Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Way I Think

At yet another delightful meeting with my critique group, we embarked on an interesting discussion about understanding the way our characters think. I have to give credit to my brilliant and beautiful critique partner, Kate, for her insight on this. Knowing how a character thinks about life, their surroundings, and their experiences gives us a much greater understanding of that character than simply what they think. For example, a character may live their life by lists, they may see words and names in color (synesthesia), they may measure everything they do against the unrealistic expectations of a parent, etc.

The protagonist in my middle grade fantasy makes mental lists and she views her experiences through the filter of her water phobia. Her fear of water is so great that she attaches herself to solid ground and to land in all her observations. She notices plants, colors, and sounds on dry land much more completely than she does when she observes the ocean. Her observations of the ocean, and anything related to it, are always skewed by her fear. Understanding the way my protagonist thinks helps me to show her with much more truth in the story than if I simply told the reader what she thinks.

So, I've decided as an exercise for my own writing, and even for self-discovery, to evaluate how I think. Frightening, I know.

I make lists. Surprise, surprise. Perhaps that's why it was attractive to me to write a character who does the same.

I see the months of the year as having a precise location in space. This is actually a form of synesthesia called spacial-sequence or number form synesthesia. I think of the months of the year as having a place in a circle in front of me. But the circle doesn't connect. January through May is a long line on the bottom. (Perhaps I think nothing much interesting happens in those months. They seem to stretch on forever until my husband's birthday on May 26th. Then, we celebrate his birthday, have Memorial Day, and blessed summer vacation is upon us.) June, July and August form a tight curve at the top of the circle. (They are on top because summer is hot and too-short.) September through December curve from one o'clock to five o'clock position in front of me. (This is my favorite time of year and takes up more space in my circle of months than the summer months do, but not as much space as the stretch of January through May.) For more information on different forms of synesthesia, click here.

I think in terms of what I can't give up. Perhaps as a result of my perfectionist thinking, I can't stand quitting anything and so I'm careful what I start. Once I start something with an end goal in mind, quitting isn't an option. This goes for deciding to certify as an aerobics instructor, getting on the BYU Folk Dance Team, landing a lead role in a musical, being in a movie, learning to sew so I can make my daughter a Rennaissance dress and cape for Halloween, buying a house, publishing a novel, and being a good mom. I've achieved everything on the above list except for the last two and those are a constant work in progress. I envision the end goal, I work on it, and I don't let myself quit. The problem with this aspect of the way I think is I have a hard time letting go and I often run myself ragged. I cried on my daughter's last day of Preschool and on the day we told her piano teacher we were going to take a break from piano for awhile. This way of thinking is also something I have to keep in check so I don't impose unrealistic expectations on my children. I am teaching them to finish what they start, to go after their goals, and to follow through, while trying to encourage them to make their own decisions.

So, at the risk of revealing too much, and before I hit delete (since I can't take the time to write a blog post and then not post it because that would be quitting on my idea...ha ha), I'm going to hurry and hit publish.

I'm curious--not necessarily what you think about this, but how you think...comments?