The Bones of Who We Are: Aesthetic

I love Gabe. He’s the moody, brooding hero, and his story explores the why of his emotional journey. But his story needs a trigger warning. He’s dealing with some dark stuff (with support), so in the forward, I’ve provided an escape hatch for readers in case they aren’t in the head space to read it.

As I’ve been writing In The Wait: A Companion to Swimming Sideways and The Ugly Truth, (published to Wattpad or look for a new installment each Wednesday here) I’ve had more clarity about Gabe’s journey which I hope readers will be able to see as well.

I created this aesthetic to provide a visual reflection of Gabe’s story.

The Bones of Who We Are Mood Board

The Bones of Who We Are Mood Board

Character and Conflict Part2: Motivation

motivation typed.jpg

Having read - a lot - a definite way for me to want to throw a book at the wall is when the narrative either loses sight of the conflict or an author struggles to develop one. As a reader, a lack of or an unclear conflict can feel like sitting in a staff meeting without a purpose. Whether you’re a writer who wants to write a more cohesive story, or a reader who’s developing their critique technique, one thing to look for in respect to believable and developed conflict is the main character’s motivation.

Characters - if developed as a round, dynamic, fleshed out character - are motivated to act. Their movements don’t just spontaneously combust into forward movement for the sake of moving plot. If they do, there is a problem with author insertion and adding to a reader’s awareness of a plot feeling contrived. If you aren’t sure why a character makes a choice in the action or dialogue, or feel confused by it, chances are the character’s motivation isn’t clearly defined or the author is intruding.

With respect to characterization and conflict: do you ask your protagonist, antagonist these questions?

With respect to characterization and conflict: do you ask your protagonist, antagonist these questions?

Motivation for a character, just like in our own lives outside of the pages, can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the internal means of propelling a character based on internal desires. Harry Potter, for example, in The Sorcerer and the Stone (J.K. Rowling) was motivated to understand who he was outside the Dursleys. He wanted to know more about his past which propelled him on a journey toward personal enlightenment. Intrinsic motivation. Frodo Baggins, in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (JRR Tolkien), however, was motivated to get the one ring out of the Shire in order to keep his home safe from an external danger. Extrinsic motivation. While the stories begin with a specific sort of motivation - internal or external - this doesn’t mean the motivation won’t change. We see both Harry and Frodo undergo changes along the journey to change what motivates their choices, just as that occurs in our own lives.

I took a wonderful class many years ago that helped me as a creative writer. The class was called The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. Character motivation was one idea which really stuck with me. A simple tool Mr. Watt presented which I have used over and over in my own writing is the following sentence:

If (Main Character) can (fill in the blank) then s/he can (fill in the blank).

Here’s an example from Star Wars: A New Hope:

If Luke Skywalker can get off Tatooine then he can be happy.

This is Luke’s reality in the opening of the movie. A clear motivation which propels his curiosity. The longer we follow his journey, however, his initial motivation shifts as the he moves forward in the hero’s journey. When his family is murdered, his motivation shifts. This is a mirror to reality; our motivation is constantly shifting based on attained goals, redefined wants, and personal desires.

So to mirror Luke’s shift in motivation:

If Luke Skywalker can help the rebellion he can avenge his family’s death.

It is important to follow the motivation to the root, however. As the above example shows there are still questions: Why does Luke want to avenge his family?

If Luke can avenge his family then he can clear his conscious for leaving them.

A round and dynamic character’s motivation will always modify and shift as the journey shapes her; that is what makes her more relatable to readers. These changes in motivation whether intrinsic or extrinsic are often rooted in the journey (which if you aren’t familiar with Chris Vogler’s work on the Joseph Campbell monomyth be sure to look it up). As the story moves forward, the motivation serves as a guide for interaction with other characters, propels the main character’s choices, and determines forward action which is believable rather than contrived.

Think about your favorite novel or your current work in progress. Can you create an If/can, then/can statement?

