By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Category: Writing (page 1 of 10)

My People

When I arrived at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference I felt out of my element. The idea of a large gathering of writers of all skill levels getting together to challenge and encourage each other to grow in the craft and business of writing was exciting. The reality of mixing and mingling with members of that group, complete strangers no less, was daunting to me as a card carrying introvert. I was never more thankful for our small local writers’ group that attended the event together. We would go our separate ways for classes, but they could be my lifeline during less structured times.

It didn’t take long for me to acclimate to my surroundings. Over the five days of the conference, I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and speak with people I didn’t know. At the end of the first full day I called my husband and announced, “I have found my people.”

It didn’t matter that we came from different walks of life. Our various theological beliefs didn’t drive a wedge between us. Our varying levels of skill and success as authors were inconsequential. We were connected by something more, by the God-given desire to minister to others through the creative art of writing and a love of God. Never did I feel this more clearly than the first worship service of the conference.

When the husband and wife praise team led us in the first song of the conference, the connection of everyone in the room became its most clear. Some raised their hands in praise. Some stood still while lifting their voices. Others were unfamiliar with the songs but joined in as they caught on. In that moment, our differences didn’t matter. We were joined in praise of the One who blessed us with salvation as well as the ability to use our passions to further the gospel and build up the body of Christ.

It was a beautiful sound. For a moment I closed my eyes and listened to hundreds of voices raised in praise together. Even small groups lifting their voices to God in song can be beautiful. But listening to that many voices, united in purpose and ministry, bringing praise to God left me feeling completely connected to God and His people. We were part of something real together.

This time of completely united worship came to mind today during my quiet time. Revelation 5:13 says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Did you see it? “Every creature” is praising. I was moved by the beauty of a couple hundred people united in praise. I’ve had opportunity to hear a few thousand do the same at a Women of Faith conference. But these are going to pale in comparison to the connection and love and beauty of every creature in creation bringing praise to God in unity.

Can you imagine the sound? The power of that praise? And we will be part of it. The connection I felt as I found “my people” at the conference will seem slight in comparison to the connection of all creation joining in unified praise. I don’t doubt that in that moment we will feel the full realization of being joined together as God’s people for eternity.

NaNoWriMo or NO

Writers, both experienced and beginners, are gearing up for the start of NaNoWriMo in just two days. I’ve never participated in the event, but I know several who have taken part faithfully every November. Even my sister authors from the Once Upon A Page YouTube channel participate. They gave our viewers and me some great information about how to complete NaNoWriMo successfully in our video that posted last Saturday. I’ll add the link below.

While the event gets splashed all over people’s social media pages from the end of October to the beginning of December, it’s important to remember it’s okay to NOT participate. You can be a successful author without ever taking that challenge. You don’t have to feel guilty if last year wasn’t good for you to join in and this year doesn’t look any better. Just as there are plotters, pantsers, and those who are somewhere in between, there are writers who thrive on challenges like this and others who find it creates more anxiety than they want to add to their lives.

So if you’re participating, feel free to friend me. I may make you feel really good about yourself. I’ve not been known to have the self-discipline to get those rigid word counts in. I may surprise myself, but I doubt it.

If you’re not, I’d still like to encourage you in your writing. Add a comment about what you’re working on and your goals for it. We aren’t in competition here. There’s room for everyone at the author table, and we need to build each other up.

And if you’re a reader and NaNoWriMo means nothing to you, I get that too. I’m glad you stopped by and read this post anyway. National Reading Month is supposed to be in March. Maybe someone will develop the reading version of NaNoWriMo. It could be called NaNoReaMo, and we could challenge one another to read and review a certain number of novels during that month. Some novel loving person might want to look into that. I know I’d get behind it.

And here’s the link I promised.

Exciting New Endeavor

It has been a busy week. Last Saturday, I made the trip to Kentucky to meet with two authors I met at a conference over the summer. We spent the afternoon recording for a new YouTube channel called Once Upon A Page. We will post weekly Author Talks. This week’s video introduces us and what we write. Next week, we will discuss NaNoWriMo. I’m including the link, and we’d love for you to check it out. Subscribe if you like what you see.

