Can I start out this post by getting a little weepy? Don’t worry, there haven’t been any more deaths in the family or anything like that, but I have another reason to be a bit teary-eyed today. You see, as this post becomes live my daughter – my only child, by the way – is taking part in her first ever class of kindergarten. For the rest of the year, three half-days a week, she’ll be taking part in a “school” program for 4-year-olds, making new friends, learning new things, and getting used to what it means to be in school with teachers instead of home with parents. I know that she’ll do great, and I know that it will be very good for her, and I’m not worried at all about her…but I can’t help being just a little bit sad. My baby girl isn’t a baby anymore. How does that happen? And how can I stop it? *cry*
Okay, okay…I’m okay. Let’s move on to other, less teary things.
The past few weeks have been rough, and you may have noticed that as a result I missed two accountability posts in a row. So this week will be a bit of a conglomerate of the past three weeks.
Goal #1: Lose ten pounds and become healthier overall.
I’m currently back out West again, so I can’t quote any numbers, but I can tell you that I’m currently experiencing a bit of an up-and-down period. Before the weeks that I missed, I’d been cutting out all beverages aside from water and tea, as well as trying to eat less in general, and that was going well. By the time I got home from my last shift I’d lost almost four pounds. But, as you know, the weeks that followed were busy and stressful. I had a couple of nights drinking (and eating, like, a metric ton of food) with family, followed by a shopping trip that involved a lot of poor meal choices, punctuated by a few days of flat-out refusing to do anything at all because I was so tired. As a result of all of that I’m fairly certain that I’ve gained back at least half – if not all – of what I lost. But I’m not letting that drag me down. I’m back on to the water and tea, and I’m determined to get a decent amount of sleep while I’m at work this shift. Wish me luck.
Goal #2: Be more active on social media and work hard on my author platform.
This goal has taken a back seat recently, since I’ve been so busy and stressed out, but it’s not all bad. I’ve had a difficult time keeping up with the blogging community because that involves so much reading, but I’ve been more active on Twitter, and I’ve been continuing to post videos on YouTube (please check them out…my handle is toreshitobinable). I even recorded a new video from my camp room last night, though it’s not been posted yet. All in all, I think I’m managing pretty well considering how busy I’ve been of late. This goal could definitely use more work, but I’m satisfied that I haven’t been screwing up too much. 😛
Goal #3: COMPLETE my zombie apocalypse novel, Nowhere to Hide.
Awesome, awesome, awesome news on this one! I didn’t get to talk about it two weeks ago, but I completed my mini-goal of finishing the final edits on the manuscript by the end of my last shift. I then shipped off the finished manuscript to my beta-reader for a final run-through, for which I am currently awaiting word on. But the best part? While I’ve been waiting for her, I fixed up my book cover, created a rear cover with a summary, and went through almost every step to self-publish on CreateSpace. My files have all been approved and I literally just have to hit “Print!” As soon as I get word from my beta-reader I’m going to go through the manuscript one more time to check for hidden typos and the like, and then it’s off to the printers! I’m so excited! I am seriously, genuinely almost there! AHHHH!!!!!!
Goal #4: Write 500,000 words.
You know what? I don’t even care about this goal right now because I’m so excited about my novel! AHHHH!!!!
Okay, okay, I do still care, but I can’t really report because I haven’t been keeping proper track of everything the past couple of weeks. I know that the first week I missed I had something like 7000 words, then the second week I wrote effectively nothing, and this past week I wrote probably about 3000 worth of subscription box reviews, so let’s just call it about 10,000 over the past three weeks. That puts me in around 200,000 words so far this year. That’s very far behind, but once I get the self-publishing bit out of the way I’ll have nothing left to do but write, and oh boy, have I got some stuff in my head that’s ready to get down onto paper. 😀
And on that cheery note, I’m going to dance off into the metaphorical sunset where my internal editor can live happily ever after. ❤
Have you ever gotten angry with someone for something they did…in your dreams? I don’t mean getting mad while still dreaming, but actually waking up and looking at that person and genuinely wanting to punch them in the face for what your subconscious imagined them doing during your brain’s nightly firing of neurons?
Humans can be extremely unreasonable creatures in a great number of circumstances, but I think this may possibly be the most unreasonable reaction possible. And yet, if you’re one of many people who have had this kind of dream and experienced the aftereffects, you understand exactly what I’m talking about. You wake up and you know that it was a dream, you know that it was just your stupid brain making up weird stories with no basis in truth or reality…but you still look at that person and your body fills up with rage and you have to seriously restrain yourself from making an ass of yourself by calling them out.
