Tag: characterization

Deep Thinking at the Writer’s Retreat

My Muse is extroverted in every imagined scenario. My actual body and mind are introverted enough to happily stay home every weekend reading a book.
While Musie celebrated the idea of the Deep Thinker’s Writing Retreat, my mind shriveled into the fetal position and begged to visit a library instead. Preferably the one on my iPad which wouldn’t involve moving away from my couch.
Since the retreat was in Florida, my body argued with my feeble mind. “There will be sunshine and blue skies. We can get our daily dose of Vitamin D without taking that soft gel.”


The part of my brain that knows I need a writing tribe and that my writing is falling short—somehow, since I can’t get an agent to jump on it—also slapped the curled mound of quivering gray matter. After all, 2018 is a year for metamorphosis, and the biggest part of that is with my writing.
The battlefield inside didn’t stop me from packing a bag or waking up at 3AM. On waged the upheaval between mind, soul and Musie, while I kissed hubby goodbye and boarded a plane for the first of three legs of the journey to Destin, Florida.

My Expectations

It was a writing retreat. I expected to write.

In fact, I set myself a goal of completing 5,000 new words for the third Sweet Grove Romance. I figured, that’s five hours. I’ll be there six DAYS, surely there will be at least five hours to write.
Not if I expected to sleep.

Not if I hoped to glean the lessons I needed for character development.

I know this is my weak area, and the retreat organizers gave us three days to work on our characters. In fact, we spent hours brainstorming the hero and shero of every retreat attendee.
This after the entire group tossed out ideas for characters of the “group” story we were brainstorming.

Brainstormers Extraordinaire headed by Susan May Warren

Brainstorming is my super power. No less than six people told me that at the group. One woman (a former managing editor for Zondervan) told me to expect an email from her every time she got stuck.
Oh-kay.
But the only time I got to write anything was on the final day of the retreat. Then I was expected to craft the first scene we had brainstormed earlier and share it with my group mentor, Susan May Warren.
She wanted me to share a rough draft scene with her? Was she honestly expecting to see my best work?
Enough of that. Even if the retreat wasn’t what I expected, it was an incredible experience.

A Day in the Life

I don’t sleep in. The fact I was in a different time zone didn’t matter.
I woke up around 5:30 AM (3:30 my time). My roomie woke up, too, and we headed down to the beach for a walk. This became our normal morning routine for the next four days.
Breakfast was meant to be served at 7:30. The oven wasn’t cooperating, so that didn’t happen the first several days. (Eventually the maintenance man arrived and determined that the convection setting was the default, so the retreat hostess had been using that instead of a regular bake setting.)
At 8:45, Rachel Hauck led the group in devotions. She’d recently taught a class on the Song of Solomon at her church, so we got some condensed thoughts from that.
Enlightening, for sure. I was considering the intimacy of my relationship with Christ…and finding it sadly lacking.
Then the morning sessions began. These were the topics:

  • Stories that matter
  • Characters that matter
  • Lindy Hop MEGA
  • 4-Act Plot
  • Plot your bookends
  • Scenes that matter
  • Building your premise

No, we didn’t do ALL those the first day. There were two morning sessions and these were the topics for those sessions (ten planned sessions in all, although it ended up only being eight).
After lunch, the larger group broke into two smaller brainstorming groups of six attendees, one mentor and one scribe (the Administrative Assistant for My Book Therapy was our scribe and the retreat hostess was the scribe for the other group. Both of these ladies are published authors).
Here’s what the afternoon brainstorming sessions were supposed to look like:

  • SEQ Brainstorming (four sessions)
  • Plot Brainstorming (two sessions)
  • Black Moment Brainstorming (one session)
  • Scene One Brainstorming (one session)
  • One session of writing time
  • Two sessions for one-to-one meetings with mentors

Note how I said “supposed to” in the preceding sentence? Yeah, the brainstorming of the hero and shero took the first three days of the retreat for the six authors in our group. A full hour or more per character.

This is what a character SEQ looks like

This left no time for scene brainstorming because the rest of the sessions were needed to brainstorm six plot outlines (LINDY Hop four-act plot diagram).
I will say that we brainstormed the black moments and first scenes as we went, so all the bases were covered.

The Lindy Hop plot for my novella

The first three nights, we watched a movie from 7 to 9 PM. Each person was assigned something from that day’s lesson to find in the movie and we discussed it after the film.

  • We used THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY to discuss characterization on Friday night.
  • On Saturday, we talked about the major plot points with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.
  • They made us cry on Sunday with THE IMPOSSIBLE. We talked about why that movie “worked” when the story was not action-packed. How did they build the emotional tension?

Not surprisingly, the emotion building still fit into the LINDY Hop structure we’d been learning.
Using movies is a great way to solidify the importance of characterization and plot. Everyone has the same frame of reference, so the question of subjectiveness is alleviated.

The spot where phone calls home happened

For the most part. There were varying themes for TARZAN that could be determined by naming different things as the “man in the mirror” moment or “black moment.”
The Deep Thinkers Retreat might not have been what I was expecting. (Notice I didn’t call it a writing retreat there. I think it’s meant to be a writer’s retreat rather than a retreat for writing.) Still, I learned so much that my brain overloaded on the flight home.

The perfect place for writing

My next Sweet Grove romance was written using these methods. In July, you can judge for yourself if this retreat made me a better storyteller.
What makes something a retreat? Have you ever when to a retreat with one set of expectations only to discover it would deliver a different set?

How the real horse in my life affects my fictional creation

A Shire – my character only has two white socks in the front

The cat’s out of the bag. Or in this case, the horse. My new work in progress includes a character that is a horse.

Not too surprising since I’ve already admitted my fascination with the beasts. Hopefully, I’ve come up with a unique way to include a horse in my fantasy novel. You can be the judge when the book is finished, published and available from book sellers everywhere.

In my book, the horse is a magnificent Shire stallion. He is nine feet tall and broader than two barrels. Indeed, he is a beast. But a magnificent one.

In real life, I’m spending time with a lovely mare who is about five feet tall at her back (eye height or so for me. I can see over her). Her coloring is delightful, but she can be stubborn and headstrong.

Enter real life experience that I can use in my fiction. Some horses are docile, meek and cooperative. Others are haughty, high-strung and obtuse. Which one most resembles my experience?

Many people are intimidated by any horse. They’re big, weigh five times the average human and have you seen their teeth? Also, their hooves can crush your foot, or at the least give you an ugly bruise. We won’t even go to the kicking angle.

I’ve never really been scared of a horse. Neither has my protagonist. However, I want her and every reader, no matter how experienced with horses they are, to be intimidated by the horse in my novel. But I don’t want him to be mean, just majestic and worthy of respect.

Spending time with Lily has given me some ideas about how to incorporate authentic horse actions and reactions into my writing. Laying the ears back and showing teeth might be an acceptable (and scary) reaction from my character horse. Kicking and biting (terrifying) are unacceptable.

Just as I would study habits of a person to give my characters quirky traits, I must pay attention to the horse. Do her nostrils flare? What about nodding and shaking her head? What do these outer motions indicate about her feelings?

I’m lucky to know people who willingly let me spend time with their horse. If you want to put a horse (or other animal) as a major character in your story, you’re going to need to spent time observing that animal.

Have you used real life experiences to add authenticity to your writing? Can you give an example? Maybe you have some horse wisdom to impart. I’m all ears, believe me.