Up Next: Pacing your story . . .

The Ugly Truth: Cover Reveal and Playlist

It’s here! The follow up to Abbys story in Swimming Sideways with Seth’s story in The Ugly Truth.

The Spotify Playlist for The Ugly Truth:

  1. I Was Wrong (Robin Schulz Remix) - A R I Z O N A

  2. Heartbeat - Haux

  3. Forever Lost - God is an Astronaut

  4. Always - Tyson Motsenbocker

  5. Ayahuasca - Vancouver Sleep Clinic

  6. On the Train Ride Home - The Paper Kites

  7. Mass (Re-Imagined) - Phoria

  8. Body - SMYL

  9. All Time Low - Jon Bellion

  10. You Deserve Better - James Arthur

  11. Luna - Ebb & Flod

  12. Cold Desert - Kings of Leon

  13. Waves - Dean Lewis

The Ugly Truth: A Letter from Seth

Dear Reader:

First thing you should know about me: I can’t be trusted.

Why? I lie.

I know it’s wrong, and I do it anyway. It’s survival instinct.

For this letter, though, I’ll do my best to tell you the truth (within reason and as long as I can preserve my safety). . .

My name is Seth Peters. I’ve lived in Cantos, Oregon my whole life, and I’m the only child of Jack and Kate Peters. I’m pretty good at school - I’m a junior; I’m really good at soccer which will probably be how I get to college (if I live that long); I’ve got a lot of friends, and a lot of people want to be my friend.

That’s all I got.

Any more and I might scare you away. The deeper we go, the darker it gets. I doubt you’ll read my story feeling like we should hold hands and sing campfire songs. No one really wants the honest truth. Lies are safer, easier, and allow us to turn our heads, so we don’t have to face the ugly truth.

So, I guess the overall message I’m trying to tell you is to enter the story I’m about to tell at your own risk.



Watch for the COVER REVEAL for The Ugly Truth on Instagram on Monday, December 3.  Follow @cl.walters on IG!

Watch for the COVER REVEAL for The Ugly Truth on Instagram on Monday, December 3.

Follow @cl.walters on IG!

It's November!

It’s here! November! My favorite month because it is my birthday month, people! Whoo Hoo! Happy dance! Oh. Wait. You didn’t know it was my birthday this month? Oh. Sorry. We vote this month? Darn. Oh. And it’s National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo for short). Yes. That might overshadow my birthday in the whole scheme of things on an international scale. Shoot.

National Novel Writing Month is a world wide event in which writers of all ages participate.

National Novel Writing Month is a world wide event in which writers of all ages participate.

Well, then. There’s a word count fire blazing this month and I am a part of it. I set a word count goal for this month of 60,000 words to be completed by November 30. It’s Day 4 and I’ve reached 13,000 so far. I am on a roll (phew!). So, what am I working on?

I LOVE trees. I’m not sure what it is about them, but there’s something magical about them to me. This was taken at the school where I work.

I LOVE trees. I’m not sure what it is about them, but there’s something magical about them to me. This was taken at the school where I work.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but I had this picture of a tree in my imagination, and I knew it was a portal to another place. Then I thought: what if a butthead kid - who walked into the scary woods on a dare - got dragged into a world where he had to become a hero. This idea has been percolating in my head for over ten years, and my husband has always urged me to write it. Fantasy, however, takes a lot of time with all that world building. So this year, now that I’m taking a respite from teaching full time, I thought: I’ll work on this fantasy for NaNoWriMo.

The moving parts to the story have changed a lot in that ten years and now that I’ve had some time to devote to the narrative. The butthead kid, Caleb, who isn’t so much a butthead anymore, understands that despite his best efforts, he’s an outsider in every way possible. He just can’t seem to get himself together despite the desire to do so. Enter an irresponsible and horrible foster mother who threatens to call the cops on him, and he’s on the run. Thinking his only option is to disappear into the great wide world (he’s got nobody anyway), he cuts through a forest to avoid being caught. It’s in the heart of this forest where he has a run in with a magic tree that draws him into another realm. It’s there - wait for it - he discovers that he’s come home.