I have these kinds of dreams constantly, and it can be very exhausting. I suspect that it’s a very normal thing to experience conflict and upsetting situations in dreams, but that most people forget those conflicts by the time they’ve woken up. As someone who has always had very vivid and intricate dreams – and almost always remembers them upon waking – I have to actually deal with those conflicts and the unreasonable emotion they awaken.
For example, one night not too long ago, I was dreaming that my sister-in-law and I were shopping with our daughter’s in a large and complicated mall. Sis-in-law suggested that we should get the girls tattoos and I laughed, thinking it was a joke because the girls are only 3 and 4. But then, when I turned around, sis-in-law had disappeared with both girls. I went on a frantic search through the ridiculously busy and difficult-to-navigate mall until I eventually spotted them at the food court. I relaxed for a half a moment until I saw that my daughter – my 3-year-old daughter – now had a tattoo on the back of her hand. I woke up absolutely livid, even though I know damn well that my sis-in-law would never do something so idiotic.
The human brain is wonderful at tricking itself into believing in nonsense, and I think that’s part of the problem with these kinds of dreams. There have been studies that show that people can be – quite easily, in fact – tricked into “remembering” events from their childhood that never really happened, so long as they are given sufficient evidence (other people’s testimonies, for example) that the event did occur. It’s not a far stretch, then, that your own brain should be able to trick you into believing that something it made up really happened, at least long enough to set off all the hormones and emotional responses that would equate with such an event. Thus, you wind up with the typical stories, like grown adults flipping out on their spouses for any number of events that were completely fabricated within their own mind.
And while I know that it’s entirely unreasonable to act on the emotion you took away with you from dreamland, I can’t really blame the people who do because, let’s face it…your sleeping brain can be a complete asshole sometimes. For example, I am in a completely happy monogamous relationship with my husband. I trust him, and he (I assume) trusts me, and we love each other very much. And yet, on a fairly regular basis, my brain will have me dreaming about him being unfaithful in some way. I have woken up from dreams feeling like my heart just got ripped out, and I have woken up from dreams certain that I was going to break his face while he was still sleeping. Luckily I’m a (moderately) reasonable person who knows the difference between dreams and reality, but that doesn’t make the emotions that follow such a dream any less real. Eventually, when the fallout wears off and I’m able to take a deep breath and think again, I blame my brain for being a total pain-in-the-ass jerk.
Dreams…the window to the soul, or an open opportunity for your subconscious to torture you and see how much of a fool it can make you act like?
I know I’m not the only one. Who else here has woken up mad as hell, or bawling your eyes out, even though you know that what you just dreamed about didn’t really happen? Have you ever accidentally acted on those feelings before you could bring yourself back to reality? Share!
Occasionally I find it interesting to look back at my life, to mentally stack up the “Me”‘s from throughout history and to compare them. I find it interesting to look back and see how things have changed, how attitudes and interests have shifted…or how they’ve stayed the same, because some things never change.
When I was a kid I loved the winter. Now that I’m an adult with many daily concerns, I loathe it. I still love December because that’s Christmas and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving Christmas no matter how old and crotchety I get. But as soon as the New Year rolls over I am officially DONE with winter, and then it’s just suffering for the next few months. When I was a kid playing in the snow was the best thing ever. Now it’s fun watching my daughter play in the snow, but only until my nose gets cold and then I’m bribing her with everything under the sun to convince her to come back in the house. I hate the wind, I hate the slushy crap that winds up everywhere once a bit of snow melts, and I hate the fact that it seems to last forever in Eastern Canada. There’s nothing worse than the first day of Spring when there’s still snow on the ground.
When I was younger I was an enormous scaredy-cat. I loved watching the “creepy” shows that YTV used to play on Friday night – Are You Afraid of the Dark? was my absolute favorite – and I read tons of scary books like the Goosebumps series, but underneath I was a total wuss. I’d hide my eyes during parts of the shows, and I’d have a hundred lights on around me while reading my books. I gave myself nightmares on a regular basis. And as I got older and was dragged kicking and screaming into more “adult” scary stuff, it got more pathetic. I couldn’t watch a horror movie without nearly having a heart attack. These days I couldn’t resemble that scaredy-cat girl any less. I partly attribute this to my husband who, while we were dating, subjecting me with a metric ton of horror movies, both good and bad, both genuinely frightening and only frightening in how ridiculous they were. At this point I’ve become so desensitized, it’s almost disappointing. I enjoy being scared now, but it happens very rarely. And these days my nightmares do not involve monsters, ghosts, or evil creatures; my nightmares these days involve my daughter having an accident, my husband leaving me, or my house burning down. Dammit, I’ve become such an adult.
