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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Suddenly we come to a crossroad. And there are no signs, no familiar bearings and limited resources. How do we choose which direction to go in? At some point we sometimes need to make a choice, a gut reaction. But what happens when our emotional history is jamming the process? Instead of letting ourselves think options through rationally and with insight, we allow ‘old stories’, or ‘old fears’ to impact us.

Our past histories can leave markings on our souls as clearly as lines on a paper map. Sometimes they’re so worn and smudged we don’t recognize their influence, positive or negative, until we come to that corner in the middle of choice.

In the historical romance “A Memory Between Us,” by Sarah Sundin, Major Jack Novak, faces one of his greatest fears and allows it to map a critical decision. In addition to the personal failure and recrimination he faces as a result, he loses the faith and confidence of his best friend as well. Like a domino chain his choice plunges forward setting up even more critical consequences.

“Holland. Jack’s feet went cold. The course took them over the Rhine Delta with dozens of watery inlets and marshy islands. He couldn’t think of a worse place to crash or bail.” Due to his own fear of drowning, Jack orders a new course, and puts the entire squadron in greater jeopardy. When questioned his reply is, “Listen, have I ever let you down? Trust me.”

But this time Jack is not making a decision based on the needs of his men, but on an incident from his childhood that has become an emotional map. He thinks he has it under adult control until he faces its reality. And charts his next map point from the wrong premise.

Journal Prompt:

Give your character a fear that you have coped with without success and have her succeed. Or, give one that you have overcome, but in his situation, he doesn’t. What do you learn from each other?

Thursday, June 23, 2011


An evocative setting often provides a powerful effect as a silent messenger through metaphors. It may be the truth behind the story that will last with thematic impact long after the characters/events are themselves forgotten.

In the historical romance “A Memory Between Us,” by Sarah Sundin, there are many opportunities for the external visual scenes to connect to an internal heart connection, making a metaphoric bridge to connect us to a deeper understanding of her characters.

For example, in chapter eleven as they stroll “down the street and through the imposing Norman Gate Tower. Jack pointed out the slits in the thick stone walls.” They walk into a circular garden where a man plays a violin to a group of children. Jack lays down his jacket so Ruth doesn’t snag her stockings on the black, white and gray stones protruding from the mortar. And then too there’s the watch—time moving forward.

The setting is steeped in history—part of a ruined abbey. And right now that is how Ruth views her own life, as in ruins. She struggles between emotions that are black, white and gray as she finds herself drawn to Jack, and at the same time pushes him away. It’s interesting that Ruth considers it stupid that the ancient building were torn down in the Reformation. She has thick emotional walls surrounding her but there a few slits opening and Jack is coming through them. Maybe she also has a premonition, or fear, that her wall will be smashed too. But often our walls have to come down so healing can take place. Which begins a few paragraphs on as they prepare to dance and Ruth finds herself sobbing in his arms.

“Now the tears flowed in an unrelenting stream. Folded in Jack’s arms, she could be weak, she could grieve, she could be nurtured.” (And can’t you just hear the violin still playing.) She feels safe, she weakens, he kisses her, she melts, and then all the past ugliness rises up to poison the moment. In her sorrow and hurt she then lashes out at Jack, and steps back into the ruins of her heart.

Journal Prompt:

Make a list of similar settings you’ve chosen for your novel. Are there connecting images? Choose one that connects to a choice, or a secret, or a fear that your character is hiding. Rewrite the scene using it as a silent metaphor.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Curiosity begins before it has language to express itself. Watch an infant seeing his environment, or a toddler discovering a ladybug. Then as language expands the questions come buzzing incessantly for answers. Where are we going? How does it work? What makes the sky blue? Why?

Spending a few hours with a mystery novel or movie refreshes us and feeds our natural curiosity. Not only do we take a break from our normal schedules, but also we can exercise our imagination and our deductive reasoning together. An enthralling mystery nurtures all our senses.

Often we only need a title to draw us in. The movie caption, as in The Secret of Moonacre, tells us what we are to discover. Or does it? What is the secret? The answer is quite simple but the path to it is long, with twists and turns emotionally and physically. It is covered over by layers of misinformation and misunderstandings.

Why did her father leave her only a battered old book? Why can she see the story when she opens it? Why does her uncle lock it away from her and refuse her access?

Why is everyone so angry? The questions swarm like bees. One answer opens another and then another until she is running to escape the onslaught. And yet, she must find the answer now for herself. Her curiosity pulls her deeper and deeper.

Journal Prompt:

A few weeks after an elderly relative has died, your character receives a special delivery envelope. Inside is a key, a locket, a note from her relative that says, “I’m sorry”, and an oilskin pouch containing a map of his summer home and a ink-smeared fragile letter, that is at least fifty or more years old. What happens next?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Busyness, stress, aging, and noise are just some barriers that affect our day-to-day memory retention. Time slips away and we realize we’ve forgotten an errand, or a phone call, or to pay a bill. So we cope with various methods to help us remember, but we also don’t let the frustration control us.

Long-term memories, however, have the capacity to cripple plans and relationships when they become so entwined in our minds and hearts that we measure all our decisions against them. Especially when our memory has become distorted over time. Like the telephone game children like to play, the whispered word or phrase at the end is completely different than the beginning, and usually unintelligible.

In the movie The Secret of Moonacre, memories of an event are passed down from generation to generation, each adapting it to their own perspective. The meaning behind the original event is completely submerged under suspicion and accusation.

Each side of the conflict fuels the animosity all built on a faulty foundation. When newly arrived Maria Merryweather comes to live in this environment, she realizes that if the truth isn’t discovered there can be no restoration. She begins a search through all the stories and memories trying to find the true thread. Her fresh insight finally breaks down the twisted memory brambles and releases everyone to start fresh.

Journal Prompt:

Take a special event from your past and write it up as a free-write, not pausing, just pour out all the pieces you think you remember. Then write down all the emotions that still influence you from that memory.

Ask a sibling or friend or family member, who was also present, to share their recollections. How close are you emotionally? What different details stand out?

Apply this idea to one of your characters. Have them completely misunderstand an event and makes decisions based on that faulty impression.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Information boards and kiosks, from local hiking trails to prestigious museums, have one common note. “You are here.” The maps may be plain, in color, different sizes, with or without words, but the X marks the spot is clear enough to give the visitor a sense of place, a center from which to choose their direction.

Not only do these information markers cut down on employees being asked to give directions, but they also add a sense of safety and security emotionally. Disorientation in physical surrounding often results in immediate stress. For adventurers it’s an adrenaline rush of excitement, but for others it can raise fearful memories. Either way we prefer to have some measure of control.

In the movie Moonacre, orphan Maria Merryweather is introduced to her new country home as uncle takes her for a ride around the land, marking out the boundaries, and giving clear warnings as to where she should not go. But he also refuses any explanations, both for external dangers and her internal confusion. He removes her father’s book despite her pleadings and locks it away in a forbidden room. He tells her what she may and may not do, and then ignores her questions, often dismissing her with curt exits.

Left with only a partial map of her new surroundings, she attempts to find some solid ground emotionally and tumbles into more and more bewildering situations. Still she tries to make sense of where she is, and why her uncle lives as he does, and what does it all have to do with the hidden book.

Bit by bit she explores this new territory and creates her own map to discover what her inheritance really is.

Journal Prompt:

Take your character to the home of a relative that she never knew existed. Literally or figuratively, close the door behind her. How does she get her bearings in this place? What emotional roller coaster does it unleash?

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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