Thanksgiving Dinner

thanksgiving-dinner_wmdsfmagAround this time of year, families come together for Thanksgiving.  It’s the occasion of giving thanks for our blessings over a feast. We commemorate the occasion by watching parades and eating til our heart’s content while swapping stories and funny anecdotes across the dining room table.  And after all the feasting, we either fall sleep, put away the remnants of our meal, or play in the annual Turkey Bowl game.  And while all of this provides great memories, there are some who miss out on the very holiday that we enjoy.

Reflecting on the latter sentence, our minds may immediately go to thoughts about the homeless.  It is true that many of these individuals and families do not have a place to lay their heads let alone share a Thanksgiving meal.   If you have never served or volunteered during the holidays by feeding the homeless, let me tell you it’s an unforgetable experience.

There are some who just want to eat a hot meal and not be bothered, and others who will tell you their entire life’s story.  And no matter which case, the truth is that they are still human beings and deserve respect regardless of the situation that may have landed them where they are.

But there’s still others who miss out on sharing Thanksgiving with loved ones.  It may be the neighbor down the street who has no family,  a co-worker who isn’t able to make it out-of-town, or even the elderly that reside in nursing homes and residential complexes.  For these individuals, Thanksgiving may be a hurtful reminder that they are alone with feelings that they are forgotten and unloved.

The purpose of creating this post is to encourage those who may read it to remember, and if possible, invite someone to share Thanksgiving with you.  You may find that your “family” and memories may expand a lot more than you ever expected.

 

XOXO, Melanie Dawnn

 

Photo:  WMDSF Mag

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#Writing Observations from Best Selling #Novel, The Shack

Several years ago, I read The Shack by William P. Young.  Let me tell you.  This book challenged every mental picture I had of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  As a Christian that is HUGE!  We are shown various images in movies of God being a bright, blinding light, and Jesus being a multitude of complexions from fair to ebony.   And don’t get me started about the Holy Spirit.  It is rare that the Holy Spirit is mentioned in movies, let alone have a visual.

What I enjoyed about The Shack is the vivid descriptions of the characters and setting, relatable plot that stemmed from a life-changing event (i.e. child kidnapped and murdered), and a moral or lesson of the story that challenges the main character (Mack) and readers to consider/reconsider their faith. I’m a fan of books that are thought-provoking and spark feeling.  This book certainly achieved that.

For instance, the Holy Spirit was described as a woman of Asian decent who is sparkly and wind-like.  Even Young’s  name choice,”Sarayu” (meaning wind), correlates.  Up until this point, I envisioned the Holy Spirit almost like a faint white haze or mist.  Not sure where that came from,  but it was stuck in my head.

Jesus is portrayed in the story as an average man who likes to make things of wood and enjoy nature.  His physical appearance is explained as Middle-Eastern and slim.  My mind’s eye pictured a bronze-skinned man resembling a hippie dressed in jeans and a coordinating denim shirt.  I laugh at myself for that, but looking at it more closely, it makes sense on why Young would paint Him like this.  Jesus came in human form to teach mankind over 2000+ years ago. We’ve been conditioned to visualize Him in long robes and sandals.  But modernizing Him, makes the story more realistic and connects our 21st century selves to someone we’ll never see in flesh form again.

And what about God as an African-American woman named Elouisa?  The naming was interesting considering the German origins and meaning of “famous warrior”.  But I took it as Young using a play on words since Elohim is the Hebrew name for God.  I’m assuming he wanted something close to use for the character.

Throughout the story, Elouisa has what many of us in the African-American community call a “Big Mama” persona. What this means is that she is nurturing and loving, often using colorful examples and phrases to teach lessons (sometimes with food).  If you’ve seen movies like Soul Food you know what I’m talking about.  Using this character form makes God less scary or like the fire and brimstone punisher some may believe Him to be.  It makes God more approachable like a father with his child – still loving and in authority, but not intimidating.

So what can a writer learn from all of this?  Well, my take away is to find a unique hook.  Or better yet, look at the story from different angles and think outside of the box to grab the reader. Use things that may be common, but put an interesting spin on it.

Young could have written about Mack’s experience using the Trinity in ways we’re familiar. But by using a fresh and different perspective, it opened a whole new world to the reader, challenging what has been taught or understood, and prompting re-evaluation on what is formally known.

