those experiences are bringing their truths/reality to the same situation, thus creating a conflicting dynamic. You can’t control that in life, so let it go. Putting it in a story, however, adds some rich texture to the plot and characters.

*People are complex creatures, but they are also pretty black and white. A good-hearted person can have a moment of coldness, and a narcissist can have a moment of genuine empathy. What happened in those moments before that caused them to behave in such a manner? At the end of the day, this makes them human. This is a good thing to remember when developing characters and giving them motivation.

*There are stories everywhere – in a bar, on a crosswalk, in a room where the packing of books and other items occur. Who are these people? Why are they in that place, in that moment? Why did this person order this particular book/item? Where? When? What? How? Every person you meet, every situation or place you walk into, has a story to tell. Find it.

*Life is unpredictable, chaotic. This is okay. Stories should also be unpredictable and chaotic, but the nice thing is, you get to control the story. Life is not so easy, but you can at least manage the sails enough to navigate the waters in good times and bad. Sometimes, the story can act as the ballast or the anchor as you go.

These are my thoughts, such as they are. You may find them helpful and insightful or you may not. That’s the way the ball bounces.

And now a word from Anne Lamott……..

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anne Lamott
author, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

So, it’s occurred to me……

……that one of the reasons why I write is to understand the dynamics of life I see around me. The chaotic swirl of words, a look, body language and tone can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing to me, so I write about it. The results make for a good story, but often leaves me still groping for understanding in the real world.

It’s the “Why?”, always the “Why?” and it never seems to end.

I’m not complaining, far from it, but whenever I think I’ve got an “a-ha!” moment of clarity, it skitters off in a direction I didn’t expect and I’m left more puzzled than before.

What are the reasons that brought you to writing?

So, meeting the characters in my stories…….

………is a lot like meeting people in life. I get the first impressions of who they are by how they present themselves in their manner of dress, hair and grooming. As I get to know them better, I learn how they think, what their views are, their likes and dislikes, their sense of voice and style and personality.

Sometimes characters, like people, are hard to pin down until they actually show up. Some are mercurial. Some are as they seem to be and others are duplicitous. The last type usually ends up being the villain because, you know, villains require duplicity to achieve whatever goal they may have.

Case in point: My second book, ‘The Pike Horse’ (2012).
Because I don’t want to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, I won’t be identifying the character by name. In my book, one of the characters gains the trust of the narrator, Josie March, and proceeds to manipulate her reality before betraying her in an ugly and violent manner.
This particular character did not start out to be such a nasty piece of work. But the more I worked on the story, the more I became aware that he was not who he at first appeared to be. It was more an intuitive feeling that grew into a conscious realization.

In my Current Work In Progress, another character has gone through at least seven name changes. In addition to that, his nationality went from American to British, which altered his speech patterns. This, in turn, influenced his mannerisms and even his coloring went from blond to dark. All this occurred before he even showed up in the story. It came out of my notes as the story developed and I got to know the character’s motivations and his ethics from the point of view of other characters.

Having detailed biographies of your characters, right down to the time of birth, can be helpful. I often give my characters birth dates, which can have some influence on their perceptions of the world, but I don’t often put a lot of thought into it, unless absolutely necessary.

Case in point: My Current Work In Progress.
I specifically designed an historical timeline and a family tree for this story, to keep track of a particular family and which generation some members came from. A supernatural-themed story, I’ve worked out a system of magic that can be seen in my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls’ (pub. 2011; re-issued 2013).
I chose to have certain characters born in a month under a particular Zodiac sign that belongs to a specific element, which reflected their dominant skill. I’m only starting to see where this thread is leading and I’m agog with curiosity to see how it all plays out.

I actually prefer this not-knowing of my characters. I enjoy the discovery of how to get them into or out of situations that arise in the course of the story. It’s a completely organic process, where a thought will chase a thought and lead me to discover the answer that I’d been unaware I was looking for. To keep the discovery going, I keep a journal and jot down any questions that arise. There are always questions.
As I write and re-write, the questions will either change focus or be answered. I’ve always used the five W’s and one H of journalism to formulate these questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), and they have served me very well.

Don’t be afraid to try any method in getting to know your characters, their wants and their goals. Borrow methods used by other authors and see if they work. Sometimes using another artistic method helps jog the writer’s block loose or opens a train of thought you hadn’t tried before. Don’t worry if one method doesn’t work for you. Find another and try that. Repeat as needed. Writing is a process and there is no one correct way to do it.

The only incorrect way to write is to not write.

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