Anyway, back to my hectic week. My husband’s grandmother passed away at 103 years old over the weekend, and the funeral was Tuesday. She lived over an hour away, so the whole day was taken up with those family obligations.

I do have a book to review, but in addition to the funeral and the daily care I provide for my own grandmother with dementia, I spent my week trying to find the right video editing program, develop intro videos to add to each weekly video, edit this week’s video, and post it today. I also had the Friday post on my publisher’s blog. Oh, and did I forget to mention I signed up for two craft/gift fairs in November and spent half an hour trying to figure out how to tie a good bow to make gift sets out of my books? I’m a crafty person, but ribbon and I don’t get along at all. Hopefully the remaining sets go a little faster since I’ve now successfully tied one bow.

Now that I’ve sort of figured out the bow thing and the video editing thing, I intend to get back to my regular posting schedule. Monday, I’ll post a “What I’m Reading” review for the final book in an historical fiction series I’ve enjoyed. I’ll see you back here on Monday. Until then, check out Once Upon A Page.

New Beginnings

“’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.”

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Pen writing once upon a time on blank paper

It never fails. The sudden flip of the switch turning on the light bulb of an awesome idea comes when you’re smack dab in the middle of your current project. You may grab a notebook and jot it down for later or even take the time to type out the opening paragraphs to use when your time is your own. But first things first, you have to finish what you’re working on. You’ve got a deadline and a blank page to fill.

In my last post, I discussed the difficulty of endings and that anxious feeling one gets when the end is in sight but still unreached. When you’ve got a new project waiting, the feeling intensifies. You’ve tried to purge it from your mind so you can continue on with your Work In Progress, but it calls to you from where it’s hidden in the dark corner of your mind. You keep telling it to hush until finally, your WIP is complete. You’re free of the deadlines and free to pursue a new WIP.

You approach your idea file almost bursting with anticipation. You flip through each possibility wanting to make the right choice. All the voices of all the ideas shout for your attention, but one invariably raises its voice above the others. This is the idea you choose to pursue. The others slink back to their hiding spots in those dark corners of your mind, pouting until their turn finally comes.

You turn on your laptop and open your word processing program. A blank page fills the screen full of possibilities and waiting to be full of life. The cursor blinks in anticipation of the words that will soon cover the page. It’s time. The idea steps into the light, and its energy courses through you and into your fingertips loosing itself through each touch of the keyboard.

Worlds take shape. Fully formed characters emerge to take their place on the stage your idea created. Characters and plot step in time together creating a beautiful dance of tension and resolution in the ballroom of your setting. It’s a passionate dance that will leave future readers steeped in emotion and fully invested in it. The story becomes a thing of unrivaled beauty. And it all starts with a new beginning.

By the Book: With the three books in Katie’s story complete, I find myself at a place of beginning. I love Katie’s story, but I can’t deny the fresh dose of excitement I feel for my new WIP. Starting something new can be scary, but it can also infuse your life with new energy and excitement. If you’re facing a new beginning with trepidation but know it is where God would have you, pray for Him to reveal aspects of this change that you can be excited about. Ask Him to give you a different perspective about this new adventure and fill you with hope and anticipation for it.

Endings

Chalkboard with the end written on it

It is finished. At the beginning of August I turned in book three in Katie’s story to the publisher. I’ll have edits to complete once the editor has finished with it, but Katie’s story has reached its conclusion. There will be no more days filling in the blanks for her. She has her ending, and I hope everyone thinks it’s a worthy one for her.

When I started writing Faith’s Journey (and at the beginning that’s not even what it was called), the words poured out of my fingertips into my laptop. I was excited to sit down each day and put her story on paper. By the end of Faith’s Journey I had read my own words often enough that I was dull to it, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for beginning the next chapter of her story with Grasping Hope.