In a twist, I was significantly more into video games as an adult than I was as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I loved video games when I was little. I had an Atari when I wasn’t even in school yet, I treasured my very first Nintendo Entertainment System, and I only know one or two people who logged as many hours as me into Chrono Trigger. But video games were not my life when I was a kid. I played them, and I loved them, but I also spent a lot of time outside, riding my bike or my roller-blades. I spent a lot of time writing and drawing, and “building” things (have I told you about the entire closet that I devoted to creating a dollhouse?). Truth be told, I did not spend nearly as much time playing video games during the first 18 years of my life as I did in the five years following those. Maybe that was because I got lazier and wanted to spend more time just loafing around. I don’t really know. But in my early twenties I definitely spent a lot more time on video games than I had at any other point in my youth. These days things have slowed down simply because I have a lot more responsibilities on my plate, but my Playstation Vita has been reigniting a spark in me, and don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t spend every waking second playing games if I weren’t able to convince myself that I have more important things to do.
I’ve always hated to cook. I really don’t think that’s ever going to change. There have always been a few things that I didn’t mind making. When I was a kid I’d whip myself up some English Muffin pizzas, and when I was a little older I’d fry up some hot Italian sausages and hash browns (a totally under-recognized meal, in my opinion), but for the overwhelming part the task of creating edible, enjoyable meals has always been one that gives me a twitch right above my eye. I enjoy eating. I hate cooking. I don’t mind baking so much because it’s usually very formulaic – add ingredients, stir, pour into pan, bake – but there’s only so much sugar you can serve to your family. I don’t think I will ever enjoy cooking. It’s just not my thing, and I screw up often enough that even the eating part isn’t always enjoyable.
Some things change, some things don’t. Some changes (or lack thereof) are quite surprising. Who else wants to share? Look back at yourself… What differences pop up in your mind and give you a little chuckle?
Christmastime is nearly here, and my household is getting pretty darn excited. Christmas is my favorite time of year, bar none, so with tomorrow being Christmas Eve I thought I’d share some favorite moments, memories, and traditions.
– Even during the times when my family didn’t necessarily have a lot of money, I was always spoiled at Christmas. I can’t remember a single holiday season when I didn’t get a few presents that absolutely shocked and amazed me. And even though my parents weren’t always very knowledgeable about the things I liked (hello…my mother still called video games “movies” until I was about sixteen), they always managed to pay enough attention to get me the best presents. I still remember the year I got my original Nintendo Entertainment System, even though I hadn’t been brave enough to ask for one, and nothing beat the year my parents managed to track down a used copy of the game I rented every single week – Final Fantasy III (VI). Those kinds of gifts, regardless of cost or how new or popular they were, really proved to me that my parents cared about giving me an awesome holiday, and I plan to try my very hardest to continue that tradition with my own daughter.
– Call me an old-timer if you wish, but I swear this is the truth: young people these days are selfish when it comes to work and holidays. It seems like every young employee out there, regardless of how little time they’ve been with their company, seems to think that they deserve every holiday off – with pay of course! I wish all of them could experience some of the earlier Christmases that my mother experienced when I was a child. My mother used to have to work every year on Christmas. Her shift was 7 am to 3 pm. She would get up with my father and I at about 5 am so that I could open my presents before she had to go to work, and most years she would even get the turkey going in the oven sometime in between those presents. After being up super-early she would go do her 8-hour shift, come home and get the veggies on the stove, and have Christmas dinner on the table by 5. That’s not to mention all the little things I didn’t even notice as a child, like cleaning up after dinner, sweeping away all the wrapping paper, and playing host to all the family members who would come visit us in the evening. Plus I was one of those kids who was up half the night on Christmas Eve, so mom and dad were probably up until midnight, assembling toys and arranging presents under the tree. And mom never whined about having to work the holiday.
– I have this Christmas calendar that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those homemade deals, made with felt and dowels. It has a nice picture of Santa and Mrs Claus on the top, and all the dates have little pockets, which hold a little felt mouse who marks the date. I loved that calendar when I was little, and I’ve kept it all this time, and you can’t imagine how happy it makes me feel to watch my daughter move that little mouse every day with a big smile on her face. The important traditions are the ones that you pass on and that make your heart full.
