Roughed-Up Characters

SisterNote to writer self: Fiction is not real life.

I love my main characters—mostly flawed women who make life hard for themselves. Far from spunky ingénues, my ladies have been around the block, gained some wisdom, and made bad choices. Fictional real women.

I identified with Hannah and even the unlikable Nina in my novel, Burden of Breath. I lived with these two fragile companions for years while outlining and contemplating their story. When it got right down to the writing, my instinct was to protect them from hardship and heartache. Thank heavens my critique group and others routinely saved me from myself in this regard, reminding that my novel was fiction, and fictional characters encounter roadblocks. Lots of ‘em.

Interesting fictional characters lead bumpy lives fraught with problems because easy lives bore the reader. Think about a favorite novel. Notice how the main character’s goal is thwarted in both tragic and benign ways? For example:
• Gossip keeps two lovers apart.
• A woman meets a blind date with the price tag hanging from the sleeve of her jacket.
• A crowded platform prevents a single mom from catching the train home, and the childcare center is closed when she arrives an hour late to pick up her son.
• She chooses the wrong man, and any fool can see it.

Critique members say I’m too gentle with the protagonist in my new novel’s first draft. Make us worry about her, they say. Make her boyfriend meaner.

Meaner? In real life, mean people are dead to me. I have nothing to do with them.

Writing a more despicable boyfriend for my character won’t be pleasant, first, because I care what happens to her, and second, due to my lack of insight about mean men. I learned the surprising fact last year as the sole woman participating in our critique group. (Other women have joined since.) Five normal writer guys interpreted, attributed meaning, and argued amongst themselves about my female main character’s motives in ways I never imagined. Then again, after reviewing their work, I often said, “Please tell me that men don’t think like this.” Always their answer was: It depends. My critique friends’ comments then and now suggest that without their feedback, my male characters verge on too nice. So I’m channeling mean boyfriends—one in particular who… oh, never mind.

Bottom line: I’m roughing up my protagonist in the second draft. If I can make our critique group worry, then surely my women readers will keep reading to see what in the world that woman will do next.

If she can take it, I can.

Ann Minnett

Ann Minnett MWW photo

The Garden of Readin’

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading. Probably because it’s summer, and that dream of time on a beach with a book has been squashed by teenagers home and lots of visitors. Not that I don’t love my girls and my guests! It’s just that I need a certain amount of reading time, or I get cranky.

Last weekend I was the guest, visiting my best friend from college for the Sweet Pea Arts Festival in Bozeman, Montana. Our families have fun together, and it’s always a great time. This time, though, I managed a quiet hour in her beautiful garden… reading! (Until my husband returned from fishing and caught a photo of me in addition to the fish.)

In the garden of readin'

I needed to take that break, but reading there in my dear friend’s garden, made it even better. Since I’ve missed the Montana Women Writers discussion about sacred places, I will say with all my heart that Katy’s yard has always been a calm, gentle haven for me. And the place made the reading all that much better.

I wonder if it’s the same for you. That it’s not always what you read, but where, that makes the experience that much better.

Where are you reading (or longing to read!) this summer?


Happy Reading!


Kathy Dunnehoff

On Rivers — Anne B. Howard

northforkoftheflatheadTwenty years have passed since we first crested the hill on Highway 93 south of Polson—the moment my perception of ‘…purple mountain’s majesty…’ changed forever—an ethereal experience, inspiring our cross-country move to Montana. It was not until one year later, while learning to fly-fish, that I discovered and fell in love with her rivers. Nothing inspires peace and reflective creativity in me like the timeless, synergistic flow of crystal clear rivers. Waiting for no man, pulsing eternally through veins of time, rivers connect me to the sacred life-force. This is my God-place…where I feel anchored, heart and mind opened, where I go to think, to receive inspiration, forgive, accept, and give thanks. As a writer of creative non-fiction and memoir, slipping silently into the current of Montana rivers has little to do with catching fish. I fill my creel with the inspiration of newly acquired insight and precious long forgotten memories.

“…O sisters, let’s go down,

Let’s go down, come on down,

O sisters let’s go down

Down in the river to pray….” Down to the River to Pray, Allison Krauss

(Photo- On the North Fork of the Flathead River, Montana)

Inspiration…Where Do I Find It?

 by patti dean

Patti Glacier

“…an extraordinary elevation of the imagination or other powers of the soul” – that is the closest I can come to describing ‘inspiration’.  It comes in fleeting moments or minutes of intense revelation.  If I stay in the moment I am able to capture its essence. If I can’t, it is lost to pen or pencil.  It may be revealed as joy on the face of a child or sorrow on the face of an adult. It comes in remembering the smell of the sea in Ireland – the waves crashing on the rocks and cliffs, fruitlessly trying to climb them. There are times inspiration comes from a kind gesture from a stranger expecting nothing in return or a lingering look from a loved one accepting me as I am.  Inspiration came recently from flames…flames painted on a motorcycle giving off the illusion that they were moving due of the phenomena of heat – moving long after the rider has disembarked…and never seeing those flames again as they became real and engulfed the rider.

Nature frequently reveals inspiration in a garden full of beautiful flowers with my dog nestled in the middle or the willows letting their branches sweep the water in a nearby creek.

…And the biggest inspiration of all comes from living life on life’s terms, knowing I am living it well and following my path that the Source of all my power has intended me to follow.


Inspiration for the Senses

Many places inspire me, but one that tickles all my senses is our local Farmer’s Market. There’s just something invigorating about a Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning. I can pick up fresh vegetables, homemade treats, and colorful flowers, while looking for new products I haven’t tried before. From the elegance of a hand-thrown piece of pottery, to the sturdiness of a forged iron doorstop, to the colorful home-made quilts and more, the creations are as varied as the craftsmen. I marvel at their expertise and am inspired to reach such beauty and sustainability in my own craft of writing.

One booth has picnic tables for sale. Another is offering a selection of carved wooden bears, while a third vendor has a table full of wooden toys that are sure to delight both the young and the young at heart. All three of these wonderful and different hand-crafted offerings started out as a piece of wood. It reminds me of storytelling in that, while some storylines may start the same (boy meets girl for example), it’s how each author craves out the characters and crafts the story that makes the difference in the end.

The abundance of colors, aromas, textures, and sounds found at a Farmers’ Market is an inspiring wakeup call for my senses.

Deborah Epperson