How to Use Character Boards When Writing Your Novel

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I love a good collage. There is something about taking found objects and arranging them in new ways to give them new meaning that has always sparked my creativity. I’ve been making collages for as long as I can remember, and in the last few years I’ve gotten on the vision board bandwagon, which REALLY taps into my desire to rip pictures out of magazines and tape or glue them to poster board.

I’ve also used collage to some success in television development. I’ve worked on projects where I was tasked with creating boards to either evoke the mood of a show in development or to help visualize and capture the essence of the main characters in a new show. In a collaborative effort such as working on a TV show, these boards are then used by the artists who are taking these ideas and turning them into something concrete.

When I was working on the second draft of my novel, INSIDE CHANCE, I knew I wanted to go deeper with the characters. I wanted to flesh them out more, understand their back story and motivation more, I wanted to get inside their heads and inside their worlds more. So I figured, if I’ve used collage to create visions for my life, and I’ve used collage to help develop characters for TV shows, why couldn’t I do the same for my novel?

I spent a couple of pleasant hours diving through stacks of magazines at local thrift stores, and scored some truly unique titles and even found some from the 80s, which is when my novel is set. Then I set aside an afternoon and looked through them all, pulling whatever sparked my interest or spoke to me in some way about the character, even if it didn’t make logical sense. Here are three of boards I made:

Joni Chance

Character boards for Joni Chance
Character board for Joni Chance

Cash

Character board for Cash
Character board for Cash

The Bearded Man

Character board for the bearded man
Character board for the bearded man

I hung them over my desk in my workspace, and whenever I was writing, I took some time to look them over. I can tell you that there are things on these boards that made it into the novel – details I would have never included that I took directly from these images, which I think give each character more dimension, more color and more humanity.

If you’re feeling stuck or simply want another way of developing your characters, your setting or your story, why not give collage boards a try? Anyone out there ever done this before when working on a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Music That Inspired “Inside Chance”

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The Cure, Disintegration - if Joni Chance has a favorite album, this is certainly it.
The Cure, Disintegration – if Joni Chance has a favorite album, this is certainly it.

Though I’m the type of writer who needs silence in order to hear my own thoughts, music did color the edges of my writing sessions and help me bring the characters of Inside Chance to life through their musical tastes. I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the songs that inspired me to help create and define them.

My young adult novel is a story about a 14-year-old girl, Joni Chance, who is struggling to come to terms with the strange sounds she keeps hearing in her head. She worries she is going to turn out like her mother, rumored to have been schizophrenic, who disappeared from Joni’s life when she was just four years old.

Joni lives in a small town in Indiana, and is just about to start high school. The year is 1989. I don’t know about you, but I know that when I was 14, music played a big part in my life. It helped me to experience new thoughts and feelings, expanded my universe and helped me understand more fundamentally who I was. Joni experiences that same soul expansion as music helps shape who she is and who she wants to become.

Plainsong, The Cure

Prayers for Rain, The Cure

Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine), R.E.M.

Add It Up, The Violent Femmes

Space Oddity, David Bowie

Where Is My Mind?, The Pixies

How Soon Is Now?, The Smiths (as covered by Yes The Raven)

Big Mouth Strikes Again, The Smiths

Here Comes the Rain Again, The Eurythmics

Mother, Danzig

Hey Joni, Sonic Youth

Mad World, Tears for Fears

Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash

Witchy Woman, The Eagles

3rd (and Final) Draft is (Almost) Complete (For Now)

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I’ve reached yet another milestone in the saga that is writing my first novel. I have finally slogged through a third draft. I say slogged because this draft was by far the hardest.

When I completed the second draft, I had five beta readers look it over. Each one then answered a five-page questionnaire (I found a really great one here and tweaked it a little bit for myself). Have I said how much I love my beta readers? It was a tall order but I have really good friends and the thoughtful feedback they provided was invaluable. Thank you Adam, Lita, Kristina, Kristofer and Jeff. You guys rock.