The second story was harder to write, but I still found myself enthusiastic for the telling. And as I grew close to the finish line, I again found myself ready to reach the end. I was more than ready to begin the final installment of the telling of Katie’s life.

Looking back at Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope, I now realize I didn’t know how hard writing could be at times. Relentless Love pushed me further than the other two books. I looked forward to giving readers an end to Katie’s story. Excitement to see where her story took her and the growth she would experience kept me at my computer, but the final piece to her story was the hardest to write. Why?

I think part of it stems from the anxiousness I feel to have the story completed. By the time I got to the final chapters of each book, there was an unsettled feeling in me. I’d read my own words enough times that I needed distance from them. And, like any long journey, the last few miles from home seem to take the most time to complete. You know the destination is close, you want nothing more than to reach the destination, and the miles you can cover so swiftly in your mind do not go so quickly in reality. I’m finding the same anxiousness as I travel the last few chapters to each book I write. The end is close enough I can almost touch it, but not quite.

This feeling played into the writing of Relentless Love, but it was more complicated than that. There was added pressure going into the last book of the series. Knowing it was the conclusion to Katie’s story, I wanted it to be the finale everyone needed. We met so many people along the journey, and I didn’t want to leave readers in limbo about how their lives ended up. I wanted Katie’s story to be true to life and show her growth in a way we could relate to it. And after all she went through, I knew Katie’s story should end on a positive note. All this played through my mind as I wrote Relentless Love making it the most difficult of the three to write.

Endings can be hard whether we’re talking about writing or life. Fear can threaten to spiral out of control when we unexpectedly lose a job or face a deadly diagnosis. Anything that makes us turn from our current direction without warning or want on our part can settle like weight on our shoulders. It can affect our interactions with others, our self-esteem, and our outlook.

Even when it’s something we desire, stepping from the known to the unknown can be difficult. To leave a job we don’t like for a new one seems easy, but it can cause unease. If we’ve been at the job any length of time, we may not like it but we will have gained a level of understanding of how things work there. To leave this known entity, no matter how bad, and begin again in a new environment can be unnerving. Our joy at the possibility of something much better is tempered with the hesitation of moving into new territory.

While it may be natural to struggle with these issues when coming to the end of things, we don’t have to fall under the weight of the struggle. As Christians, we have scriptural promises to turn to for comfort and strength. With access to the internet, we can easily find God’s promises to us in any situation we face. Simply focusing on the character of God as seen in His word can bring peace, hope, and strength for the endings we face. Taking time with Him each day can change our perspective and help us go with grace through whatever we face.

I would issue a word of caution about relying on others to point you to your hope whether it’s an internet search, your pastor’s sermon, or even this blog. It’s easy to find a verse in scripture to back up anything we want to believe. We are responsible to keep God’s word in context. An individual scripture has to be taken in light of the whole to find its true meaning. To do this, we have to do what Timothy says and study the Word to be able to understand the Word.

Best Laid Plans

Botanical garden pictures, fountains, hedge mazes, flowers.

You know what they say about best laid plans. Or if you’re like me, you have to google the rest of the saying because people stopped using the complete phrase. It’s actually, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That was my weekend.

The main character in my work in progress owns a cupcake truck. Rural southern Illinois is not known for its food truck options. The closest place for sampling the fare is St. Louis, Missouri. I researched to find one with great reviews and my husband and I left Friday night. We would spend the night and be at the food truck when it opened on Saturday.  The day would give me valuable insight into locations, ability to operate in the cold winter months, and the food truck atmosphere.

While enjoying the botanical gardens Saturday morning, I checked Facebook every hour for the food truck to post the day’s location. When opening time came and went without a post, I messaged them. The return message was prompt and disappointing. They were closed for Labor Day weekend! I tried to find other trucks, but none really appealed to me. I couldn’t find locations for the couple that we agreed sounded okay. I couldn’t keep searching because reading in the car was making me sick. We stopped looking. My research trip was suddenly research-less.

