Friday, February 28, 2014

What Do Your Characters Regret?

As humans, we all do things we later regret, whether it’s something we regret for only a
few days or for a lifetime. And your characters should do the same, even if they’re not human. After all, even non-human characters must be somewhat relatable to your human readers.

“Regret” is “a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc.” or “a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.” Synonyms include “remorse,” “contrition,” “shame,” “self-reproach,” and “twinge of conscience.” We’ve all felt regret. Maybe it was that moment you didn’t follow your conscience and speak up; perhaps it was the chance you should have taken but didn’t. Sometimes we regret an action for a few days but are able to make restitution soon. But some regrets can never be fixed. They can be healed through Jesus; you can be be freed from their hold. Yet the memories usually remain.

If your characters, both heroes and villains, are to be real, they must experience regret. You may have to dig a bit before discovering the things they feel haunted by. Some may not be truly haunted, but even they must have experienced something to cause disquiet inside them at one time or another. So, what kind of things can cause regret? The answers are as limitless as they are personal, but here are some ideas to hopefully get you started:

  1. She stole something and blamed someone else. Imagine the guilt, especially depending on how badly the innocent person was punished. This can be the crack in the perfect person’s fa├žade, or the point at which a whole criminal career was forged.
  2. He had a falling out with a loved one who is now dead. This can be a powerful source of sorrow in your character. And it can also serve as an excellent motivator. Perhaps your hero is bent on preventing other people from experiencing the same tragedy, and so he helps families reunite and reconcile. You could actually give that mission to the villain instead for an interesting twist. Haunted by his lack of reconciliation, he could try to force families to make-up, and his disappointment when they don’t could create bitterness.
  3. The boy never told the girl he loved her. Maybe he came close, and he really felt deeply about her. Yet he was shy and didn’t make his feelings known. Tired of waiting, she married someone else. And he lives with the pain of having lost the only girl he ever loved. This, too, could be the key to either the hero or villain’s motivation.
  4. Someone died because of something he or she didn’t do. Obviously there are many different things that could fall under this, but two come to mind for me.
    • He saved himself at someone else’s expense. Let’s face it: when survival instincts kick in, it’s hard to predict what will happen. Sometimes we act selfishly and run out of time to change our decision. But there can be a telling element in this situation as well. A quote from last Monday’s episode of the TV show Intelligence sums up my thoughts. Riley, the Secret Service agent, says “War can change people.” And Gabriel, the Delta Force veteran with a computer chip in his brain, replies “No, it reveals them.” It is true that people make mistakes, but their character also shows through under stress.
    • She hides a secret that could have saved someone’s life. There are many reasons for keeping a secret - saving face, trying to avoid further complications, protecting someone else, etc. But if I hid information and then watched someone die because they didn’t know about it, I’d probably carry some regret around for the rest of my life.
Other reasons for regret could be not spending time with a grandparent before he died, breaking promises, lying to someone, holding a grudge, being wrapped up in work while his children grew up, dropping out of school, etc. The list could go on and on.

Who does your character see when they look in the mirror? Are they happy or sad to look back at their history? Does it hurt to review their memories? Do they wish they could go back in time and change things? These are all questions you must answer to fully understand your characters. Regardless of whether his or her regrets are big or small, they will affect the way he or she acts. The girl who regrets disobeying her parents when she was younger would probably be more wary of doing things she was told not to do. The boy who wishes he had shared his feelings with a loved one will likely take more opportunities to vocalize his love now. Please understand that I’m not telling you to give your characters a horrid past full of pain and suffering. But do dig into their past and find what they wish they had done differently. Have them make a mistake on their journey. The choices he or she make will affect the story, and humans don’t always make the right decisions.

What regrets do you consider to be strong motivators in stories?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Save Justina Pelletier

Save Justina

My heart breaks to see evil’s hold on this world. It’s terrifying to glimpse the darkness in men’s souls. I got once such glimpse three days ago when I read the story of Justina Pelletier, a fifteen-year-old in Massachusetts who’s been ripped from her parents’ custody and is dying because of wrongful medical treatment by Boston Children’s Hospital.