After reading through everyone’s responses, I then sifted through them again to find out what issues came up more than once, those clearly needed to be addressed. For the remainder of the feedback that wasn’t as crucial I spent some time sitting with the ideas and decided which ones I thought I should incorporate. I then made a list of all those things.

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After that, I sat down with the second draft and basically made a beat sheet – a list of everything that happens in each chapter. It was about 40 pages long. But that was INVALUABLE to me, and I’m really glad I had the idea to do. With that beat sheet and my list of notes, I went through with a red pen and marked all the places where I needed to make changes. In some cases, chapters just had a few things, details that needed to be polished or some dialogue that needed tweaking. Other chapters got a big red X through the whole thing because the entire chapter needed to be rewritten.

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Once that was completed, I took the beat sheet with the notes on it and started back at the beginning of the novel and slowly, SLOWLY, worked my way through to incorporate all the notes. It took me one month to write the first draft. It took me three months to write the second draft. Good lord, it took me about six months, on and off, to complete the third draft. It was hard. It made my brain hurt. It was time to agonize over lines and dialogue and to make them as sharp as possible. Most of the sentences were rewritten. Entire chapters were rewritten, condensed or expanded. I took out about 8,000 words but added in 15,000 new ones.

On Saturday, I finished. I printed the fucker out. Here it is. 58,000 words of a young adult novel.

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This week, I will read through the whole thing again, hopefully in one or two sittings. I’ll make notes as I go, and polish when I’m done. I’ve got someone willing to read it, so it’s time to send it off. That day will be very, very soon. Perhaps as early as next week.

I realize that if anything comes of this, I will more than likely be rewriting the whole thing yet again. And possibly several more times after that. I have come to the realization that I think most writers finally come to, which is that when writing a novel, you will probably rewrite the entire thing from beginning to end. By the time this thing is ready for publishing, I’m not sure any of the original sentences will appear in the manuscript. This is painstaking work, but I keep seeing ways to make it better, and I want to serve the story and these characters that I’ve invested in. They’ve taken on a life of their own, and I want to get their story out there.

Here we go!

The Simple Joy of Learning New Things

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fun2

When was the last time you learned something new on purpose?

Now, I don’t mean like learning how to do pivot tables on Excel or how to perfectly hard-boil an egg so it doesn’t get that weird green ring around the yolk. I mean, when was the last time you learned how to do something new just for the hell of it? Not for work or because you were asked to make deviled eggs for your Aunt Melba’s 66th birthday party.

When did you last learn to do something because it sounded like fun and because you just wanted to?

It’s an easy thing to do when you’re young, because you are in the habit of learning new things. But once you get past a certain age (I’m looking at you, 40), there seems to be less of an emphasis on doing new things for fun. I mean, oh my god, there’s already so much to do that we don’t have time to do, who has time to do something entirely new just for shits and giggles?

But, really, shouldn’t we be learning new things? Life can be a straight-up drag sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) so I think it’s more important than ever to purposely do new fun things as we get older. It keeps your brain young, it connects you to your inner child and it can make you smile, dammit! They’re good for you!

The best part of learning fun new things at a certain age is that you’re probably not going to get graded on it. No career is hinging on it. Your livelihood isn’t on the line. It’s for fun! So it’s okay to fuck up! In fact, fucking up can be kind of fun in and of itself!

Here I am demonstrating a fun new thing that I’m learning how to do – play the ukulele! I’m singing “Drops of Jupiter” and fucking up while I’m doing it. But you know what? It’s fun! I’m doing it just for me (and OK, for my cats, too) and it makes me smile and it helps me relax and it makes me feel good that I can do something I’ve never done before.

You don’t have to learn French or how to fly a plane (well, you can if you want to). It doesn’t have to be hard. The only requirement is that it sounds like fun.

So what new fun thing are you going to learn how to do?

