5 Years Worse Than 2016

As we come to the end of 2016 CE, it seems like an excellent time to take a moment to reflect on what an utter trash fire it’s been.

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The Cubs winning is the little green flower in front.

 

I do think it’s important, however, to take another moment to consider that it could be much, much worse. Don’t believe me? Here are 5 years that were unquestionably worse than 2016:

(Warning: This is long and may deal with uncomfortable levels of violence.)

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Character Yoga (On Flexibility)

I am currently deep in the bush of revisions, and while I was out there dodging small snakes and a crocodile named Deadline I had a thought:

Characters need yoga.

Allow me to elaborate, because that sentence is weird.

1) Good characters have patterns of behavior based on who they are.

If we’re doing them right, characters have an internal life to them — a consistency based on their beliefs, their history, and all of the little decisions that have informed who they are as people. If you asked a writer with a strong character, “What would Mary Ann do if she found a gator in her bath tub?” — They would likely have an answer for you, based on who Mary Ann is.

Maybe she grabs a shotgun and goes to town. Maybe she screams and runs for the hills. Maybe she gives it a lecture on not wasting water, because lord knows the turtle next door likes his soaks.

The nature of a character informs their decisions, which determines their actions in the story.

 

2) Good stories take those characters and stretch them out into new positions.

It can be easy, with a strong character that you know well and like to fall into patterns gracefully. Mary Ann always grabs that shotgun, because she’s a firecracker and that’s just how she rolls.

But consider this: What if she doesn’t?

Having established that Mary Ann’s an aficionado of the firearm, what if we, the writer, give her not only an opportunity to do something else but a choice? Maybe this time, instead of shooting a hole in her plumbing, she stops. She gets someone to help her take the gator out to the swamp and release it.

Why does she do this? Who does she call? What’s changed in Mary Ann’s life or perspective that’s altered her normal course of action?

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This is an excellent way to break something vital. Work up to it!

3) Yoga (Or: Why stretching is good for the soul)

Characters who behave out of line with their normal reactions can make for good story, but it can be jarring if it happens without warning or foreshadowing. Going from upright to full splits with nothing in between can lead to serious injury; the same can be said for a character pulling an abrupt 180 mid-tale. It can throw the reader right out of the story; it can break verisimilitude completely.

Enter yoga.

Now, I am not a yogi or an advanced practitioner — so when I’m using this as a metaphor, please be gentle and correct me if I’m mistaken. But speaking generally, when starting a yoga session, you begin with simple, small movements. You raise the arms, breathing deeply. You move gently and surely into the next pose, and the next, until you’ve completed a series — each one seguing into another until you’ve gone from standing upright to fully extended on the floor and back again.

Start small.

Show the progression.

Depending on how much you plan before you begin writing — architect versus gardener, pantser vs plotter, etc. — you may find that you need to go back and look carefully at how your character is shifting. Make sure that you’re laying the foundation — those small shifts in position — that will get your character fully extended without injury.

 

Mine

“My lady? Are you sleeping?”

“It’s a bit late to ask, isn’t it? You’re dripping on my nose.” Kiva’s heart sped up and she wiggled backward, giving him more room even as she sat up carefully. He’d carried a little stub of a candle and though it spluttered from damp it gave off enough flickering light to watch him. Raindrops clung to his eyelashes. “Is something wrong?”

“I only just realized — I have the salve that the surgeon sent along, for your shoulder. You’re meant to apply it morning and night.” Gerret was watching her, too, and only stopped to pull a small metal tin from the pocket of his vest. “Didn’t want you to go without it again, so.” He stopped, shifting his weight awkwardly, and looked at the canvas flap.

There was not enough air in the small shelter for both of them; she could feel the current of his breath against her skin as she reached out to carefully take the tin. She slept in only the linen undershirt she’d convinced Amma to shorten for her, and beneath her blankets her legs were bare.  Precious little, then, between her and this man who radiated such warmth and — she tightened her fingers around the tin. “Thank you, Captain.”

“Call me Gerret — when we’re alone, I mean. I’m not your captain.” The linen of his shirt beneath the vest had gotten wet in the crossing from his tent to hers; she could see the shadow of his collarbone beneath it, and without thought, her finger reached up to trace it, light as falling leaf.

His breath caught.

“Are you not?” If her heart had cantered before, now it sprung into a gallop, foolhardy and exhilarating, so fast it could not possibly sense the fall to come.

“Not what?” His eyes were dark, so much darker than usual, dilated and catching the flicker of the flames in their reflection.

She tilted her chin up, her hand drifting, grazing his throat, threading through the strands of hair at his temple. It was getting longer, beginning to curl. “Mine?”

His groan was deep and instant and without hesitation the distance between them vanished, his arms strong around her. He gripped her low on her back, careful, so careful even as he kissed her.