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Write with Feeling: How Relationships Bring Depth to Our Characters

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Do you struggle to create full-bodied characters?

Churning out words, outlining and wrapping your brain around plot twists, story themes and arcs can often be mentally exhausting, and then we have to make sure our characters have depth enough to resonate with our readers.

“I know the feelings but I don’t know how to express them in words.”

That’s what my new client said during a recent meeting. She had reached out for assistance after reading some of my work. She has an important story to tell.

After an extraordinary experience, her quest to bring her unique story into the world fell short when it came to expressing high-level concepts and deep emotion through the written word.

Enter, me.

It is true that I write about love, relationships and soul connections in addition to my fiction work. I post these articles regularly on Medium and my blog. When the year is out, the articles are then culminated into a book - a keepsake documenting both my nonfiction writing pieces along with my own personal journey.

Life lessons and personal growth.

Some people baulk at the idea of sharing their personal experiences publicly. There was probably a time when I might’ve reacted the same way. It’s different now. I feel different now. I’m not the same person I was when I first began writing.

I realized that by sharing our experiences and perspectives, and then expressing the lessons we’ve learned from those fragments in our lives is one of the most powerful ways we can impact the world and help one another.

Obviously, not all of us are writers. There are many other ways to make a positive difference in the world. Humanitarians and those in service occupations seek to promote human welfare. The magical paint strokes of gifted artists have the capacity to uplifts spirits; thereby raising vibrations through the loving energy invested in the creation.

The same is true for words.

Yehuda Berg said:

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

As a word smith, and whether you write nonfiction, fiction or both, it is vital to have a firm understanding of the power literally at your fingertips.

Not every writer has the desire to burrow into their deepest selves to divvy up those experience-gems publicly. I can understand that. There is a certain amount of vulnerability and courage required when you begin the deep, meaningful work - and make no mistake, releasing messages into the world at an intimate level takes a brave heart (and maybe a firm set of balls).

Either that, or those of us who journey through the murky territory are just plain crazy.

Psyche.

The good news is that we don’t necessarily have to roll up our sleeves and get gritty (and maybe a bit soppy) by revealing our inner-most selves in order to make real connections and benefit the human experience through our words.

The fact that you write is gift enough. Throw in some passion, a generous side of imagination and the beautiful resources existing within the fabric of your past experiences, and you are a potential change-maker.

Smile.

You just felt the little tingles ignite at the base of your spine, right?

At least, I hope you did.

Those zingy feelings are more than just confirmation that a draft is blowing from the window you left open in the other room - they are a part of your inbuilt intuitive system and appear as way of confirmation when the truth rings true.

Learn to trust your tingles.

Grab your cape and give yourself a pat on the back, too. You, dear writer, are a gift to the world and your words have power. Used with intent, love and courage our words become a force to be reckoned with. We have the capacity to influence, create waves and stir the pot to bring meaning to the lives of those who read our work - particularly when created with the breadth of our hearts.

We can achieve this through delving deep within; stripping the layers to extract the nuggets from past and present relationships; looking back on memorable experiences and reflecting on our most intimate feelings to examine the way we relate, perceive life and love others.

After all, love is the ultimate source of emotional resonation. It is the most profound emotion we will ever experience.

Whether romantic or platonic, whirlwind and complicated or long term and lifelong, it is love that has the power to nourish meaningful relationships, crush our hearts and teach us important lessons.

“When Love speaks, the voice of all the gods,

Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.”

– William Shakespeare  -  From Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Is it no wonder that the greatest writers in history explored love in all its forms through their literature?

There was only one Shakespeare. There is only one you.

Love in literature is boundless because it defies barriers by appearing across all genres and age groups, as well as periods in history. The presence of love in our stories has the ability to bring acutely heartfelt and memorable moments to the page, regardless of the outcome.

We all know about love and relationships to some degree. Even hate is love turned upside down. Honestly, we learn so much and gather bucket loads of personal data through the relationships we form; and we can use these insights when developing our characters to bring authenticity into their worlds and connect with readers.

To help get you into reflection mode, let’s take a deeper look into what Greek philosopher, Aristotle had to say about relationships. He described three kinds of relationships, with only one of which is built to bring true happiness.

First: The Relationships of Pleasure.

These are the romantic interludes fueled by passionate sex, a possible side of drugs and a generous helping of ego. Insert a playlist that looks like Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Bulletboys Smooth up in Ya, and you get the drift. These affairs are more about body and less about soul and connecting - never a great recipe for lasting happiness.

Second: The Relationships of Utility.

These types of relationships may be grounded in materialism or hopes of gathering status of some sort. They can also include relationships that involve a need for each other for the “necessities of life” and raising children. Aristotle describes the friendship of utility as shallow, easily dissolved, and for the old.

Keep in mind that even though he may have been coined “the father of philosophy” he was just one Greek guy who liked to explore high-level concepts … with a very thick beard.

Third: The Relationship of Shared Virtue.

Like a classic Rod Stewart song, Aristotle firmly advised hauling up your sails over stormy waters in search of what he called Relationships of Shared Virtue. This is where you arrive on the shores to find a partner who truly gets you in soul - your core self.