Choosing to stay positive, we visited an antique mall we’d seen. We were unimpressed. Everything on our list of things to do was failing to deliver. We were having a pleasant time and enjoying the time spent together, but our plans weren’t working out as we’d hoped.

On a whim, I found a used bookstore since Andy and I love the one we go to in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  We stopped. Like everything else, we enjoyed ourselves, but it probably won’t receive a return trip. It did, however, give us the prompting we needed to take a less familiar way home, off the interstate.

Barn, tractor with wagon, country store

While we drove the highway through forgotten small towns, we decided to pull over if anything we saw looked good for lunch. If not, we’d just wait until we got home. That’s when I saw the sign for Eckert’s orchard. We have several orchards in our area, but even the most commercial ones are not like this. It was home-grown fun for the entire family. Eckert’s boasts a restaurant, custard stand, country store, garden center, and U-pick apple and pumpkin fields complete with tractor pulled wagon rides to the trees or vines.  They even had a carnival area for the kids.

Our first stop was the country store filled with products made from the produce of the farm. The store contained everything a small country market would have along with gifts and home décor. We quickly had more on our list of things we’d like to try than we guessed possible and decided to eat first, shop second.

We weren’t sure what kind of quality could be expected at an orchard restaurant, but we were pleasantly surprised. The portions were good, and the food was too. The service was excellent. Everyone we met at the restaurant and in the store was pleasant and helpful, taking the time to chat with us. With our hunger satisfied, we went back to the store and spent way more than we should have on fudge, cider, pancake mix and syrup, flavored coffee, cider doughnuts, and grilling sauces.

Eckert’s orchard wasn’t on our list of things to do when we set out for the weekend, but it was the highlight of our trip. On the way home we talked about how we would have missed it had the food truck been open or if we hadn’t veered off course to find the used bookstore. We wouldn’t have seen it if we’d taken the interstate as originally planned or decided to call the trip done and wait to eat until we arrived home. So many things in our plans had to go wrong for us to end up in the one place that turned into the most memorable part of our weekend.

How many times do we gripe and whine to God when things don’t go the way we planned? How many times do we pout over missed opportunities and unexpected twists in our lives? We lay out great plans for our marriages, families, careers, and ministries only to lash out at God as if He’s betrayed us when something we didn’t plan and don’t like enters into our carefully constructed pictures. We intended to go through life on the fast-moving interstate only to find ourselves on the backroads of a country highway. And I can’t help but wonder how many times we’ve missed the times of joy, redemption, and restoration God has for us around the next bend in the road because we’re too busy focusing on how all our best laid plans have fallen apart.

There Goes My Groove

Scene from Emperor's New Groove. I'm sorry but you've thrown off the emperor's groove.

I know I usually start with a quote from a children’s book or about writing or reading, but this one is from a children’s movie. That counts, right? Besides, this quote sums up my current life situation. Let me explain.

For the last several years my husband has worked two jobs, not including pastoring and teaching martial arts. This has been difficult on the family in many ways, but we’ve made it work. God recently opened up the opportunity for a new job which allowed him to quit his part-time position. Yay!

I’m thankful for this change. I’ve been praying for this change. I know it will open him up for more time with ministry and family. It will reduce his stress levels. It will allow him to do things around the house that have been neglected for far too long.

It’s been a while since he was home regularly at night, and a lot has changed. We have only one child still living at home. He is the one child we’ve never had to do extra running for, no practices and no volunteer hours. We joke that all you have to do is occasionally throw cheese crackers into his room to keep him happy. The stress of the previous years of running has dissipated as our empty nest grows closer.

Another major change is my writing. In the last few years, I’ve moved from struggling writer to, well, still struggling writer. But now I’m a struggling published writer. With two published books and a third due to release in June 2020, I’ve added a slew of new activities to my writing resume.

No longer do I simply write and research markets. I have to do those things, learn more of the craft of writing, grow my presence in front of my intended audience, learn marketing information and techniques I never cared about before, and take care of the business side of writing. It’s a tall order, especially when I just quit my full-time job as a receptionist to help provide at-home care for my grandmother with dementia.