 

A Ceremony to Welcome 2016

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Like most folks around the New Year, I get a little introspective. I’m one who enjoys rituals and ceremonies and the symbolic significance they can hold. There’s power in ceremony, in the deliberate focus that it requires. If nothing else, it gets your thoughts in order.

I also believe in the power of thought. A lesson that keeps coming at me is “What you think about, you create.” Wallow in thinking that you don’t have enough, and you never will. Reframing it into gratitude for what you have and visualizing what you want to make space for seems to be an important ingredient of success.

This New Year is about letting go of what doesn’t serve me and inviting – in a specific way – what I want in my life. So I figured I’d create a little ceremony around that idea, give it some space to rattle around in my head and my heart for a bit, to help it resonate a little louder. Beckon it into being.

Hubs is endlessly supportive of these whims of mine, so he was on board for the little outing I devised for us to welcome 2016.

We headed about an hour north of Los Angeles to the seaside village of Carpinteria. I’ve never been before, but passed it on the highway at least a dozen times over the years, on the road to flashier destinations. I wanted to go somewhere we’d never been, to symbolize new horizons, new adventures for the New Year.

Carpinteria did not disappoint. I’m surprised more people don’t take day trips up here (or maybe they do and I just don’t know it). There’s a swatch of coastline that the locals have rallied to protect, known as the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. From January to May, a portion of the beach is closed so that harbor seals have a place to birth and raise their pups. A knowledgeable volunteer was positioned at the overlook and gave us some background on the seals. Several other folks were out having a look, enjoying what was a warm January afternoon.

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harbor seals basking in the sunlight on the beach in Carpinteria

After watching the seals sunbathe for a few minutes, we hiked down to the portion of the beach that was still open. It’s a bit rough-and-tumble down here, the beach is rocky, so it was blissfully quiet, save for a few people walking their dogs and jogging on the beach (which seemed treacherous to me, but to each his own).

Hubs and I scrounged a few smooth rocks from the beach – there were more than enough, of course – and we each took a Sharpie and wrote on the rocks what we want to let go of and what we want to invite in. (Okay, I feel a tiny bit guilty about defacing the rocks, but I also think it will be fun for someone to later find a rock that says “love” or “$$$$$” – I know I would).

Goodbye, anxiety!
Goodbye, anxiety!

I had already been thinking about what I wanted to write, and it felt good to turn into the coastal wind, waves washing up around my Wellies, and hurl those rocks into the ocean. I was afraid my arm would hurt the next day. Hubs – ever simple in his ways – tossed two rocks into the ocean. I threw in about a dozen in all.

See you later, doubt!
See you later, doubt!

Like most people, I’ve pinned a lot of hopes for 2016. I feel that urge to hit the reset button on January 1st. I’d very much like to ditch some of my negative ways of thinking and being, and a adopt a healthier, more positive outlook. I’ve come a long way already, but there is always, always farther to go. But that’s part of the fun, is it not? To keep practicing gratitude an acknowledgement of what we have, how far we’ve come, but to keep reaching for more, to be better.

Hubs and I each collected (and saved) a heart-shaped rock.
Hubs and I each found a heart-shaped rock.
My Wellies loved being tickled by the waves.
My Wellies loved being tickled by the waves.

How do you welcome in the New Year?

 

 

 

The Never-Ending Hope for More

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It’s New Year’s Day, 2016.

I feel this obligation to write something beautiful and profound this morning, because that’s what we’re supposed to do today, right? We’re supposed to have a sudden clarity of purpose and concoct the perfect list of how to “get it right” this year? A guide for our collective do-over?

I don’t feel that way this morning. It feels like most other mornings.

On this day I feel the same hopes for more. Isn’t that often what it boils down to – wanting more, hoping for more? I haven’t had any breakthroughs in the last 24 hours, I didn’t dream of a perfect future last night after bidding 2015 adieu. I fell asleep as I normally do, got up as I normally do. I’m still hoping to figure out how to do better in this new year. How to get more right, to feel happier more often. I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s good to name what you want, what you’re hoping to find, in order to call it into your life.