– Some traditions carry on, but some change or disappear completely. When I was little I always got to open one present on Christmas Eve…it was almost always pajamas, but at least I got to open something. In my husband’s family they didn’t do that, and he holds firm to that level of self-restraint. There will be no opening of gifts early in this household. Our daughter will just have to deal with the stress. XD
– In past years I’ve received many an eye-roll or snarky comment from my parents and inlaws, relating to the gifts my husband and I buy for each other at Christmas. We’re huge kids at this time of year, and often times there’s a stuffed toy or two for me, an action figure or collectible for him, or something else terribly silly. Half the time in recent years our daughter has ended up being the one to play with these gifts, and our older family members look at us like we’re nuts, or going through a second childhood or something. To them I blow a raspberry and stick up my nose. My husband and I love being silly and fun with each other, and that’s all there is to it. The day we stop having fun with each other at Christmas is the day we may as well just give up. Here’s to many, many more years of ridiculously childish gifts!
– Three years ago I got the best early Christmas gift a person could ever get. My little baby girl was born on December 4th, and though she’s opened presents and enjoyed the spoils within in past years, this will be the first year that she really has some clue as to what is happening. You can’t imagine how excited I am to get her up on Christmas morning, to show her that Santa Claus has come and left her lots of goodies, and to sit all day and watch her tear at wrapping paper and awe at all her wonderful new toys. That, to me, is so much better than opening presents myself. To just sit there and see the joy on her face as she rips open each new toy…that’s the meaning of Christmas to me.
So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or the holiday greeting of your choice to you all. May you enjoy the season in whichever way you choose, hopefully surrounded by loved ones and lots of fun. That’s my plan. 🙂
Foreword for my American readers: I’ve known some Americans who were completely baffled to find out that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on a different day from them, so this is just a little message to say, hey, feel free to ignore this Thanksgiving Day post. Don’t worry, I’ll still love you. 🙂
I have to be honestly: Thanksgiving is not one of the big holidays for me. For me it’s mostly all about the turkey and the stuffing that comes with it. Hey, I’m just being honest.
But in honor of this day that is supposed to remind us to be thankful for all we have, here’s a partial list of things that I should keep in mind whenever I’m feeling down:
– I’m thankful for my daughter, my little mini-me, who makes my heart swell and burst at least a dozen times a day.
– I’m thankful for my husband, who puts up with me (a difficult task) and makes me laugh constantly, even when I don’t feel like laughing.
– I’m thankful for the rest of my family (my parents, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles and cousins) whom I love and who helped make me who I am today.
– I’m thankful for my friends, even though most of them are far away from me, because I didn’t have that many of them growing up, so the ones I have are super-special.
– I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to get ahead in life, to get rid of debts early, and to make life a little better for my family.
– I’m thankful for every second I get to write, to do what I love to do the most.
– I’m thankful for all the time I’ve had, and whatever time I’ve got left, because goodness knows we don’t get a lot of it.
Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Canadians! Hope you all have a great day!
Sometimes, without intending too, kids will make your heart swell until it feels like it might explode. See, half of the time kids, especially small ones, don’t even realize what they’re doing or what makes it so important or special. That’s what’s so wonderful about them.
A couple of weeks ago I was having a terribly awful day. For whatever reason that morning I woke up feeling as though my sinuses had just given up on life. I was stuffed up to the high heavens, and I couldn’t stop sneezing, but my nose wasn’t runny so I couldn’t help relieve the pressure by blowing it. I took two different kinds of allergy medicine even though it wasn’t necessarily a good idea to do so, and neither of them helped me in the slightest. I took a long, hot shower, but that didn’t help either. By the time the afternoon rolled around I was drowsy, lethargic, and I had an enormous headache, and my sinuses hadn’t gotten the tiniest bit better. I felt like complete and utter crap, and so I went up to my bedroom, collapsed on my bed, and shoved my face in my pillow, intent on staying right there until I either felt better or died.
I was in this position when my daughter wandered up to me and started pulling on my arm, wanting to play. When I didn’t respond to her immediately she started asking, “You okay? You okay?” as she is wont to do. Without looking up I told her as gently as I could manage, “No, hon, mama isn’t okay. Mama’s head hurts really bad.” She responded with interest, “Mama’s head hurt?” and I told her, “Yes. Mama’s head hurts very very bad.” She continued, “Mama sad?” and I agreed, “Yes, Mama sad.”
