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

Friday, July 29, 2011


Emotional maps are unique, even from within a shared experience. Have you ever reminisced over a family incident or vacation, and be astonished at the different highlight memories? The geographical location was identical, but the perspective diverse. Or discussed a memory that to you is almost as vivid as the day it occurred, but another family member shrugs with no recollection at all?

The opening scene in Phantom of the Opera sets up the common physical map ground of emotional experience, first present and then past. It is a bleak day. The access route to the opera house is cold, wet, and icy. The elderly need assistance. And once inside the interior proves even more hazardous. There is no shortage of concrete physical metaphors in the decayed building. One student in the discussion remarked, “I saw it also as the future being the death of the past.”

Upon arrival the elderly bidders nod to each other with respect. In that moment they acknowledge their common ground for being present to this auction. And then both choose to bid on the same item. Ignoring what to the outsider might be considered art works or antiques when presented, they focus on a battered, tarnished child’s common toy, a monkey that plays cymbals.

Both want it and keep raising the bid for the seemingly worthless item. And then they pause to look at each other. Sorrow etches their faces. And the woman acquiesces, as she recognizes in him a deeper need, an emotional map that needs closure.

Journal Prompt:

1. Take a humorous circumstance that your character has experienced, and retell it from the future looking back at least forty years. What stand s out in vivid recall?

2. Repeat, but now use an emotionally difficult decision.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Visual metaphors often speak in silence. Their images impact emotionally and mentally. All our senses are engaged. Movie opening screen shots can communicate volumes of possibilities within a few minutes by taping into our universal feelings and engaging our curiosity. And yet while all audiences see the same imagery, we often process the material individually.

Sometimes it’s hard to get past all the introductory fanfare, but when we can observe up-close, as in a freeze frame, the metaphors explode. In a recent workshop students shared their observations on the opening scene in Phantom of the Opera, which is shot in black and white. While we all discussed and related to the ambiance and noticed the same details, each one found one or two images that held a primary impact.

For example, the ruins of the opera house were coated with cobwebs. Seems to be a natural connection, but as one student pointed out the cobwebs it took on a deeper meaning. Just as a cobweb is a concentrated and patient work of art, so was the Phantom’s training of Christine’s voice. Just as the cobweb is a lure for a spider’s meal, so was the lure to Christine to join the Phantom in his world. And also as the cobwebs clung to the fixtures after decades of decay, so did the Phantom’s story cling to the frail elderly visitors to the auction.

Journal Prompt:

1. Look over your beginning scenes. What common natural images do you have in your setting? Make a list of them and then next to each one write a possible emotional metaphor. Choose one that can be threaded unconsciously throughout the novel.

2. Develop its characteristics so you will have the details ready when an opportunity opens to include them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


When should a personal mystery be left hidden and when must it come into the light? Buried it has the ability to harm entire lifetimes, and sometimes generations. There’s no recourse for accountability, and truth, for restoration, and healing. Yet digging it up also has the potential for emotional and psychological disaster.

Perhaps the better question is why is it important, and then, what is the motive behind the hunt. Is it purely for self-satisfaction and accolades, or out of a genuine concern for another? Sometimes those lines get blurry too.

In the historical romance “A Memory Between Us,” by Sarah Sundin, Major Jack Novak is determined to find out Ruth’s secret, despite her reservations and warnings from his friend Charlie.

“It’s got to be big,” Charlie said.


“With Ruth. Something about her makes me think she’s been hurt and badly.”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Watch that pride.”

Jack is falling in love with Ruth, and yet he can’t see her as clearly as Charlie does. Her secret, the mystery has become a challenge, a problem to solve. Charlie later accuses Jack of treating her as a project instead of a person. But Jack keeps pushing for an answer regardless of the consequences. And shatters Ruth’s heart even more than it already was.

Journal Prompt:

1. Put your character together with a new person that you know is going to become important in his life, whether as a friend, or mentor, or lover. What about himself is he not yet ready to reveal? How does he keep avoiding the conversation when it steers that way.

2. Plot out the steps he takes towards revealing himself with this person.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Memories can be quite elusive when it comes to recognizing their truths. We tend to look at them through filtered lenses, rose-colored for positive and shaded for negative, automatically changing their initial reality and impact.

But our sensory memories don’t cloud the recall. Whether we appreciate them or not, just a brief taste, or fragrance, or sound can catapult us in an instant. Or, at the least, we have an emotional reaction to the input and don’t know quite why. And the senses sharpen the pleasure or the pain, even when we try to forget.

In the historical romance “A Memory Between Us,” by Sarah Sundin, army nurse Lieutenant Ruth Doherty remembers her past well. In fact, so well, that she has built a protective emotional barrier around herself to keep it locked up. She stays focused and stays professional. And if it should try to derail her, she turns to well-honed defense mechanisms to lock it back.

But eventually she takes a step towards love, accepts a kiss for a brief moment of yearning and then the sensory memory attacks, robbing her of present happiness, and skidding her backwards.

“His breath stank of beer and sausage. He ground the broken watch glass into her wrist, ground the truth into her head: ‘You’ll never get rid of me. You’ll always see my face.’”

And so she runs, convinced she will never be freed from the pain.

Journal Prompt:

Make a sensory list for your character. From each category choose her most favorite memory, and her most horrible memory. Which one is the most dramatic, or the most humorous? Look for a place in one of your scenes to use this memory to create friction with another character.

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