In addition, the word choices to describe the setting, characters, thoughts, feelings, and emotions were phenomenal.  It didn’t alienate the reader by being too scholarly or religious, or too simple that the story’s boring.  The “Great Sadness” is an excellent example. Young illustrated the plight of Mack and used this to join with the reader.

As a Christian, life has not been perfect and neither have I. There have been situations where I have questioned God’s choices, and moments when events took me into the worse depressions.  While I may not have experienced a tragedy like Mack in losing his daughter, I could empathize and sympathize with the turmoil and anger he felt based on my own misfortunes. Young may have drawn upon the notion that everyone goes through something major in life that takes them to a low point. And that was used to create the bond between story and reader.

Overall, if you are looking for an example of a book that has good structure, storyline, and a think outside-the-box feel, check out The Shack.  You won’t be sorry you did.

Finding #Writing #Motivation in Weird Ways

There’s something about watching shows like the Facts of Life, Jane the Virgin, and Younger that get my creative juices flowing.  Could it be because these shows have a character or business involved in writing, and their pursuits towards writing gold illustrates I’m not alone?  Could be, but there’s more.

There’s something about how Natalie puts a fascinating spin on her creative pieces or Jane’s diligence and determination to succeed at writing a romance novel regardless of life’s circumstances.  And what about Liza’s second chance at life, taking risks to revive a once promising career in publishing.

Before realizing the connection between these shows and my inspiration, I’d resort to music or sift through Pinterest for that oomph of excitement.  I still do, but what is it about these shows (writing aside) that gives me drive?  Considering the characters’ personalities and lifestyles, they are very different from my own.

**Spoiler Alert**

Take Natalie. Privileged, boarding school student who later worked in a bistro and novelty shop with her friends and former headmistress. After her initial attempts at journalism were rejected, she forewent college to gain “life experience” to enhance her writing career.

Then there’s Jane. A virgin who’s artificially inseminated by the sister of a man she had a crush on years prior. She has an amazing bond with her mother, grandmother, and father who encourage her dreams of writing and help with her unusual situation. When there are bumps in the road, she uses these in her writing or it creates a lightbulb moment on how to fix her problems.

And who wouldn’t want a second run at being young?  Well, maybe not every part. For Liza, she gave up a budding career to be a wife and mother only to wind up divorced with her daughter studying abroad. Sure, she had regrets about putting her life on hold. But she made up for it when her 40 year old self was mistakenly taken for a 26 year old millennial.   The latter helped to land an entry job with a publisher (who happens to have a crush on her). But it could come back to bite her in the butt.

All in all, the excitement and motivation from these shows provide a combination of quirkiness, relatable situations, life lessons, and the ability to live vicariously through the characters. And I’m loving it! I don’t care how they inspire me to write, just glad they do. J

What are some shows that spark your creativity?

Photos: Amazon, Fanart.tv

The Genius of Secondary #Characters: What I Learned by Watching the #Movie Black and White

Last month, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  He just knew I’d ask for a fun-filled 4-day vacay.  Or at the very least, a night out on the town with a fabulous over-priced meal.  But I surprised him with “I just want to stay home, watch movies, and eat hamburgers”.  His eyes grew wide, but my wish was his command, and he followed through beautifully.🙂

One of the movie selections was Black and White.  I don’t want to spoil the plot for those that haven’t seen it.  If that’s you, you may want to exit now.  But if you’re curious, you can watch the trailer or read the overview.

As writers, we’re aware that secondary characters can help to move along the plot, but they can do a lot more.  In the case of Duvan (Eloise’s tutor), he was a source of wisdom, comic relief, and diffuser of tensions. Through the rundown of his impressive resume and thought-provoking insight and experiences, it is evident that he learned as he lived.  But it is the former that provided laughter as Duvan did not miss an opportunity to promote himself and his work.

In the majority of his scenes, Duvan is shown opening a leather messenger bag, pulling out a resume and/or articles he’d written, and handing them to strangers who were caught off guard.  Sometimes when he did this it was at pivotal points.  For example, Elliott (Caucasian grandfather) wasn’t a fan of Rowena (African-American grandmother), but there was a need to discuss the well-being of their grandchild (Eloise).  On one visit, Duvan tagged along as Elliott’s driver, but took advantage by spreading his resumes to any and all inhabitants of Rowena’s home.  This lighted what could have been a tense scene.