She skittered away, and I assumed she understood that I didn’t want to play just then. But a moment later I felt something poking at me. At first I thought she had just returned to try to convince me to play, but the poking felt odd, so I shifted my arm and peeked out. She was poking me with the little red-and-white-checkered square of material that is supposed to be the blanket for her toy picnic set. When she saw I’d looked up at her she waved it at me as though to say, “Take it!” I shifted again and took the piece of material from her. Without saying anything she made a little motion toward her own eyes, indicating that she wanted me to use the material to wipe away my “tears”.
I almost died, it was so adorable, and I immediately did as I was told, wiping away my imaginary tears. When I was finished my daughter grinned up at me and asked, “All better?” And though, physically, I still felt as though I’d been hit by an entire convoy of trucks, I grinned back at her and agreed, “All better.” Because sometimes you just need to know that someone cares, and when that someone is a toddler, whose entire existence is awash in selfish desires, it makes it all that much more special.
I’ve complained about my sleep problems here a few times now. They are great and plentiful, and range from “tossed and turned all night for a week and a half” to “my dreams were so vivid I woke up more exhausted then when I went to bed”. Since I seem to have so much trouble with sleep, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m neither a night person nor a morning person. I generally like to be snoring well before midnight, and I’m cranky as a bear if I wake up before 8 am. I am one of those people for whom the “8 hours a night” adage is 100% true. If I don’t get my 8 hours I am not a happy camper.
Now, because I have a toddler, those 8 hours can be hard to come by, but for the most part I usually manage to get to sleep early enough so that when she wakes up to go potty or ask for a glass of milk it doesn’t disturb me too badly. And since my daughter isn’t exactly a morning person herself, usually our mornings mesh pretty well.
But every now and then my daughter senses something, and she takes advantage.
Last night I was awake until at least 1 am. For some reason I was wide awake, so it took a while for me to pass out…and precisely four hours later, at 5 am, there came a “bang, bang, bang” on my daughter’s door. She didn’t need to go potty, and she didn’t want a drink. She wanted to get up and go downstairs to play. I managed to convince her that she couldn’t get up yet because it was still dark, and back into bed she went. I returned to my own bed to try to get some more sleep, but instead I tossed and turned…until 6 am, when my daughter began pounding on the door again to inform me that the sun was now up and thus it was time to get up. I could scarcely argue with her, since I’d just explained to her that dark means bedtime.
Okay, so perhaps this isn’t exactly a fact about kids, but I’d be willing to bet that most parents out there would agree with me. Kids just seem to have this power, this sixth sense if you will, that tells them when the best opportunity to screw over their parents is. And so the first night in ages that I couldn’t fall asleep at a decent time also became the first night in ages that my daughter decided to get up at the crack of dawn.
Your kids will do this. They will do this on a regular basis. You will wonder how in the world they can know the exact right time to mess with you. You’ll wonder if they’re doing it on purpose, trying to see how far they can push you, to see if they can make you crack. It’s ingrained in them. It’s part of who they are. Get used to it, because it’s a bumpy ride filled with lots of jaw-clenching annoyance and fatigue.
Which, of course, makes the ride no less awesome and adorable.
The first week of The Artist’s Way is all about recovering a sense of “safety”. Miss Cameron fully admits that this week will probably feel silly, even stupid, but that you should push through it anyway because it’s important. The exercises involve writing affirmations (basically sentences that you say to yourself to tell yourself how great you really are), acknowledging your “blurts” (negative thoughts that spring to mind, such as “I’m such a terrible writer”), and facing the demons in your past that have caused you to think negatively. The whole idea, overall, is to face the fact that we all have an internal voice (a “Censor”, she calls it) that shouts negative comments at us all the time, even (and especially) when we don’t deserve it. And generally this Censor is a culmination of all the negativity we’ve had to endure from our peers and elders throughout our lives.
But the exercises aren’t all about facing negativity. One in particular was actually quite amusing, I thought. Basically, imagine that you have five alternative lives to live; who would you be and what would you do? The point isn’t to be serious, it’s to give life to the you that your inner child imagined you might become.
For myself, the answers were immediately clear, because there are five things I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. Hey, I know, why don’t I share them here? 😀
Imaginary Life #1 I’d be a (successful) writer, as if that weren’t entirely obvious. I would write fiction novels and occasionally publish a book of short stories. I would have a room in my house specifically for writing, with shelves of books on every wall, and a beautiful desk in front of a large, bright window. The desk would house my laptop, and a stack of notebooks and pens, and I would write there all day while sipping hot tea and cafe mochas.
Imaginary Life #2
I’d be a singer/songwriter who specialized in the guitar. I’d write and compose all my own songs and travel the world playing shows and festivals. I’d be on the road most of the time, but when I wanted to rest I’d come back to Cape Breton and play around a campfire with my friends and family.