(Please be kind with any comments - this is a work in progress - and writers are very sensitive).

Here’s an excerpt and be forewarned, Blogs this month will probably be an overload of NaNoWriMo excerpts. Happy writing to fellow writers (remember forward progress is progress regardless of word count) and happy reading! Welcome to November.

Excerpt (Please note there is explicit language):

Margie Doyle was still drunk which explained her words and her actions, but it wasn’t exactly what Caleb had anticipated when he’d gotten up that morning and come downstairs. He hadn’t expected that he’d break the world open around him changing everything forever. He’d expected her to be passed out still. He’d expected to make himself some cereal and help Jarrett and Jack with theirs. He’d expected Margie to haul herself up from her drunken stupor, yell about the state of the house and then put them all to work while she nursed her hangover watching TV on the couch.  He’d expected to listen to Tim and Dalton muttering about being her house slaves, and for Dalton to sneak out after about thirty minutes to the basketball court at the park. What he hadn’t anticipated was that she’d still be up and find her standing at the doorway watching some guy walk away.

When she’d turned around from the doorway, unsteady on her feet, holding her bathrobe closed at her throat, tracks of tears on her cheeks, and found him watching her, she’d snapped.

“What the fuck are you looking at.” She’d swiped the tears at her eyes and stumbled past him into the kitchen. She’d tied her robe tighter, but not before Caleb had to avert his eyes because she wasn’t wearing anything under it.

He shuddered and decided the smart choice was to back out of the room without saying a word.

Margie, though, had other ideas. “Get your stupid-ass back in here, you good-for-nothing lump.” Her voice wasn’t filled with temper when she said it, and instead sounded like she was using endearments. It didn’t make the names hurt any less.

He suppressed his irritation, stepped into the cased opening of the kitchen and watched her light a cigarette. She sucked on it, inhaled and then released a mouthful of smoke while her eyes roved over him. It made his skin crawl.

“You should come over here,” she said her voice taking on a tone with which he wasn’t familiar. It was laced with an energy that she’d never displayed with him or the other boys. Ever, but he’d heard her use with other people when she wanted something.

“I’m okay right here,” he said.

“I want to get a better look at you. You’ve grown.” She took another drag of her cigarette. “Like overnight. How old are you now?”

“Seventeen,” he answered her.

She smiled. Another drag. Another puff of smoke from her mouth. She came around the kitchen bar and leaned against it.

Caleb averted his eyes again, her robe gaping so that it was easy to see the shapes of things he didn’t want to see on her. He figured that Margie must have been pretty once. Her dull reddish hair and cold eyes must have been bright and alluring at one time, but years of smoking, drinking and a life lived fast and hard seemed to have taken a toll. It wasn’t just her physical appearance but also the unpredictable spirit within her. She could go from sensitive and thoughtful at one moment to the next instant when she’d eviscerate with her words.

She laughed and sauntered to him. “You seem nervous.”

He shook his head and looked down at his feet.

“Then why won’t you look at me?” She asked and stopped in front of him. She lifted his chin with her thumb, the cigarette between her fingers smouldering near his cheek. Caleb resisted the urge to pull away afraid of that cigarette near his cheek. She studied his face. “You have grown into a handsome, young man.”

He swallowed and changed the subject taking a step away from her. “I’ll get the boys up and we’ll start down here.”

Her brows knit together. “You think you’re too good for me?” Her words slurred a bit.

Caleb froze not sure what to say and was saved by Jarrett and Jack ducking under Caleb’s elbow and walking into the room. They froze when they saw Margie in her barely-robed splendor. She turned away, pulled the silkie robe shut, and refastened the belt.

Jarrett and Jack’s wide-eyed gazes swung to Caleb’s face.