It’s that real-connection love who will ignite change, challenge and inspire you to grow into your highest potential.

Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as It Gets said it best when he said: “You make me want to be a better man.”

Of course, the above relationship examples described by Aristotle are brief summaries of the complex bonds and emotions that we experience through those who touch our lives. Yet, taking a look at what some of the world’s greatest philosophers had to say about the human condition can act as a springboard to unlocking parts of our past when creating full-bodied and dynamic characters - ones that imprint a lasting memory on our readers.

Deep reflection is a muscle you can strengthen to bring the essence of your story to a place where the power of your words has the potential to positively influence and improve the lives of your readers. Even if only an inch at a time.

Keep it real.

It’s worth investing the time to reflect on your past and present loves to give your characters depth and relatable complexities. Aim for the Kindle highlights.

Just like love, your words can change lives forever.


Originally published by The Ascent at Medium.


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I am a BIRD

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When my mother was pregnant with me, my parents moved to a tidy brick, semi-detached home nestled in a quiet street in the southern suburbs of Sydney. There was a huge tree on the street outside our home, and the front yard had two small sections of lawn. The gardens were minimal but well maintained thanks to my father, and the backyard was a huge concrete oasis, which was fabulous when you’re six years old and you ride a bike like the wind. Not so great when you stack it, though. There were no pushbike helmets in the ‘80s, but I survived.

Rockdale.

Honestly – and I’ve never admitted this to another soul – I was never proud to be born and raised in that suburb. It’s not that I’m ashamed. I guess the town has served a purpose in shaping my life. It’s through these contrasts that we learn what we don’t want. It’s more that I never really felt comfortable there. I got out as soon as I could, fleeing to the Gold Coast with my boyfriend when I was 21 years old because I thought life would be beautiful there. Well, it had to be better than southern Sydney, right?

Wrong. Well, maybe a little.

I have since travelled and lived in at least ten cities across Australia, yet it wasn’t until recently that I really felt comfortable where I was – and it turned out it had nothing to do with the location, and everything to do with myself.

When you’re little, you know no different than the experiences to which you are born. The truth is, I had no idea we lived on the wrong side of the tracks until I had started school. Another truth? Even the right side of the tracks in Rockdale sucks. It’s not a beautiful town, but that’s not why it sucks. It’s the energy. It’s fast and unforgiving, and everyone is out for themselves. It’s a multi-cultural hub with a rancid veil hovering over the town. It’s all about drugs, gangs and illegal gaming houses, dictated by those with the most muscle. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a smidgen, but you get the picture.

I’ve heard of the old times when Rockdale had some charm, but those days were long gone even when I was a child. In the old days, the world was untarnished and charm was everywhere. I guess you could say it still is – that charm, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. What Rockdale lacks in charm, it makes up for with an ever-growing population. Maybe that’s where the problem lies, because people aren’t always charming. Nor are they always good.

But what is good? I hear you say.

Good is deep in your bones and ingrained in your soul. Good is empathy, and integrity, and treating others with respect and dignity. Good is your truth. It’s in your words and actions, your thoughts and feelings, and it’s the small voice whispering in your ear when confronted with choices. We can’t always be good all of the time, but good is not killing a baby bird for pleasure.

One of the first and harshest lessons involving the lack of good in humanity came when I was about five years old. Before that day, I knew not everyone was good all of the time, but I’d never witnessed cruelty firsthand. I guess that’s why this day has imprinted upon my memory like an ugly stain.

Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am no angel. I’m not always good. In fact, sometimes I like to be bad – in the best sense possible. The point is, I don’t intentionally cause pain to another living being.

The school day was just beginning and it was raining. There was a bird’s nest nestled deep along the eaves of one of the school buildings and a baby bird had fallen to the ground of the asphalt playground.

My heart had leapt from my chest at the sight of the little grey bird struggling helplessly in a puddle of rainwater, and I remember being frightened for the creature. Before I had a chance to do anything, three older boys raced towards the chick. I was relieved. They would save the bird and hand it over to a teacher who would somehow return it to safety.

I was wrong.

Those boys huddled around the bird and began to laugh. Then the unthinkable – they started to take turns at stomping on the little grey bird as if it were better amusement than a Game & Watch Donkey Kong game (which by the way, I mastered – only a Generation X would appreciate that fact).

My heart shattered and I screamed at those boys. They took no notice of me though. They just continued to stomp and laugh and I eventually had to turn away from the scene.

I’m not sure why those boys did that to the little helpless bird. I’m not saying they were or are bad people. Good people make wrong choices too. The incident played out within a matter of minutes, and it was over just as fast. Little birds turn to mush fast when stomped upon in the rain. I cried for that bird. I cried in the playground, and I cried when I got home from school, and I cried when I awoke with the nightmares that had ensued.

One small bird showed me what it was to love and feel pain for something outside of myself and my family. One small bird showed me how to empathise, and taught me that people don’t always do good things. And one small bird revealed something about myself that has remained with me all the days after – I am a bird.

You are too.

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