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K is for “Kress”
Book: Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress
My dice roll: 77
Lesson: Changing Goals and Emotions
Character changes must be the result of story events. Genuine change gets a scene, usually in the final act, to show the change is permanent. As motivation changes, so does emotion, which is often mixed.
There is a five-part exercise on this page.
Exercise 1: Someone (a bank robber, kidnapper, war hero, military deserter, or poor person) is going to marry someone rich. List three motivations the person has for this action.
The person is truly in love with the rich person.
The marriage is a financial arrangement.
The person is marrying as a result of family pressure.
Exercise 2: Pick a second character (a bank robber, kidnapper, war hero, military deserter, or poor person). Try to imagine that character marrying rich for a one strong reason. List three consequences of the action. Which, if any, would lead to a change in motivation?
My pick for the strong reason:
Marrying as a result of family pressure.
Living happily ever after.
The first two could lead to a change in motivation.
Exercise 3: Think of person for whom you have mixed emotions. Write down the feelings you have toward that person. How do you express these emotions? What actions do you take, what do you say to the person, what thoughts do you have, how does your body react when you interact? Do you express both emotions in the same interaction? Do you send “mixed messages” and how?
A person I have mixed emotions around is Christmas. (Yes, that’s the person’s name.) On one hand, Christmas is a nice person. We have a similar life-path roadblock/ fork. Christmas is a painter, I am a writer. There isn’t much else that we have in common. Christmas has a long list of failed relationships— a very long list— and that baggage is lugged around. “You like my shirt? Yeah, my ex liked this shirt, too. Not as much on me as on someone else. Bought the same shirt for that @$%$%@# @$#^#@.”
Feeling 1= FRUSTRATION! Why are you wearing the shirt? If someone tells you it looks nice, you’re going to flip out. So no one can even give you a casual compliment without hearing you wig out about your ex. And then, when you ask us if we have single friends, we all realize that if we did set you up, you’d probably make our friend miserable before breaking up and complaining about it FOR THE REST OF TIME!
Feeling 2= Pity. Christmas is lonely. No one should have to go through this alone. Actually, no one should have to go through this at all.
Feeling 3= Anger or Confusion. Wait, it isn’t MY fault Christmas is alone. And Christmas has screamed at me more than once not to feel pity. Not that I was feeling pity at the time. Maybe that was sarcasm? I can’t understand Christmas.
Feeling 4= Gratitude. Christmas has done some serious hand holding during difficult and painful times. I suppose we all have, since it becomes the duty of those who have been there to watch over those who are now stuck here, too. But Christmas is always the first among us to recognize when someone (especially someone new to our Hell) is in need. And there are the random little gifts from Christmas. “I heard this song and thought of you. I saw this and thought of you.” It’s nice to have been thought of.
Feeling 5= Disgust. Christmas has two grown children. They are treated with emotional abuse. Then Christmas has the nerve to complain that the kids don’t call or come around.
Feeling 6= Annoyed. Everyone in our group is living this same life-path roadblock/ fork. Quit acting like none of us understand, or like you’ve got it worse than we do, or that you’re owed something for dealing with this. Life already cut you more breaks than the rest of us. We aren’t jealous; we’re happy for you. But knock off the extra complaining!
How do I express these emotions?
The negative ones I mostly express with facial expressions. Lots of eyebrow raises or squishes, and the occasional glare.
The positive ones I express with smiles and kind notes. Whoops, gratitude was the only positive one I listed. I… well, that’s the only one I can come up with right now. My body reacts by increasing my blood pressure (according to the machine) when Christmas is having one of those negative days and the group can’t escape from it. What thoughts do I have? *Mission Impossible music* Thoughts involving a needle filled with a sedative that would make Christmas go to sleep for a bit. *End Music* I’m kidding… okay, I’m not kidding, but they are only thoughts!
I suppose I send mixed messages by agreeing to let Christmas sit next to me, and then faking being asleep if things get too annoying after an hour. Usually I try for distraction first (like playing cards with Christmas), but if that gets shrugged off, yes, I will fake being asleep. There have been a few times that myself and one or two others have excluded Christmas from an activity because we couldn’t deal with the added drama. Hotdog (a nickname, I don’t know the real one) has tried talking to Christmas. Though it started as non-confrontational, Christmas escalated to attempted physical violence. None of us have interacted with Christmas since. A possible mixed signal though, as we agreed to go to a group therapy session. (But when Hotdog refused to show up, Christmas declared that there was no point. The session was canceled.)