She turned back to face them. Hatred and something else Caleb couldn’t be sure about hooded her features, sharpening them into dangerous points. Her lip curled, she pointed her cigarette an inch deep with ash and said, “You’re a fucking worthless leftover.” The ash dropped off the end of the cigarette to the floor and she walked back into the kitchen. “Your own parents didn’t even want you. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

Rage coursed through Caleb’s body at Margie Doyle’s words: Stupid-Ass, Worthless, Good-for-Nothing, Leftover. Unwanted. These were already words he’d thought about himself, but coming from her, it ignited something in him that was dangerous. His anger was palpable as though stalagmites pushed out from beneath his skin.

She stood in the kitchen watching him with a self-satisfied smirk curling her mouth. “Don’t look at me like that you shit.”

He couldn’t do anything but breathe through his nostrils, a raging bull ready to charge, and he couldn’t think clearly. He’d heard her all right. Her words that slashed like a scythe and then burned everything to a crisp.

“Start in here. This,” she waved her hand indicating the party mess beyond, “is practice for what you’ll be doing with your life in the years to come, Caleb. So your high and mighty attitude needs to go,” she said. She took another drag of her cigarette and then stubbed it out on the counter while simultaneously blowing smoke out the side of her mouth. “I want this house cleaned top to bottom while I’m out, understood?”

A glance at the kitchen revealed a horrific mess. Besides the normal dilapidated cupboards duct taped at the edges, the linoleum original to the house peeling up in the corners and the aged grime that seemed to coat every surface, Margie’s evening the night before had left  the kitchen littered with rubbish and sticky messes from the blender overturned on the counter. She burped. “The social worker is coming over tomorrow evening, so you’ll have it done by five. You do that, then,” she walked back toward him since she needed to get through it to go to her room. She stopped in front of him, Jarrett and Jack looking at her from the side. “Then, you might just prove to me that you deserve to be wanted.”

“Stop,” Caleb said through clenched teeth.

Caleb could hear Tim and Dalton’s footfalls and voices in the hallway behind him. They went silent.

“Stop?” Margie asked and leaned forward tapping his chest with her finger, “Don’t tell me to stop, you fucktard. You’re a no-good, rotten brat. Who’s taking care of you?  Not the shitty parents who left you for dead. Me.” She pointed at her chest with her thumbs. Her light eyes had grown large and grotesque in her face. “So don’t bite the fucking hand that feeds you. You got that?”

“Yes, Missus,” Jarrett’s little squeaky voice interrupted; the squeak indicated he was nervous. Caleb understood; the kid was trying to deflect Margie. It wouldn’t work. Once she had Caleb in her sites, and she always did, there wasn’t stopping until he backed down.

Caleb wasn’t operating with all of the pistons in his brain firing. Instead, it was the sharp bitterness of his fury fueling him. He wasn’t going to back down from her even if he should. At one time, he used to hope that his parents would get their lives together to find him. They would just appear one day, together, and save him from this existence. They would say: We came back to get you that night, and you’d disappeared. We search and searched and finally found you - our Baby Boy. Not anymore. Caleb was too old for those kind of daydreams. This was his seventh foster home and he was nearly ready to age out of the system. He would be free. He realized he should back down but those muscles that didn’t fit correctly between his bones wouldn’t let him.

“I said, stop.” This time his voice sounded like a brick wall.

Margie stepped up and got into his face, so close that Caleb could smell the vapor of alcohol evaporating from her breath and skin. “Or what?” She asked through clenched teeth, hatred changing the shape of her eyes from the round look of surprise to a sharper edged squint. Her ashy red hair hung like yarn strings around her face slick with oil or perspiration; Caleb wasn’t sure which.

“Or I tell the social worker everything,” he said.

