Who are your characters at their core?

sad-674807_1280I had a real-life moment last week that morphed into a writing moment. I learned a great deal about what makes conflict real and what makes it work.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I do the occasional self-publishing workshop at the local public libraries here. I have one coming up in two weeks (on May 19) at 7 pm at the South Bowie Library. Blog readers may also know that I have two kids: a girl and a boy.

Well, my lovely daughter, as a school assignment, had to write a book for the county’s Write-a-Book competition. About a week ago, we were informed that she’d won a prize for students in the 2nd grade competition. How lovely. We were also informed that there was an awards ceremony, on May 19 at 7 pm. Does that date look familiar to you? It sorta looked familiar to me, but I don’t always have my writing calendar visible, and it didn’t hit me until two days after we got the email why May 19 seemed familiar. That’s when I looked at all my calendars, saw the conflict and cried. Seriously, grown, adult, snot and tears. I sat there and bawled, unable to control myself. I was completely disraught. I mean, if I was attending the self-publishing seminar, I’d just skip it in favor of my daughter’s awards ceremony. But, I wasn’t attending it. I was it. I was one half of the keynote address. I had committed to this months ago and there was no way I couldn’t go. I hadn’t even know there was an awards ceremony at the time I made the commitment.  Even if I had known, I don’t think I would have assumed my kid would win something and keep the date open. So, I knew I was completely screwed. I’d have to miss the ceremony. So I cried some more.

And I was trying to figure out why I was so upset. I mean, parents miss things all the time. They have work, they’re out of town, they have other commitments.  And it wasn’t even like me not being available meant she couldn’t go. My husband would take her. He’d be there. She’d have one parent. It would be all right, I told myself.

But, it didn’t feel alright. It felt awful, unbelievably awful. And I was having trouble figuring out why it was so distressful. That’s when it hit me. I was so disraught because I am the mom who goes to everything. Everything. Need a fieldtrip chaperone? Me. Need a parent in class to help out? Me. Kindermusik graduation? Me. In class ballet recitals? Me. In class birthday celebrations that last 10 minutes (much less than the 45 minutes I spend roundtrip driving to and from)? Me. Any silly, inane ceremony someone wants to have that involves my kids and requests adults attend? Me. That’s who I am. I am that parent. And this meant I wasn’t going to be that parent. And it was soul-crushing.

I went into denial mode. What if they made a mistake? What if they told me the wrong date? So, I emailed the woman at the school who’d sent us the notification. “Are you sure the ceremony is on the 19th? Is that set in stone?” Of course, I was grasping at straws. I needed a miracle. I needed something.

And I got it. I kid you not. She emails me back, “I’m so sorry. I gave you the wrong date.”

Phew! (I went online and checked and she was right, she’d given me the wrong date.) My crises was averted, but it reminded me of one thing. In life, when your identity is challenged, when what you think is true turns out to be untrue in a specific instance, it is incredibly jarring. It is incredibly scary. It is great drama. It reminded me that as writers, we need to know who are characters are at their core. What is their true identity? How do they identify themselves to the world? And then we need to take that away from them. Because that is scary. That is drama. That is a great read.

And that folks, is my lesson for the day. Hope your weeek lacks the drama of mine. 🙂

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
This entry was posted in Books, My Life, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Who are your characters at their core?

  1. DV Berkom says:

    What a fabulous post, RJ. Very thought-provoking. Glad things ended up going well, but what a teaching moment! Those instances are priceless. Good luck with the workshop.

  2. And that’s why conflict and tension make for good writing – and great characters. Good post, R.J. – and I’m glad they had the date wrong. 🙂

Comments are closed.