Who doesn't have fond memories of childhood summers? Sure, you may remember that time you got a blistering sunburn, but I bet you had fun getting it.
I'm coming down to the last edits for my debut book. And I'm digging deep to make my characters memorable. I've discovered myself thinking a lot about the non-academic things I learned during those months away from school and, like any writer, my rumination ends up somewhere in my work.
I can tell you a character's favorite color, in narrative or in answer to a dialogue question. Fine, you've got that piece of information that's necessary at the end of the book. Or you can see the character discover her favorite color.
True story: My favorite color is green. Okay, now you know. But here's what's several layers below that: Every year we bought a small box of fireworks, went out in the street with the neighbors, and the dads lit the fuses of the little cones, log cabins, and snakes. I really liked those fireworks. But when I was ten, we went to a real Fourth of July fireworks show. Out-of-state relatives were visiting, so we drove three cities away to have dinner in Chinatown and go to the big regional display.
We sat in a grandstand. Even though the adults were excited, I wasn't impressed until the first rocket shrieked skyward. After the big boom, gold and silver glitter formed a huge ball. I fell in love with fireworks that night. Red, white and blue flares turned night into day. Ohs and ahs punctuated each rocket burst. The fireworks went on much longer than our little boxes on the street at home.
Toward the end of the show, two rockets criss-crossed above us. There was no kaboom, but when the chemicals ignited, pink and green chrysanthemum images shimmered then slid toward the ground. When I saw the green sparkles in that firework, I knew I'd never seen a more beautiful color. Now, when someone asked my favorite color, instead of saying I didn't have one, I would answer green.
See how much you learned about my family. About me?
I could have told you this, also true, story: My college guy friends and I sat around the RISK board, building armies, rolling dice, and attacking each other. And talking about anything but the finals we'd start taking the next day.
"What's your favorite color?" one of the guys asked me.
Another guy, who'd gone to my high school said, "Nobody's favorite color is green. That's stupid."
I thought about how many times I'd been singled out for admitting green was my favorite color. After all, race cars were never painted green because green cars were unlucky.
The oldest friend, who'd served in the Army to pay for college, chimed in. "Actually, it's a great favorite color. It's the color of money."
I've never hesitated answering that question since.
You can see how easily those two stories could be incorporated into my WIP.
Your past can be yesterday or an hour ago, it doesn't have to be some memory you've dredged from the depths of forgotten years. But it does need to have a hook into your life. Those small, subtle ways to share how your character grew up, how they learned to think and believe what they do, are what makes your characters memorable. They're what makes you memorable.
I've blown up a lot of space ships—remember, I write science fiction adventure romance. No matter how spectacular the destruction is, what counts is how it affects my character and why it affects them. You've read books that tell you all the information you need to know. Maybe you didn't finish them because they lacked that heart connection.
Hooking into a significant small event in your past is a way to open your heart and connect with your readers. The subtle nuances of your character building can let the reader discover things organically. The actual event in my story doesn't have anything to do with the character's favorite color, but those memories served as the springboard for a moment in time that impacted my character.
I bet you've thought of at least one summer memory that you could use some form in your WIP. Come on, share it with us.
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
Look for P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction story of survival, betrayal, deceit, lies, and love, this summer.
When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
So true, Fae. I think whatever human condition we decide to explore in our books is because we're fascinated with it. And the reason we're fascinated is because of our history.
Like the Stephen King quote, 'I write to find out what I think'.
So true!! Love that quote. And this one: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor
Thanks for another great quote, Orly!
You know that writing is one of my forms of therapy, Laura! I'm with Orly on the Stephen King quote.
I've always loved that Stephen King quote...and now Orly has given me a new one!
Love this post as I am doing this right now!
My YA contemporary WIP involves a campground my parents once owned and operated in N.H. by Squam Lake when I was a child. I even went back in time there to visit it for research! Brought so many memories to the surface - sweet and painful - that I am absolutely incorporating into my manuscript. One story from winter actually poured out of me: read that here. http://www.donnagalanti.com/throwbackthursday-story-childhood/
BUT I am taking your post to heart and going to journal a summer story to use from this setting and time. Thanks for the tip!
Loved reading about the campground and your winter story, Donna! Thanks for sharing them with us. And your comments about the writing of that story...magic.
My manuscript that I'm finding a home for at the moment is set in summer so I had to draw on a lot of memories. The smell of tar was always a background to my summer, as the roads melted in the heat. I had to incorporate into my book.
This is a great post, not just for reminding me to use my experiences in my WIP but also for the awesome 'show, don't tell' examples.
I gave long-ago summers a five minute daydream after I read this post and, growing up in Southern California, it was always the beach!
I immediately remembered the ferry rides and learning to canoe (on the ocean) for my Catalina Island Girl Scout camps. Riding the bus to Santa Monica and walking the three blocks to hang out will all my pals between lifeguard stations 24 and 25. Jumping waves until the surface was smooth and floating for hours. (Jaws seriously ruined ocean floating for me.)
Thanks for the daydreams, Fae. The smell of coconut Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen is strong on my mind now!
Oh yeah, the beach IS Hawaiian Tropic! Good reminder not to forget to use all the senses, Jen!
And WTF were we all thinking, tanning with baby oil and #4 sunscreen?? I almost got laughed off the beach as a tween for using SPF15 and I wouldn't be caught dead in less than SPF30 now. Also, roasting our feet on the hot pavement because we INSISTED on walking everywhere in LA barefoot. Never in a million years would I do that now.
You had SPF? Lightwieght. We had baby oil, Sun In in our hair and we were HAPPANIN'! Of course, we have sun spots and skin cancer now, but back then.... we were sun Goddesses...
Hahahahaha! Take a look at your arm, and now take a look at my arm (in your head). Do you see that luminous white blinding you? Yeah. I needed SPF and my nurse mama made sure I got it. I was much more afraid of her, and of the sunburn, than of my friends.
You & me both, Laura. "Tourist oil!" Yep, and now we're paying.
Summer memories! Being the little bookworm, I remember as a child reading Treasure Island while we vacationed at a cottage on Myrtle Beach. Hearing the ocean in the background, feeling the sand beneath my toes, and the smell of suntan lotion-- made the book all the more enjoyable for me. Ever since, beach vacations are when I give myself permission to read whatever I want, all day long. Binge reading atits best!
Thanks for bringing up a great memory, Fae! And how exciting about your book this summer - yay!
I immediately thought of three summer memories that appear in my soon-to-be-published novel. Little things but they appear in moment when my characters are cherishing those they love. I liked this column so much I wrote about it on my own blog. Credited you, of course. Thanks for your wise words.
Excellent, Fae! I remember one classic sunburn; my parents had gone out and when they came home I was sitting up on the edge of a chair in the living room because I could not bear to lie down. Someday that will turn up in some of my work. Thanks for making me think of it. (Obviously I got way behind in email, but I had to answer your essay.)