A short, sharp laugh escaped her slapping him with the dank smell of her alcohol-laden breath mixed with cigarette smoke and something else, something rotten. “You think they’ll believe you?”  She laughed again and looked over at the boys behind him. “Him?” Her gaze came back to his face, eyes narrowed. “Now you listen here you worthless piece of shit; I’m a very good storyteller.” She poked his chest. “Who do you think they would believe if I told them what really happened this morning?” She leaned in and her eyes filled with tears as if on cue and her lips pouted, “I told him ‘no,’ officer, but he’s a strong young man now.” A tear slipped from one of her eyes and then her vulnerability shifted back into the ugly mask of hatred. She poked his chest again. It was beginning to hurt. “Shall we test who they’ll believe, Caleb?”

Caleb took a step back to get away from her.

She followed him, continuing to poke him. “Well?” Poke. “You owe me for taking your ungrateful ass in.” Poke. Poke. “You really think any social worker will believe you? You’ll end up in jail where your parents probably are if they aren’t dead.”

“Stop,” Caleb said bringing up his hand up to protect his chest and knocking her hand away. He could feel the burn of tears in his eyes and the dryness in his throat but refused to allow the tears.

She stopped a split-second looking at her hand he’d pushed away, and then her face grew mottled with outrage. She came at him yelling grabbing two handfuls of his t-shirt. “Don’t you ever put your hands on me you filthy pile of shit.” She shook him. “And don’t you dare threaten me.”

“Let go of me,” Caleb yelled and pushed her away from him, the force of which made Margie take a step back.

Her foot landed in a pink mystery mess from the party the night before on the floor behind her and she slipped through the slime. It knocked her off balance and sent her sprawling backward. In an attempt to overcorrect, her body turned, but she veered to the right causing the other foot to slide through something of the same mess, and her momentum continued. As she came down, her head smacked a lower cabinet door that had been left ajar and she landed with a loud thud against the dirty kitchen floor face down.

And she didn’t move.

“Oh shit!” Fear climbed into this throat. “I didn’t mean,” Caleb started. “Oh shit.”

Tim and Dalton rushed in from the hallway behind Caleb. “Oh shit!” They both said in unison.

“Oh fuck,” Jarrett said, the profanity seemed so wrong coming from his nine-year-old body. All of the boys looked at him and then Jack began to whimper. Jarrett said, “Caleb. You gotta run. You killed her. They’re gonna send you to jail!”

“I don’t want Caleb to go to jail,” Jack whined.

“Hush, Jack,” Dalton, said, his arm pulled Jack to him. “Caleb isn’t going to jail. It was an accident.”  He looked up at all of the other boys. “We all saw it and heard her. She threatened Caleb.”

“Should we call 9-1-1?”  Tim asked.

If his head had been clear, Caleb might have slowed down to think. He could have checked her pulse. He could have called 9-1-1. But his head was cloudy, cloudy with anger, with hurt, with the horrible realization that he wished she was dead. What did that make him?  A monster like her?

And then she moaned and moved.

Caleb ran.

Hero's Journey: Jane and New Found Freedom

At the close of any story, the hero crosses from her the unknown world where she has ultimately faced personal change and triumph and returns to her ordinary world changed. This part of Campbell’s “monomyth” is the act of Restoring Order and The Freedom to Live (without fear).

The Order: returning to what is known and secure.

The Freedom: to not be afraid to face new experiences.

After the jet lag had passed, and I finally felt normal, the return to my ordinary world was made with fresh eyes. It was a gift to hug my babies (human and furry), to sleep in my own bed, to flop on the couch and watch TV.  Oh, it was so good to be back to my safe, secure, ordinary world, but I wouldn’t trade that adventure for anything.

Hero's Journey: Jane and the Final Battle

The gratitude and blessing I received by leaving my ordinary world behind to travel ultimately shaped my perspective. Ordinary Jane looked the same, but her edges had been sanded and rounded into new understanding. As the trip drew to a close, my husband and I now looked at the long trip home from Rome to Hawaii.