Imaginary Life #3 I’d be a famous artist. I’d delve into all the different mediums; drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. I would have a room in my house dedicated to art where I would store all kinds of different supplies from around the world, and I’d draw and paint on the walls to chart my inspiration.
Imaginary Life #4
This one might surprise even my closest friends and family, but I would be an actress. I’d do all kinds of things, from movies and TV shows, to cheesy horror movies and voice acting. In particular I would regularly audition for parts in action-adventure movies as the damsel-in-distress who is actually pretty kick-ass all on her own.
Imaginary Life #5
I’d design video games. I would do a little bit of everything, from concept art and character design, to programming and beta-testing. I would want to be a part of every aspect of the process, and I would help to create characters and storylines that draw in the gamer, as well as controls and gameplay that keep the gamer hooked.
#1 is pretty obvious if you’ve read at least one of my other blog posts or have known me for more than five minutes, but the others may be a bit surprising, especially to those who don’t know me personally, so let me explain a little.
#2 comes about because I’ve always been a bit musical, like much of my family, and in fact much of Cape Breton in general. We’re a musical region. I took several years of piano lessons when I was young, and then moved on to guitar, which I mostly taught myself. Though I haven’t had time for it in recent years, I’ve always loved playing and singing, and it’s one of the few things I feel like I can do in front of a crowd.
#3 dates back to much younger years, stemming back as far as grade school. I loved to draw, and I’d paper my walls with drawings of my favorite TV show and video-game characters. I was never really any good at the other mediums like painting, but I always used to think that if I just kept practicing and practicing, someday I’d be a great artist. Sadly, art in general is something that went by the wayside for me, as I focused more and more on writing instead. The only thing I’ve drawn in years are tiny sketches of the Ninja Turtles at my daughter’s bequest.
#4 is my little inner guilty pleasure secret. I don’t think I’ve ever, at any time, voiced a desire to be an actress, but I seriously started thinking about it in high school as a result of a Drama course. For one assignment we had to do a monologue, and I picked this really dramatic piece where a girl talks about a death in her family. After I performed it the whole class applauded and told me how awesome I was, so for a while after that I convinced myself that I had real talent and would somehow get discovered someday (despite a lack of any kind of effort on my part to actually pursue acting).
#5 is the most childish of the bunch, in my opinion, because it’s based on a childhood assumption that video games were really easy to make. I figured I just had to learn a bit of programming and off I would go. Obviously I’ve learned a lot since then and know that it takes huge crews to make (most) video games, but I still think it would be an awesome profession to be a part of, if only to see the end result of all your hard work enjoyed by millions.
So there you have it! The five imaginary lives of Tracey Lynn Tobin.
If you had five imaginary lives, what would you be? I’d love to hear about your choices!
I’ve brought up the Nickelodeon re-imagining of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a couple of times, not only because my daughter loves them, but also because I’m pretty enamored myself. When we first saw it my husband and I were a little bit wary – this was our childhood Nick was messing around with after all – but we soon found ourselves watching the show just as intently as our daughter was. Later we discussed among ourselves exactly what it was about the show that made it so appealing, and we established that it’s the characters. Specifically, it’s all the things about the characters that were lacking from the original cartoon.
So with that in mind, here are a few key concepts that I think Nick’s version of the Ninja Turtles can teach writers about creating good characters:
Your characters should BE who you SAY they are.
It sounds obvious, but not as obvious as you might think. A lot of people make the mistake of putting a label on their character, but then doing everything possible to make their character act like the exact opposite of that.
This is the first thing that my husband brought up when we were talking about what makes the new Ninja Turtles a great show: “They actually, you know…act like teenagers.” I realized right away that he was right. If you go back to the original cartoon, later iterations, and even the live-action movies, the Turtles consistently act very un-teenager-like. It’s a key descriptor in their very existence – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – but they’ve never acted as such. The closest they ever resembled actual teens was in the original cartoon, but I challenge you to go back and watch an episode right now. You’ll notice that they act less like teenagers and more like surfer frat-bros.
In the new version of the show, the Turtles embody everything we think of when we remember what it was like to be a teenager. They’re goofy and playful, quick to anger, and constantly getting in trouble. They defy their “father” on a regular basis, get crushes on girls, are cocky and overconfident, and have to take a major beating to learn any lesson. They’re also brothers who actually treat each other like brothers, constantly fighting and bickering, tormenting each other and picking on each other, while also taking care of each other and having each others’ back.