Another example happened in court when Rowena and her son sued Elliott for custody of Eloise.  While giving testimony, Duvan interrupted his spill to tell the judge about his services, handing her a resume in the process.  This portion of the scene helped to break down what could have been tough not just for the characters, but also for movie-watchers.

What I mean by that is that for some, watching a struggle between Caucasians and African-Americans can sometimes feed prejudices to the point of anger and taking sides.  Duvan was useful for toning down these things in a comedic or wise way so that the focus did not stick to race, but rather the movie topic (i.e. welfare of the child).

So what I learned from this movie was that secondary characters can be a lot more than sharers of dialogue with the main character.  They can also help set the mood or tone for a scene, provide comic relief or some memorable quirk that makes the story interesting, or give support through words of wisdom.  The key to the secondary character is to support the main character and help him/her on the journey towards the objective.

To learn more about secondary character development, check out Ellen Jackson’s post on Secondary Characters and Second Bananas and Sidekicks by The Editor’s Blog.

Photo: Tracey Bennett

I Can See Clearly Now the Confusion’s Gone: Demystifying Often Confused #Words

Just like the shoes in the picture, subtle changes can be a big deal. Sure both shoes are red and have the same style, but the grey middle changes the whole complex.  Imagine if you saw these shoes in a box at the store.  Would you purchase them anyway or search for the match?  Most would hunt for the matching shoe.  It’s no different with writing.

Writers want their work error-free with clarity for the reader.  But, when there are words that look or sound alike, it can be confusing on which to use. For example, accept and except or affect and effect.  These are the infamous ones that get me from time-to-time.

When these (and other often confused words) are misused, it can alter what is being communicated or make a writer appear lax in the quality of his/her work.  And if you’re counting on the spell checker to catch the error, good luck.  It will blaze past the words without a second thought.  So to help diffuse the confusion, I’ve included the lists I use as reference.

College Writer Center: Commonly Confused Words – definitions and using the words in parts of speech such as noun, verb, adjective

Writer’s Web: Commonly Confused Words – definitions and example sentences using the words

Photo: Day 194 via photopin (license)

Learn to Write by Watching Television

Watching TV is one of my favorite pastimes behind sleep, writing, and reading. When I do vegetate in front of the boob tube, I take in more than the plot. I take into account whether my attention is drawn and what/how that is done, the setting, how the characters illustrate their lines, etc.  In addition, I consider the topic or subject matter and its relevance to me and society at large.  With all this information and detail, I use it to help me gauge whether my writing content is competitive, stirring a new direction, or needs to be reworked.

Does anyone else use this type of method for their writing? Does television influence your storylines? Read More>

To #Show Don’t Tell or Not to Show Don’t #Tell, That is the Question

In the course of honing my writing skills, I have come across a number of posts and articles on “show don’t tell” like this and this.  Most support the idea, but there are some that don’t.  For someone new to writing or trying to improve, this can send a confusing signal – like it did me.  But in researching and trying some exercises, I have a better understanding on each and their purpose in a story.

I finally got a chance to dig into my second draft. Going back over a couple of chapters, I could clearly see that I was doing a lot of telling with little showing.  What I wrote got the point across, however, there were spots that didn’t have that pop.  So I worked on a few “show don’t tell” exercises and applied them to my work.  It helped a great deal.

Now I’m not saying that everything I write has to show, but I do see why it is important.  In the same token, there are times when telling will suffice.  How I’ve been able to differentiate between when to use one or the other is to ask myself about the focus of the scene/story.  Do I need to let the reader see and feel through the character’s actions (showing) or do I need to give a factoid (telling) for it all to make sense and still be interesting.

Also, the use of descriptive words doesn’t necessarily make something more showing than telling.  Sometimes this only makes the story more lengthy and bores the reader to sleep.  Instead it’s better to consider the focus and how the reader needs to be drawn in. All in all, I believe it is good to have a balance between showing and telling because they both can help develop the story.

What are your thoughts on “show don’t tell”?