I hope to find that clarity of purpose this year. I hope to exorcise some demons. I hope to lessen anxiety’s grip on my heart and mind, even just a little bit.

I hope to feel good about myself in my pants. I hope to eat less sugar and to take more walks.

I hope to be gentle with myself.

I hope to make more time for friends and to break out of my self-imposed isolation more.

I hope to have more courage to face down whatever discomfort, unpleasantness or calamity may visit me this year.

I hope to laugh more, to sing more, to dance more, to look at the night sky in dark places more.

I hope to show my husband in both word and deed how much I love him and am grateful for him more often.

I hope to call my parents more, and to figure out how to Skype with them more so I can see their beautiful faces.

I hope to cuddle more with my husband, because he likes it so much (the cats get plenty of cuddles – any more and I might need an intervention).

I hope to pay more attention, to follow my own deadlines more, to eat healthy food more and to avoid the foods that make me hate my pants more.

I hope to work with a sense of ease more often, to express my gratitude more and to move with a light heart more.

I hope to be more authentic – whatever that means – and to let my inner compass guide me more, even if it feels like the wrong direction.

I hope to write more and to find more ways to make more money doing what I love.

I hope for more peace among my neighbors – both those close at hand and those across the globe. Aren’t we all now neighbors in this modern age?

I hope my loved ones find more inner peace, more moments of grace and laughter and joy, more connection and more meaning.

I hope to learn more, to read more, to listen to good music more.

I hope to watch the birds flit around the yard more, to share more meals and meet more interesting people.

And even with all these hopes for more, I hope to feel more gratitude for what I already have and for who I already am. I hope to find more balance between hoping for more and being grateful for what is.

What do you hope for more of in the New Year?

tennyson

 

Projects, Projects and More Projects

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While I do make a serious attempt to publish at least one post per week here on ZeitClites, occasionally life dictates otherwise. These last couple of weeks have distracted me greatly from that purpose, but it’s all good. What it means is that November is shaping up to be an intensely creative month.

Just what does that entail? Well, for those of you who have been following my progress on my first novel, you’ll be happy to know I’m about halfway finished with the 3rd draft. I’ve given myself a deadline of October 31st to finish. Truth be told, I don’t know that I’ll make that deadline, but I do want to finish soon. Can I just say – rewrites are hard! Holy crap. My brain gets tired out easily trying to unweave and re-weave this story, but I shall persevere. My goal is to start sending out queries at the first of the year.

Secondly, I’m throwing caution, planning and an outline to the wind to begin my second novel on November 1st. That’s when NaNoWriMo 2015 begins, and I know that hitching my wagon to that steam train helps me to be uber-productive and pump out 50,000 words in 30 days. I have the idea and the world in my head, but there are many details to work out. I’ve decided to use the month of November to just write, write and write some more, so that I can get this world and these characters on paper. Here’s to shitty first drafts! (And if you’re planning to participate, let’s be writing buddies! You can find me on the NaNo site as addiechance).

And if that wasn’t enough, I’ve been asked to co-write a screenplay for an indie feature with some long-time collaborators whose work I greatly admire. Though I’m not at liberty to discuss any details as of yet, I can tell you – I’m excited! I was on a conference call at 8 a.m. this morning and it was an energizing way to kick off the week. I can’t wait to get started!

Meanwhile, Halloween is this weekend, and being that it’s my favorite holiday I will be devoting the day to getting my spook on, dressing in scary costumes with my husband, and terrifying the local children while handing out candy. I’ve got my fog machine, my strobe light, and my soundtrack of terror all lined up. It’s one of the best days of the year, in my book!

Thought I'd just go as myself this year.
Thought I’d just go as myself this year.

The Authentic Life of Bill Cunningham

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There are so many ways to live a life.

