Monday, March 29, 2010

Welcome, Mary Kennedy Eastham

Where is the Want? - Digging Deep to Understand Your Character's Core

by Mary Kennedy Eastham

What does your character wish for? We all have something that we think will make us whole. The fun we can have as writers, is to go inside our character's heads on the page and either not give this want to our characters OR to give it to them and to make sure that once gotten, it's somehow lacking, not at all what they expected.
Back story to me is the storyteller's gold. It is that silk lining woven into a favorite skirt, not seen but so soft and lush against the skin. Sitting at cafes, coffee shops, in a comfy chair at Borders, I eavesdrop on people and get fabulous back story ideas to use in my stories. People don't edit themselves when they think their conversation is private. It's kind of like that saying - character is who you are when no one is looking. I saw one woman slip a note inside a book cover, then walk away, nearly sobbing. The note said simply: 'You must do the right thing. You must marry her. I will always love you.' I heard another woman, who looked to be in her mid 70's, say to a friend: 'He said I'd never amount to much. Can you imagine a father saying that to his daughter?' I overheard a woman in a London pub say this to another woman: 'I've known your husband for years, but you wouldn't know that. My cat used to shit in your planter. But you wouldn't know that either.'
When I was getting my first Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology, I worked with teenagers in a 30 day lock-down facility. These kids were just weeks away from turning 18 and aging out of the Juvenile Justice System. This one boy, Kevin, who I had a soft spot for, held a knife to my throat in a kitchen stand-off late one night, pulling me into a butler's closet. As I was waiting to be rescued by one of my stronger colleagues, Kevin brushed my hair and sang to me, beautiful songs he had written to a mother who abandoned him when he was only two. He remembered the sweet smell of her hair. At his drug addicted mother's funeral, he asked his grandmother for scissors to cut a tuft of his mother's hair.
He carried it still, in his wallet, taped to a tattered Denny's napkin.
What would any of us be without our history? It can be our destiny or a chance to redo it differently, in a better way maybe. Like all of you, I love creating my characters. Sosie Bend, my heroine in Night Surfing loves vintage world globes and wears her mother's wedding band on her right ring finger. She wonders what people keep under their pillows at night and she drops pennies on the ground near elementary schools so children will find them and feel special, the way she did as a child. She loves the color blue, a blue within blue of sky meeting water on a summer's afternoon. Calling herself a Love Amnesiac, Sosie starts a blog called Love, Sosie promising to spend the rest of her life trying to find this one thing she really wants.
In the end, when we're lucky, our characters tell us who they are and the best we can do is to just stay out of their way and run with it. But on the days when they (or we!) are sluggish, not really in the mood to write (oh, yes, we ALL have those days!) ask yourself, what does my hero or heroine REALLY WISH FOR? The answer may surprise even you.

MARY KENNEDY EASTHAM, M.A., MFA, a 2010 Celebrity Achiever, is genre hopping right now. Her first book, The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget' - Poetry & Prose is in its 4th Printing, Mary is finishing up the last short story in her collection The Possibilities of Love, is halfway through her first novel Night Surfing, and she is thinking about writing the screenplay version of Night Surfing in a month-long writing contest challenge. She loves being a Guest Blogger, and she loves her four Golden Retrievers JoJo, Sabrina, Flynn and puppy Oliver. Check out her website at:

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