So think about this the next time you’re creating a character. If your character is a religious older woman she’s not likely to be hanging out at night clubs all the time. A jock character isn’t going to seem authentic if you never write him playing any sports. And a teenage character should act like a teenager.
Your characters shouldn’t be clones.
Quick, anyone who grew up with the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, what are each of the Turtles known for?
“Leonardo leads; Donatello does machines; Raphael is cool, but rude; Michelangelo is a party dude!”
Everyone who grew up with the show knows these distinctions. Leo is the stalwart leader, Donnie is the techno-genius, Raph is the feisty grouch, and Mikey is the lovable party guy. Right?
Again, I challenge you to go back and watch the old cartoon. We all know that these are the different personality types of the four Turtles, but if you watch the old episodes you’ll notice that aside from when Donnie plays with a computer’s keyboard or Mikey says, “Cowabunga!” all the Turtles act exactly the same. Raph is in no way any more “rude” than his three brothers, and Leo doesn’t lead so much as he lifts his swords in the air and says, “Get ’em!”
Hell, they even look identical except for the color of their headbands.
In Nick’s version, each of the Turtles have very distinct personalities. Leo is the leader, yes, but he’s also a huge geek who loves a Star Trek-like cartoon so much that he has the episodes memorized. Donnie is the techy, who he’s also gawky, and socially awkward. Raph has anger management issues and is extremely sarcastic pretty much all the time. Mikey is dumb as a brick, but in an incredibly cute and innocent way. And there are lots of little details that differentiate them all, like how Raph’s shell is chipped to show that he’s the rough one, and how Mikey is shorter than the rest to give the impression that he’s the innocent, youngest brother. Hell, just look at them…you can practically see their personalities in the way the new creators designed them:
Remember, even if your characters have a few key similarities, you want them to stand out from each other. They should have their own specific likes and dislikes, personality traits and hobbies. When a reader thinks of a particular character from your book, you want them to be able to picture that character apart from the other ones, to immediately know exactly who they’re reading about.
Antagonists should bring drama and tension to the story.
It goes without saying that The Shredder is, and forever will be, the main villain in the Ninja Turtles universe. He’s their arch-rival, the enemy that relentlessly strives for their extermination.
Also, in the original cartoon, he’s a bumbling idiot who can do nothing right.
I’ll admit that the late 80’s/early 90’s era was one during which most cartoons were a little weak in the drama center. They wanted to be light and fun, without exhibiting too much violence or anything that grumpy parents might find distasteful. But even taking that into consideration, The Shredder brought very little in the way of antagonistic tension to the original cartoon. He was such a pathetic fool that even as kids we knew there was no cause for concern because his plans always failed miserable. And he was a laughing stock, for sure. No kid who watched the original cartoon thought that The Shredder was anything other than hysterically inept.
The new Ninja Turtles, while still designed for kids and careful not to be too violent or mature, has fixed this issue with their villains. The Shredder is angry and powerful, and while his cronies may be a little pathetic, he is absolutely not. In the first episode in which the Turtles face Shredder, they get absolutely pulverized…and that’s the end of the episode. They are able to escape certain death by complete chance, and we’re left with the knowledge that our heroes are currently not powerful enough to defeat their enemy.
Even in a kid’s show, tension makes for good storytelling, plain and simple. Your antagonist needs to bring that tension. You want your readers to genuinely wonder if something horrifying is going to happen to your main characters at any given moment. Without that tension, the story serves no purpose and the antagonist is flat and pointless.
All characters should have flaws.
No one is perfect; not protagonists, not antagonists, not anyone. The original Ninja Turtles cartoon (along with most cartoons of that age) really glossed over this concept. The Turtles were always able to save the day easily because they always knew exactly what to do. They never made anything other than the smallest of mistakes, and lessons were learned with minimal effort. While this can be acceptable for small children (since they think their heroes are infallible anyway), it doesn’t fly most of the time. Characters without flaws are impossible to relate to.
The new Turtles have lots of flaws, and it makes them more relatable and likable because you can put yourself in their position. Leo is the leader, yes, but he’s also a teenager with all the angst and frustrations that the age group is famous for, so he makes mistakes and doesn’t always act like a leader. As previously mentioned, Mikey is dumb as a brick, and he’s constantly screwing up and getting himself and his brothers in trouble. Donnie is a tech genius, but sometimes his gear breaks down or blows up in his face. Raph lets his anger get the best of him and it lands him in lots of trouble.
Even the co-characters have their flaws focused upon. Splinter lets his fear for his “sons” cloud his judgement. April does whatever it takes to look for her father even when her ideas are dumb and dangerous. Shredder has a vendetta against Splinter that takes precedence over everything else and causes him to make poor decisions.