This young woman was diagnosed a few years ago with a mitochondrial disease by doctors at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and she has been treated for this disease there. But last year she came down with the flu and was checked into Boston Children’s Hospital to see her former doctor at Tufts, who had recently moved to that hospital. Sickness complicates her disease. Within only a few days and without consulting either her doctors at Tufts or the doctor she’d come to see at Boston Children’s, the staff at the  latter diagnosed Justina with somatoform disorder, a mental disorder that causes pain but can’t be traced to any physical cause, and presented a radically different treatment plan to her parents. The Pelletiers, concerned that the doctors wanted to take Justina off of the treatment for her mitochondrial disease, refused to sign.

They were then accused of over-medicating their daughter, and the state of Massachusetts assumed custody of Justina. Her parents have been restricted to a monitored once-a-week visit and twenty minute phone call to their daughter ever since. She has been treated at the hospital’s psychiatric ward for a year, and she was just moved to another mental health treatment center of some sort in Massachusetts. While her parents were initially happy that she’d been released from the hospital, they’ve since discovered that this is only a temporary place while the state decides how to continue Justina’s treatment. The parents still haven’t been given back custody of their daughter.

This is a serious parental rights issue anyway, since parents should be allowed to get a second opinion and choose their child’s medical care. But it’s also a medical disaster, because Justina Pelletier is dying. One year ago, under her mitochondrial treatment, she was doing well. She was strong enough to ice skate and live life. Now she’s lost all strength in her lower body and is in a wheelchair. She’s in serious pain and her life is draining away. You can see the difference in pictures. This story infuriates me, and it should upset you as well. But all the anger in the world cannot help Justina unless it’s turned into action. Her father, Lou, has broken a court-imposed gag order to speak with the media and appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File last evening. While he could face serious recrimination from those actions, he’s chosen his daughter’s life over his safety. He’s convinced that she’s dying. I first read the story here. ABC News also covered the story in another article here.

While I’m thrilled to see the media begin to pick this story up, that alone won’t accomplish much. The media covered Benghazi, too, and nothing has been done about it. Unless we, the American people, do something, this girl will fade into the system and will probably die. Please don’t just pass over this: we have to help her.

This song by Robert Pierre has been running through my head lately, and it’s become my anthem for this case. It was actually written about abortion, but it’s incredibly appropriate:

To my understanding, the family is running low on funds, which is understandable. They have at least one other daughter with this mitochondrial disease, so they have medical bills. And they also have lawyer fees and living costs. You can donate money to them at I believe more than money is needed, though. If people don’t make their voices heard over this, nothing will be done. Glenn Beck has contact info for the officials involved in this case here. I also encourage you to contact your Congressional delegation. Something must be done NOW. My international readers can act, too, even if it’s just with prayer and money.

Justina’s case illustrates the darkness overtaking the world. But just because we know it’s coming doesn’t mean that we should cover our Lights. Even during Nazi domination of Germany, people risked everything to fight for Truth. Be one those fighters; fight for Justina Pelletier. Please share this story and post by any means you desire: Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, blogs, etc. Thank you!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Importance of History

In the United States, we have become hyper-focused on our students’ performances in science and math, especially as compared to international students. Education professionals harp on the need to better teach these subjects. Why? Because we fall in the lower half of the Top-10 internationally in both of them. We have several initiatives, both on the national and state level, to promote the study of them.

But what happened to studying history? Of course, American students do study history, or “social studies” as it’s more commonly called. There’s just not the paranoid frenzy about it that science and math get. Why is this? I believe it’s because the U.S. wants to look only toward the future. Think about it. All of the upper echelons of this country – educators, politicians, etc. – constantly talk about the future. They rarely mention the past. Science and math are considered the tools to build the future. And the future is important, of course. But without understanding history, the future has no foundation.

It’s frightening how little American adults know about the history of our country, much less the world. I’ve seen it on shows like The Tonight Show – ask random people in Times Square questions about history, and they may throw you some wacky answers, if they get past the “Uh, I don’t know” phase. Edmund Burke, an 18th century British statesman, said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” And I believe that’s what will happen to us.

