I sat down to my laptop intending to write about my stressful morning – perhaps you can relate – but when I tried to come up with a title that was properly blog-positive for what was basically going to be a rant about other parents, I found myself stuck. I discarded words like hate, frustration, grr, colossal idiots, and started rethinking from the positive: finding peace, enforced relaxation, mom time out… and wow. My actual mood changed. Then I recalled the phrase “take a chill pill” that I haven’t used since I was probably ten. I suddenly understood what those words really meant – take a sedative, you are overwrought, and I thought, I used to say this when I was in second grade? Horrific thought, how slang filters down into the mouths of the young. Like “sucks” as in “life sucks” or “this meal sucks mom” – I remember my mother being aghast that I would say such a thing. But then, I wasn’t saying what she thought I was saying. I was just using a word. I bet you say it too, and your kids likely as well. We don’t think about the words we use in conversation. They’re placeholders. But when we write, they have evocative power.
The power of words.
See? and now all the parenting stress that was tightening my neck and shoulders is gone. Vanished. I’m in the land of words. It’s amazing what power words have.
but I just re-read the beginning of this blog and want to talk about this concept of thinking from the positive.
I had an acting teacher back before having kids (I’m from the pleistocene era, originally) and she used to tell us to find positive motivation for our characters. When she used the word positive she didn’t mean smiley-face, she meant active. Characters with negative motivation “I don’t want to be stuck at home all day” or “I don’t want to eat that for dinner” are characters we hate. They’re basically whiners. Turn it around “I want to travel more” or “I want spicy food” and we have characters that are tolerable. Make the desire specific, “I want to go to Thailand and climb the face of a god,” or “I want to try a ghost pepper omelette,” and we are dying to see what will happen.
Crazy isn’t it? I didn’t even know that until I just typed it.
Writing is awesome. I really was in this preposterously stuck mood when I sat down here. I had rushed to get my first-grader to school on time and we were going to make it — barely — but we ran into some twins she knows and the girls walked together and I felt the clock turn to mush. I couldn’t get her away – the girls were sweetly hugging and giggling and all I could think was “oh god, they’re going to make her late and they’ll get into Harvard because their parents who are both here and both dressed in Gucci will simply buy their way in, meanwhile my daughter will have her attendance record checked and it will be obvious from her first grade records that she has a tendency to arrive to school tardy – and she will have to go to a tiny community college in Appalachia. If they let her in.” The designer parents told my daughter to wait for their daughter (one twin shares a class with her) and so my daughter did. While the parents removed their D&G sunglasses and hugged first one twin, then the other, then “hey! what about my kiss!” then same for the other. And my inner clock was covered in oozing taffy, the second hand was moving like a superhero and the bomb was going to go off anyway. My daughter went upstairs three minutes late, with two giggly happy girls on either side of her, and I went home gnashing my teeth at…what? at family love? At joy?
It reminded me of the reason I finally applied to grad school. I’ll tell you about it next week.
For now, keep your characters active.
Make their motivations positive: Susan wants X.
And specific. Susan wants capital X in courier font, 12 point type.
Get to work!