I had gotten into a groove. I knew when I needed to write on my manuscript. I understood when that had to be put aside to finish the day’s blog post. Research, classes, and business development all had their places. I came home from my day job tired, but most nights, I could focus and get done what needed doing. Then came the change.

With my husband home, everything is different. He asks what’s for supper. He never did that before because he got home late enough that he didn’t eat. If I suggest leftovers, he asks me if it’s because I “have to write or just because”. Does it matter? But now supper is on my to-do list.

He’s home before I am in the evenings. I feel like I should be spending time with him. But if I do, I won’t get my writing or anything else writing related done. It’s a tricky situation without a clear answer. He’s not against me writing. He’s my biggest supporter. But I struggle with drawing that line now that he’s home.

Add to this the mental and emotional strain of caring for someone with dementia, and I find myself without motivation at the end of the day. Making dinner, spending time with the husband, and needing a mental break form a perfect cocktail of reasons to choose the living room sofa instead of the office chair each night.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know the answer to my current situation. Time? It’ll probably help. Long talks about what is expected with my husband? That would probably help too, though I know it’s not high on his list of things to do! Prayer? Always a great place to start. And so I ask you to pray with me. Pray God shows me how to handle this new stage in my writing life. Pray He helps me find my groove again so I can get back to doing this thing He’s put in my heart to do.

Cast of Characters

peppermint candy

Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope focus on the lives of two people, but the cast of supporting characters is large. From family members and friends to co-workers and customers, the list of people waltzing through the pages of my books is long. It has to be. You can’t tell a person’s story accurately without acknowledging the people they come in contact with. It’s these interactions that give readers insight into who our main characters are at their core.

While you may not need to name the guy at the movie theater who takes a ticket or the girl who hands your main character their sweet tea in the drive through, a short glimpse of some of the lesser seen characters adds depth and realism to the story. To discover a slice of a character’s past helps readers understand and relate to the main character on a deeper level.

In Faith’s Journey, Katie returns to the church from her childhood. In the pews she sees the people who play a part in her memories from attending as a child. Not every person is named, but a few snapshots let the reader have a more intimate view of Katie’s life growing up in a country church in southern Illinois.

Naming and writing the characters becomes a challenge at times. None of my characters are real. They are the products of my imagination, but there are times when real life has given inspiration. When naming my main character, I chose a name I love dearly, the name of my great-grandmother. Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan and I spent many days together when I was a little girl. She taught me to embroider, quilt, and a few other sewing related crafts. She told me stories of when she was a little girl. I loved my granny, and I wanted to name this character after her.

However, Katie McGowan is not my great-grandma. Katie’s choices, reactions, and personality in my books is nothing like the person I knew growing up. She looks nothing like my great-grandma. I’ve simply honored her with the same name.

I also knew a Cal growing up. I don’t believe the man I knew ever had the blessing of being a father in his life, but he was the type of man who would be a father to many who needed one. He isn’t the character in my book, but he’s the type of person I wanted in Katie’s life. Cal was the perfect name for Katie’s father who she adores.

Sometimes it’s a familiar action that makes it between the pages. Growing up, there was a couple I loved to sit with through Sunday services. My mother never minded as long as I was quiet. The man always had a peppermint in his pocket, and I always ended up with it. The memory is a sweet one that I’ve learned is similar to the experience of many who grew up in country churches. Though the character doesn’t return for any other scenes, I gave Katie a similar memory as she surveys the familiar faces in the pews upon her return to her home church.

One of my favorite characters to write was Gigi B. Readers can meet her in Grasping Hope and see her again in Relentless Love when it releases in June 2020. Of all of the characters I’ve written, she is the one most closely inspired by someone in my life. I have an adopted aunt, really my mom’s best friend I’ve been close to my whole life. She’s not nearly as old as Gigi B, and she doesn’t quite have Gigi B’s flair for the dramatic. But I’ve always seen her as stylish and funny and sassy and wise. It’s a unique combination that picked me up when I wrestled with my first broken heart as a teenager, and it was that type of person Katie needed in her life as well.