Without understanding history, the world’s cry of “Never again!” falls away, forgotten by the masses. The Holocaust occurred less than a century ago, yet many of us know little about it. How can we prevent something like that from happening again when we don’t realize it has transpired before? History tells us that monsters prey on the weak, but we cut down our military and try to ban guns anyway. History shows that the Roman Empire fell because of its excesses and breakdown of moral fiber. But we ignore the parallels to our own country. When we study history, we learn that our Founding Fathers relied on the guidance of God. We discover that Communism is oppressive, that cults are real threats, that we will always have the poor among us, and that people aren’t perfect. History is the roadmap of humankind. It shows us where we’ve been and where we’re going. Without it, we’ll just follow the same path.

History Quote
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We’ve lost sight of that, though. In America, we’re so interested in making a “better future” that we don’t look to the past. And without frequent glances in the rear-view mirror, it’s easy to crash. This is one of the reasons I love the Olympics. Every time the nations of the world gather to celebrate sports and togetherness, it gives us a picture of both the past and the future. The Olympics are so rich with history. They’re great because of what has come before them, and the games of today will in turn define the future. So, during these Sochi Games, I encourage you to take a little time to learn some history. What you learn might surprise you.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Flash Fiction–Sensations of Music

Today I’d like to share a piece 
of flash fiction with you that I wrote several months ago. It’s not perfect, but I’d enjoy hearing your impressions.

Sensations of Music

The music swells within me, though the stage itself is silent. My bow poised over the violin, I wait. The applause greeting our conductor reaches its crescendo and then dies down as people settle in, anticipation making many of them lean forward in their seats. I take a deep breath, keeping an eye on Monsieur Lemouis as he readies himself. He raises his hands; my whole body tenses. Then he smiles and nods. I lower the bow and sound our first, beautiful, sustained note.

As the other strings join in, the melody washes over me, and I gently bob and sway as I run the bow over the humming strings of the violin. I feel as if I am dancing or flying. This is my moment, when I escape the bounds of gravity and reach for Heaven. I am weightless. Each note builds within me, sweeps through the instrument, and soars into the auditorium. When I open my eyes, I see the rapture on the faces of the audience, a reflection of the joy I am feeling. They appreciate the music, but I wonder: do they understand it the way I do? Are their hearts intertwined with the strings the way mine is? Does the same breathlessness pulsate through them that is making its way through me? But then, perhaps that is why they are here.

As our performance comes to a close, I keep my eyes closed for a moment, letting the music drain away softly. It dances away on the air, leaving a blissful smile on my face. Then I glance around the stage, almost surprised to see the other performers. Our music was so woven together that I forgot I was not the only one there. Many of them appear as astonished as I feel. The audience explodes with applause, and we stand, smiling at each other and at the crowd. This is the pinnacle of all our practice and hard work. Opening night has been an enormous success.

They continue to clap and then someone shouts, “Encore!” Others join in the call for more. I take a step back, stunned, and glance at the others. Our lead cellist shrugs and gives me a grin. So, I straighten and step forward, holding my violin and bow toward the crowd in a gesture of acquiescence. They quiet down. Then I feel the rush of color inside again and place the violin under my chin. I begin to sway gently and play a bright little progression, smiling at the audience. Behind me, the percussionist picks up the beat and the other strings join in, adding depth and rhythm. My smile widens. This is completely unrehearsed, but it is beautiful. Without a hitch, they follow my lead, weaving around my melody and enveloping the room once again with song. After about a minute, I wind it down and stop. The crowd fills the sudden silence with a stunning show of applause. I bow along with the others and feel the happiness bubble up inside of me. I am beaming.

Then I wake up.

The dream fades, but I’m sure that I can still hear the faint sound of a violin wafting its way around my room. Sighing, I sit up and glance over at my instrument, silently waiting in its case by the closet. It fairly begs me to play it, as if it too was dreaming of success. I toss the covers aside and pad over to the violin. Kneeling beside it, I open the case. This is a beautiful instrument, meant to make the music I was imagining.

One day that dream will come true.

Lessons start tomorrow.