Readers want to be able to relate in some way to the character’s their reading about. If a character is clumsy or shy or a terrible drunk or has a gambling problem or an awful body image, it lets us put ourselves in the place of that character because we feel empathy with them. When a character (mostly likely an antagonist) has really awful flaws, like being a psychopath, it makes us root for their downfall that much more. If a character has absolutely no flaws it makes us wonder “where the hell this perfect person came from and why should I give a rat’s ass about them?”
The characters make the story. Without good characters even the best of plot lines can wither and die. You want your readers to love your characters (whether they’re good guys or bad guys), to care for them, to root for (or against) them. There are a lot of books, movies, TV shows, and video games out there that are sub-par because the creators made characters who are hard, if not impossible, to like. And sometimes we, as writers, have a hard time seeing that our characters are unlikable, because they’re like children to us and our children are always perfect in our eyes. So I beg you to read articles like this one, examine the characters you love from all kinds of different mediums, and ask beta-readers about your characters’ likability. A little bit of extra effort can make a world of difference in creating characters that feel real.
This past weekend was full and tiring. My parents visited Friday night, and two awesome friends visited Saturday night. There was drinking and eating and cleaning up before and after visits, and between all that we had the baby outside in her pool, going for walks and playing with the neighbor’s grandkids. In addition to all that I had a hard time sleeping Friday night, and we were up drinking and playing foolish trivia games until 3 am on Saturday night, so I’ve developed a rather debilitating sleep debt.
So it is with bags under my eyes and an enormous yawn on my lips that I sat down at my laptop and struggled to think of something to blog about for today. I considered a number of previously-planned options that made my head hurt because I am simply too tired to deal with them right now. I thought about reading the first chapter of The Artist’s Way and talking about that, but it turns out that there are half a dozen introduction chapters that seem pretty important before you get to the actual program part of the book, and my addled brain can’t really handle that at the moment. I thought about simply writing about my weekend, about the tomfoolery that occurs when the husband and I get together with our friends and some good liquor, but I couldn’t figure out how to work that into anything coherent and interesting.
With those ideas set aside, I thought I’d mention something that I had been meaning to bring up for a while. It’s an idea I came up with one day a while ago, something that’s one part memory exercise, one part mental therapy, and one part keepsake-that-can-be-helpful-when-writing.
I call it a Memory Book, for lack of something cooler. I don’t remember when or why I came up with the idea, but one day I picked up a pretty notebook and a nice pen, and I began writing down memories. I don’t make the memories long and complicated; they’re generally just a one-or-two-liner that gives the basic idea. For instance, I might write, “That time I decided to roller-blade to school, but the hill was too steep and I ended up having to admit defeat.”
The memories can be good ones (“The first time Jason told me he loved me…he looked so cute and nervous!”) or bad ones (“The first time I left for out West and I was waiting for the plane while struggling not to cry.”) or just random things from my past that mean nothing but that are non-the-less cluttering up my brain (“The time our cabin water was shut down so we kept having to collect stream water in buckets in order to be able to flush the toilet.”). Any random memory that I can think of can end up in the book.
So what’s the point?
Well, for one thing it exercises my memory (which has gone so downhill over the past six or seven years of my life) to bring up information that might be buried deep; alternatively, re-reading it allows me to recall things I may have allowed myself to forget about.
For another thing, it can be very therapeutic. Instead of struggling to think of something to write for my works-in-progress or my blog, I can just sit with this notebook and spill out information that’s already in my head, like a mental Spring Cleaning.
And lastly, having this notebook handy has actually been helpful to my writing. See, one of the hardest aspects of writing fiction (in my opinion) is coming up with relatable characters, people whom the readers will love and sympathize with. Part of this is making the characters feel more real, and in the past I’ve been able to accomplish this by using my Memory Book and juicing the memories up a bit to craft pasts for my characters. Why is a certain character so shy? Because of this embarrassing event, stolen from my Memory Book and blown up a bit to make it sound even more mortifying. How did two other characters meet? Steal something from the Memory Book and spruce up the details a bit. See what I’m saying?
A Memory Book might not be useful for everyone, but it’s been useful for me in several ways, so I thought I’d share and invite everyone to give it a try. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy…it could be a Dollar Store notebook tucked into your purse or wallet, or a Word file on your computer. You can write about any kind of memories you like, and you can write quick one-liners like me or write a whole page for each. Whatever makes it work for you.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you!