Gigi B’s life experiences and the words she speaks in my books are all her own. They aren’t life memories placed inside the pages of fiction. But who the character is to the ones she loves is a picture of who my aunt is to me and, I’m sure, other in her life.

By the Book: Creating a great cast of fictional characters adds realism and depth to a story. The characters in your own life do the same for you. They provide comforting memories for the future, encouragement for today, and, sometimes, even challenge us to grow in faith. Just as they are characters in your life, you are a character in theirs. Measure each day’s interactions using 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to determine whether or not you’re allowing God’s love to flow through you to the characters He brings into your life.

Different Voices

“The baby owls thought (all owls think a lot) – ‘I think she’s gone hunting,’ said Sarah. ‘To get us our food!’ said Percy. ‘I want my mommy!’ said Bill.” – Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Mother Owl and Babies

 All parents of small children know there are some nights you dread story time. When your little angel asks you to read Elmo Blows His Nose (I made that title up, but you know they publish things like this all the time) or some other equally unimpressive and unimaginative story for the thousandth time, all you can do is suffer through. You remind yourself that you’re spending time with your child and instilling a life-long love of reading (at least that’s what the research says).

But there are those nights when the book really is a wonderful story and a joy to read. I always felt that way about Owl Babies. The premise is simple and taps into every young child’s need for family and security. The illustrations are dark and earthy, perfect for a story about owls in the woods. But what I really loved about reading Owl Babies to my children was the fun I got to have playing with voices.

Sarah, Percy, and Bill are siblings as unique as my own children. Each has a different personality and way of relating to the news of their missing mother. Sarah always sounds so grown up in my head. I give her a steady, logical tone. Percy jumps on whatever bandwagon of thought Sarah voices, only he is a little younger and more excitable. That always factors into the way I read his lines. Then there’s Bill. Poor little, nearly hysterical Bill. The baby of the owl family. Each consecutive “I want my mommy!” gets a little more desperate when I read his lines. And their differences each spoke to my children in different ways. Each child had an owl sibling they related to most because the author took time to make them unique.

They may be owls in a children’s book, but what made it a joy to read Owl Babies to my children is something we need to remember in our own writing. Each character has their own personality, their own sound. The rhythm and speed with which they speak is unique. Even the area they came from plays a part in how they sound. (I can’t help but think of the line from Sweet Home Alabama. You know the one. “Honey, just cause I talk slow doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”) And a character’s actions before, during, and after they speak can highlight their differences even more.

It’s important to consider all of these things when writing dialog for a character. If something they say is out of their norm, it’s important to note the difference and give clues as to why it happened. Is the uneducated, poor serving girl trying to impress the rich, handsome duke? Her speech will be different when addressing him than when she is in the privacy of her own hovel.  Is the bear of a lawman dealing with a small, frightened child? He may lower himself to the child’s level and speak in softer, easier tones to coax the child into doing what is needed. But when he’s interrogating the culprit, he’s back to barking orders, red face and all.

When authors take the time to understand their character’s way of speaking and interacting with the world around them, the reader gets a more well-rounded, relatable character. It works whether that character is a person or a baby owl. By leaving the cookie cutters behind and letting each character be their own person, we give our readers more to relate to in our story. The more they relate, the more the pages will turn, and the more the messages of our stories will be heard.

By the Book: It’s important to remember God gifted each of us with unique personalities, interests, and experiences. Sometimes it’s hard, but try to take time to appreciate these differences I the people you interact with each day. When it’s especially hard, make it a practice to think about the difference you are having trouble with and turn it around. When could that trait come in handy? What situation might benefit from having that personality type? Thank God for His foresight to make us each uniquely suited for the purpose He has for us.  

The Sympathetic Antagonist

phantomI posted an informal poll on Facebook asking readers whether they rooted for the Phantom or Raoul to end up with Christine at the end of The Phantom of the Opera movie.