Is forgiveness a mixed signal? We believe that it’s possible that one or more of the medical treatments is causing Christmas to act this way. We’d like to see Christmas get help. But none of us are willing to be bullied or threatened with violence. (Particularly those of us who respond to violence with violence— because that can lead to jail, lawsuits, and/or being banned from this facility.)
Exercise 4: Part A: Think of someone you know who has genuinely and significantly changed since you’ve known him or her. How do you know the person changed? What validating actions proved it to you?
Dwayne was a player. To go out with Dwayne on the town for the night guaranteed two things. First, you’d have a great time. Second, you’d see Dwayne hook up with at least one person. I have no idea how many people Dwayne has actually had intercourse with, but I do know forty of them for certain. (By which I mean I walked in on them or saw proof in a bathroom trashcan.) Then Dwayne was recruited for a work project. Yes, he’s a player, but when he’s working he’s completely focused and can’t be distracted. Maybe he’s a little one-track minded when it comes to work.
Anyway, while on a break from the project, he met Sunny. It took awhile for the two of them to go from acquaintance to relationship. Once they did, Dwayne was done being a player. He committed. None of us thought it was possible. I know he changed because Sunny was away for a few months. Dwayne could have cheated. There was opportunity. Temptation knocked. That’s an understatement… Temptation busted down the door and did a strip tease. Dwayne shrugged it off.
But the validating action, for me, was when Dwayne put Sunny ahead of his own well-being. He was put in a position where he either had to break it off with Sunny or face life-altering consequences that hit his finances, his standing in society, and put him under strong restrictions as part of a punishment for disobedience to a superior. (End it or we end it for you.) He accepted all of that rather than end things with Sunny.
Did he ask to be thanked? No. In fact, he asked only that Sunny never know the truth. Maybe being unable to contact someone (not for a lack of attempts, but those restrictions are hardcore) counts as ending things. Sunny moved on. Dwayne has not been with anyone else; it’ll be two years next month. He still thinks there’s hope.
Exercise 4: Part B: Answer the same question for a fictional character.
*Harry Potter spoiler alert*
Hermione Granger. She loved school. She was totally devoted to her studies. I know she changed because she her schooling to run around the country with Harry to save the world. The girl who said:
She skips the last year of year, expelling herself, essentially. (Debatable if she’d get back into Hogwarts, but there are schools for muggles!) To me, that’s a big change and a proof of that change.
Exercise 5: Think of someone you wish would change. What validating action would convince you the person changed?
I wish Christmas would change. Actions that would prove Christmas changed:
- 1. Taking a compliment with a simple “thank you” or by giving a compliment back instead of badmouthing someone.
- 2. Be happy for other people’s good fortune by saying “congratulations.” (Instead of saying things that makes the good news seem less good.) Celebrate the small victory or at least don’t rain on the parade.
- 3. Accept that it isn’t about you all the time.
- 4. Do not say mean things to someone else, especially out of jealousy. (Example: “Why does Dana get to go do that? I want to do that, too! Just because I’m physically unable to do it doesn’t mean that Dana should get to do it. That’s not fair.” We know it isn’t fair, but none of us need to be reminded that sometimes our limitations suck. Either be happy for Dana or say nothing. But don’t yell at Dana for not being in our boat! None of us want to be in this boat.)
- 5. Never act like you are entitled. (If you want someone to do morning exercises with you, ask nicely. Don’t yank off the covers and expect someone to follow just because you said so.)
- 6. If you want to help on a group project, ask how you can help and then do that. Don’t try to take over. Don’t blame other people for doing their share, especially when they do it well. And don’t claim others aren’t helping without basis.
- 7. Say more positive and reassuring things. Try to sound supportive. “You can’t” and “You’ll never be able to” are bad ways to phrase things.
- 8. Thank people. Be grateful when someone goes out of their way to do something that benefits you more than themselves.
Did you find these exercises interesting?
Who is your favorite fictional character that demonstrated a clear change in a story?
Have you ever changed for the better, and if so, what proved it to people?
Do you have any advice for or about Christmas, especially for Hotdog?
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