Outside of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Outside of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

In Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien, Aragon, having vanquished Gondor, gathers the troops to go to the black gate and make a final stand against Sauron to support Frodo’s journey to destroy the ring. Meanwhile, Frodo faces Gollum for ultimate control over the ring but we know he is really facing the destruction of himself. In any hero’s journey, this final trial is the ultimate test that determines not only the hero’s worthiness, but also provides the opportunity to use her new found perspective. Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” identified this as The Final Battle. Harry Potter does this in the final book, The Deathly Hallows, when he must face Voldemort with the Elder Wand. These final battles determine the outcome of good versus evil with our heroes at the center of the struggle. In all of the cases, each hero has her new found knowledge to support the conflict.

While The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter are fantasy stories filled with magic and monsters, the everyday, ordinary hero might confront a conversation with a significant other, or a parent, maybe standing up for themselves at work, or reaching an achievement. The Final Battle may not be a grandiose conquering of an evil being, but just coming full circle changed.

My final battle:

The beginning of our flight from Italy to Frankfurt.  The journey home to Hawaii took us over twenty hours.

The beginning of our flight from Italy to Frankfurt.  The journey home to Hawaii took us over twenty hours.

My husband and I boarded our first flight. Easy Peasy. On the second flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, I sat next to a young man headed home to the United States. While a nice human, each time he stood up, I was gifted with the strongest stench of poo. I fortified my nose by burying it into the arm of my husband on the other side of me. Twelve hours later, barely making it through customs because my dark-skinned husband needed additional screening into the country, running at least a mile and a half to our gate and a narrowly missed flight home, we made it to our gate.

We settled into the seats for our final leg home. An elderly gentleman sitting next to me - struggling to communicate with the flight attendant due to a language barrier - pulls out a massive stalk of dried squid (ike) at least 12-16 inches long and begins to gnaw on it. The strong aroma of dried squid (if you aren’t sure, it’s probably easy to imagine) turned my stomach. As the man chewed that jerky like squid from one to the other without hands, I spend most of the next six hour flight with my nose against my husband’s other arm. Good stories and ones we love to laugh about now.

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

This final task, the twenty-plus hours of travel to make it from one side of the globe to another, When we landed in Hawaii, it had never felt better to return home.

Hero's Journey: Jane's Dark Night of the Soul

My husband and I stood on the lower deck of our ship Le Lyrial as other passengers boarded a tender to shore. It was our last day in Greece before crossing the Mediterranean sea to Italy. We had stopped to port in Fira where we’d visit Oia and Santorini. It wasn’t a calm day, the sea burgeoning and swelling so that the water lapped up onto the deck causing the tender to slam against the side of ship.

Our ship

Our ship

“Maybe I’ll just hang out on the ship and read,” I said ready to avoid getting into that tender any way that I could. The truth is, I’m terrified of getting sea sick and of people getting sick around me. The idea of climbing into a small sardine container that would take us to shore in those large waves was enough to test every bit of fortitude I had, and I wasn’t finding any.

The ship's tender (the sardine can)

The ship's tender (the sardine can)

My husband, a man of such eloquence and compassion said, “Naw. It’s all good.”

I could have used a compassionate embrace or a reassuring squeeze of his hand.  I didn’t receive either of these. Maybe a little symbolic in a way, because this was a moment I had to push through alone.

In every narrative, the protagonist must face a moment of truth.  It is the moment when she must decide to go backward, stay the same, or to change course.  This moment of truth is what Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” describes as the Dark Night of the Soul, the Innermost Cave or the Belly of the Whale (yeah, like Jonah).  Remember that moment in The Empire Strike’s Back when Luke literally walked into a cave and had to face a vision of Darth Vader who just also happened to have Luke’s face? Yeah. That.

Standing on that deck watching the tender get whipped about by the waves and passengers getting handed to crew members from one vessel to another brought me to that turning point. I can imagine that it seems like such a small thing, but aren’t our lives moments of small things that invite us to act? I had a choice: stay on our ship and miss Santorini because I was afraid, or face my fear.  

I faced my fear and got onto the damn tender.