I think about this idea from time to time, when I’m reflecting on whether or not I am living as authentically as I could be. If I’m listening to my intuition and bravely setting off in my own direction. There are times when I feel like I am dancing in sync with that divine melody, and other times when I am clearly out of step.

I had a glimpse at a life lived in naked truth this weekend. I happened upon a documentary on Netflix called “Bill Cunningham New York.” I don’t know why, but at the moment it looked like EXACTLY the thing I wanted to watch (and I happily found it after only a few minutes of searching, as opposed to the hour+ it normally takes me to decide on a film).

Holy cow, what an interesting man! I’m certainly not a fashion maven, though I do have passing interest in how people dress, myself included. But I don’t follow the fashion world and I avoid fashion magazines like I do old boyfriends.

Well, apparently, I’ve been missing something pretty great.

Bill Cunningham photographs people on the street in Manhattan for the New York Times, focusing on how they express their individual style through what they wear. He’s been doing this every day since 1978.

photo credit: https://zeitgeistfilms.com/billcunninghamnewyork/
photo credit: https://zeitgeistfilms.com/billcunninghamnewyork/

To be clear – he is not paparazzi. He is a bona fide documentarian, not interested in celebrity or money. He is invited to all the best society parties and functions, but he doesn’t attend them to have a good time or to avail himself of all the free food and booze. He often doesn’t accept money for the work he does. He lives simply in an apartment stuffed with file cabinets and sleeps on a cot. He wears the same blue workman’s smock that he has been wearing for decades. He uses old school film. He rides his bike everywhere. He is 86.

He is absolutely amazing.

I find it fascinating to think about all the different ways one can live a life. Those that make unusual choices and take direction solely from their inner compass are the most intriguing. Bill Cunningham embodies this idea in the most simple and joyful way. I smiled the entire time I was watching the film.

If you have a little free time, do check out this documentary, even if fashion is not your thing. Because it’s not about fashion. It is about joy and truth and culture and honesty. It has inspired me to tune into that inner voice and listen to it more carefully, and to seek out beauty.

If you see the film, let me know what you think!

 

Sadness

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sadness

There’s so much sadness in my world right now.

Well, maybe there isn’t more sadness than usual, but I’m noticing that my friends have more of a willingness to share their sadness.

Folks are sad for a myriad of reasons, all of them perfectly good, tangible reasons to feel sad – a break up, a sudden and unexpected career shift, a life-changing illness.

There’s also a deep well of sadness for those things that aren’t so tangible – disappointment with oneself, a perceived sense of failure, a lack of meaning with one’s life, a feeling that one just isn’t quite enough.

I look around at my friends, my family, at myself in the mirror, and I see sadness reflected back at me. Defeat. Anxiety. Fear. It has many names, this multi-headed beast.

But I think that’s okay.

I think it’s okay that we’re all a little sad right now. A friend of mine who is going through a career shift, a life-defining transition that was self-imposed – wrote a beautiful piece on it today that I thought was absolutely lovely.

Which got me to thinking about where we are. Where I am. I have sadness, too. Sometimes it’s pretty heavy. I’ve had storms of tears over the last couple of weeks. I’ve had crushing disappointment with myself. With my mistakes, my failures, my stubborn insistence on following this path I’ve forged for myself, which is pretty rocky at the moment. I actually said, “I hate myself” out loud more than a few times over the last few days.

Then I got tired of it. I just got tired of hating myself. It serves no purpose other than to set me back. It depletes my energy. Hating yourself takes so much energy, it burns up your resources. It tires you out quickly. And I realized that’s just bullshit.

So I decided to stop hating myself. Seriously – I made a decision to not do it anymore. I decide how to treat myself, and I decided that I deserved better than that. You do, too.

Don’t hate yourself because you’re sad, or you feel defeated, or you made a mistake. Even in you made a really, really big mistake.

Instead, practice self-forgiveness. I’m quick to forgive others, why can’t I treat myself the same way, right?