One commenter asked, “Why would you choose the controlling, reclusive psychopath?” In the real world, I most definitely wouldn’t. The character of the phantom was a controlling murderer. I would never encourage anyone to be in a relationship like this. His control over her and his surroundings and disregard for life were apparent. He is blatant in his tactics and you can easily avoid them, unless, apparently, you are Christine.

Raoul is also manipulative and controlling. He’s simply more understated with it. He tells Christine her fears are unfounded. He encourages her that all she needs is him in her life to be protected. If she will walk away from the bad, the life he gives her will be practically perfect. He downplays her feelings for the phantom as not real. She could never actually have any positive feelings for such a monster unless brainwashed.  That being the case, what she feels for him is unimportant and should be dismissed.

Christine is better off on her own. She needs to figure herself out before committing to a man. Her trauma started with losing her father, continued as she mistakenly associated the phantom with a promised otherworldly guide sent by her father, and then was rounded out with the fear inducing events of the movie. She’s been through a lot emotionally, and it would be best for her mental and emotional health to process these things before pursuing a committed relationship.

But that’s not the point. Focusing on character, I want to look at the phantom again. He is clearly the antagonist. He is an obsessive, controlling murderer. Yet there are people that struggle with his loss at the end of the movie. Why? Why would intelligent, emotionally balanced individuals who would NEVER condone such relationships in real life be left feeling less than satisfied at the end of the movie?

The answer is a key to making our own antagonists better. Without background information, the phantom is only evil bent on the destruction of everything to get what he wants.  In this one sided world he is completely selfish and there is nothing about him to garner anyone’s sympathy. We would actively cheer for his demise as good triumphs over what is so clearly evil.

But we are given the phantom’s history. Tortured and unloved, his first memories of life are horrific. His own mother didn’t want him and thought him a monster. She’s probably the one who sent him to his childhood tormentor. To escape abuse and constant public humiliation, he has to kill the man who has caged him for financial gain. To stay safe, he lives apart from everyone in the network of tunnels running under the theater. He’s learned there is little to no compassion for one like himself. Though he’s around people, he is on the outside, a feral child looking in at what he cannot be part of.

Through Christine he finds a way to interact with the world. He helps her improve her singing. Her voice becomes his voice to the public. He is obsessed but believes it’s love. All he knows of love is the messed up version he’s seen lived out on stage. When his “love” is threatened, the phantom reacts, escalating in his protection of that relationship. As she chooses Raoul, he lashes out in retaliation against those who would take not only his voice but also his love from him.

When Christine reaches out to him in the end, the truth begins shine through. Love doesn’t despise based on the flesh. Even he can be treated with compassion. To make sure the one they love has what is best for them, a person will give up their own wants. For the first time, the phantom begins to understand love and responds with his first action of real love in allowing Raoul and Christine to go free. It breaks his heart and he hopes she will choose him, but he lets her leave. Then, he leaves the only life he’s known taking nothing with him except her ring. He loves her throughout her life, letting her live in peace with Raoul. We see it in the rose and ring left on her grave. He loved her by letting her choose and going on without her.

Because the one who created the phantom’s character gave us insight into his past, we get to see him as more than evil. He is broken. The tormented became tormentor to protect the life he knows. And because he is not evil for evil’s sake, because he shows signs of growth in the end, we are left with the hope that he does become more than what he’s been. His pain brings our compassion, and that compassion coupled with the promise of change leaves some wishing it could be different for him.

As a writer I want to remember this when writing antagonists. Unless I’m writing a purely evil character, I need to give them motivation. I need to give them hurts and triumphs and losses. The only thing that separates the antagonists from the protagonists is what they do with those events.

It’s been said that an antagonist is the protagonist in his own mind.  As a writer I must remember to show this to the reader. I must leave my antagonists vulnerable and redeemable. In doing so, I create a character who is more relatable and realistic. I give permission to the reader to feel compassion for the way the antagonist’s hurts have shaped his life while still holding him accountable and avoid writing into my story a cartoon villain whose sole purpose is causing trouble or inflicting pain.

 

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