So I’m going to sit with the sadness for a little while, hold its hand, tell it that it’s okay for it to stick around as long as it doesn’t mind sharing space with happiness, joy and excitement. Because I feel those things, too. Sometimes all at the same time! Our emotions can co-exist. Sadness is just one part of who we are.

So, if you feel sad right now, know that I feel sad, too. And that it’s okay.

We’re human.

 

 

The Strange Things People Buy

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You may remember a few weeks ago I told you about how I cleaned out my house using the Konmari Method, and how all this stuff was now piled up on my back patio. Well, we finally had our garage sale.

It was weird!

Okay, I’ll clarify that a little bit. If you’ve never had a garage sale, I’m here to tell you they are a HELLUVA lot of work. Oh my goodness. Pricing everything, posting ads, hanging up signs, getting change from the bank, waking up before dawn to set up, and then sitting there all day in the heat while strangers paw through your personal belongings. It made me feel tired and WEIRD.

I didn’t have a strong emotional response when I went through the big purge. But putting all those discarded items out for the world to see was kind of like getting punched in the gut. It takes the wind out of you a little bit. It’s strange to see what people buy and what they don’t. For example:

The Things People DIDN’T Buy

  • The almost brand-new telescope
  • The brand-new Osterizer blender
  • Designer clothes
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Board games
  • Not ONE SINGLE BOOK and I had out boxes of them

Some of these things I thought FOR SURE would sell. We priced everything ROCK BOTTOM, but people still wanted to haggle over something marked 25 cents. It makes me feel kind of icky when something that I once valued so highly isn’t even worth 25 cents to someone. I’m telling you, it’s WEIRD!

The Things People DID Buy

  • 8x10s of U2, Molly Ringwald and Britny Fox (for those who don’t know, they were a glam band from the 80s)*
  • ALL of the underwear literally SOLD OUT**
  • Fur-lined handcuffs*** & ****

The People You Meet

It’s also WEIRD to be held captive in your garage while people haggle over your stuff and then want to stand there and chat for half an hour. We met so many different and interesting people.

There was the Air Force vet who bought my softball glove so he could play catch with the neighbor boy who was starting Little League. He told us several stories about serving in the Korean War.

There was the elderly woman who showed up at my house a full hour before the sale started who was specifically interested in my vintage brooches. She then stayed for an hour and got to talking about baking bread with Adam. She came back on Sunday just to tell us that she had visited a local café we told her about that bakes fresh bread, and that they were making a loaf of rye special for her.

There was the 7 year old kid from across the street who came over several times over the course of two days and literally picked up every single thing we were selling and asked us, “How much is this?”

I don’t know, that garage sale took a lot out of me. I think I may be out of commission for awhile. But we did sell some stuff and managed to make a couple hundred dollars, so it was worth it in the end, since it was going to be donated anyway.

Have you ever had a garage sale? Did it make you feel weird, too?

* – These were one of the first things to sell, purchased by a middle-aged man who didn’t buy anything else. I didn’t think anybody would buy them, I was surprised they went so fast.

** – Okay, they were BRAND NEW underwear, and some still had tags on but some didn’t. Adam thought it was gross that I was putting underwear in the garage sale, but I’m telling you, they were a hot commodity! I had over a dozen pairs for sale at $1 each and EVERY SINGLE PAIR sold. (And for those of you with dirty minds, it wasn’t like in “Orange Is The New Black,” I’m pretty sure all the women I sold the underwear to were planning on wearing them).

*** – That 7 year old boy from across the street I was telling you about? Yeah, he convinced his mom to buy him the handcuffs. Luckily, several people were present to witness the event, especially because he thought they were $100, not $1, so he was carrying them around, shouting “These are $100??!” like it was totally blowing his mind.

**** – Don’t tell me you don’t have fur-lined handcuffs at your house, too. Okay, you might not sell them in your garage sale, but then you’d miss out on watching a young boy convince his mom that he HAD TO HAVE THEM.

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The spirit of the time as experienced by me, Amy Clites