Monday, January 25, 2010

That Girl

Okay, so my sis had this pic of her from like, the 90's on Facebook. And I was like, "What. The. Heck is that?" and she schooled me that it was something like throwback picture week or whatever. And I was like, "I will kill you if you put up a pic of me from the 90s."

So front forward (yes, I know that's wrong. My DH laughs every time I say it.) a couple of weeks. I was getting dressed last week, and I'd recently cleaned off my dressertop. Thus, I could see the family pics from about 10 years ago sitting there.

And I looked at that girl.

And I tried to make her into me.

It didn't work.

Because I'm not that girl. Back then, I was a completely different person than I am today. And it felt weird. It felt so totally bizarre to be in my skin, and look at that girl and think about the life she lived in a different skin.

So then I went all nostalgic and pulled out a bunch more pictures.

Me, with a mullet. I look about eight, maybe, and I guess I caught eight fish that day.




How did that girl (↑) become this girl?(↓) The one not afraid to wear socks that don't match, and orange shoes and pose like an idjit for her girl's choice picture? (Yes, I have on a jean vest. 90's baby.)



Or this one? (↓) (That's me and my grandma and my sis. Leather is sooo much better than denim. At least I lost the bangs, right? And yes, that's the Canadian maple leaf with deer antlers behind me. My parents still have panelling. I mean, PANELLING. Yikes! Let the snarfing begin.)



And how did those girls become this one?



I think I know the answer.

Life.

I almost started crying.

And then, as I always do, I began thinking about my MC. See, she's been giving me fits lately. Through all the editing, in the beginning of the book I keep trying to make her someone--she--just--hasn't--become--yet.

And holy blazing light bulb moment.

Just like mine, her life is a character arc. (Yes, those words freak me out.) And just as I'm molded and shaped and changed by things that happen in my life, so is my MC.

And just like me, she is not the same at the beginning of her story as she is at the end.

Now, this isn't the first time I've thought about charcter arcs. It's just not something I pay attention to while I'm writing. Like, at all.

But I will now. Because I've internalized it.

What have you learned about writing from your real life? Am I the only one practically bawling when I see myself from ten years ago? (Okay, fifteen, sheesh.)

80 comments:

Jonathon Arntson said...

I'm bawling...with laughter, super cute pictures!

I have recently had a lot of trips down memory lane too. And it keeps getting worse. But the more I think about my life, the more I can transfer the energy and passion of my past into my characters, and therefore my future. It's comforting and frightening at the same time.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Scott said...

I've learned that every action has a reaction. If my MC does something stupid, there is a consequence. Every choice, minor or major, has an impact, and that is mainlyl what I write about: choices/impacts.

If the characters don't grow, don't discard those denim vests, the leather, the mullets, if they don't change, then they aren't living. They're just stuck in a photo with really bad hair (big, permed hair, side by side with their sisters at Christmas, which they now refer to as The Christmas of the Big Hair - yes, talking about me)! In hindsight, I learned that big hair is not a good look. Thus, I hope my characters, in hindsight, learn something about themselves so they can move forward.

Great post, and love the pics! Oh, and we had paneling growing up. Luckily, we moved from that house!

S

Tamika: said...

What a transformation! You are a brave soul, my pictures shall never see the internet light of day.

My characters resemble the same sloopy mess I use to be, skinny, self concious, etc. I hope at the penning of THE END they will look like a makeover from The Swan.

Heather Kelly said...

There are some horribly bad pictures of me out there (some that my parents insist on keeping up for public display--I got in on the whole 80's perm thing), and in the past, I've tried to divorce myself from that girl.

I think that trying, instead, to integrate that old self, and the past--allowing that insecure girl be who she was, a part of me-- teaches me more about my characters and writing them.

Although some characters do try to deny the past (and not just that one picture with the frizzy hair and teal green dress, but the whole past), and I imagine it comes back to bite them.

This is going to be food for thought for me for a while--thanks!

Karen said...

I want to answer your question, but I can't clear my head of the awesomeness that is that mullet long enough to think of one.

Suzette Saxton said...

Wow, Elana through the ages! Well, you are gorgeous at every age. :)

Paul Greci said...

This is great food for thought. I'd never thought of my own life in terms of a character arc. Thanks for pointing out this writing resource within us all!!

Brigitte said...

What a relief to know you've moved on from the washed-out overalls! Haha!
The 90s was such a frightful decade for the fashion industry. xD
No matter! Now you are a lady! C:

xoxoxo

T. Anne said...

I love this! You're so sweet in all your pictures. You personality shines through, and I love the last one when you come to your most recent self. What a great lesson in arcing our characters. I'll have to map out my new WIP in a different light.

Michele Emrath said...

So true and so wonderful how life changes us. It's easy to forget our characters have a life that brings them to the point they are in our books. Thanks for bringing this point to my thoughts.

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Christine Fonseca said...

Why can't I get the phrase "and these are the days of our lives" out of my head....

NOW I get the character arc, picture thingy...nice post Elana!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing...especially the pictures :)

I think we all have the same issues going through the journey of life, just at different times in our life. My experiences seep their way into stories and help make characters more rounded....I hope lol!

Tess said...

Cutie pie, you! Adorable.

And, this is the part of writing that sometimes challenges me the most...taking that journey. I was told in my last work that the MC was too perfect too early and I had to go back and revise that. In the end, it was better but it was difficult work.

Brandon said...

You are a brave soul to post old pics, Elana. I’m sooo glad that I live 1500 miles from my parents these days. It means my friends are pretty much guaranteed to never see pics of me before my own personal character arc. :)

Very insightful stuff. I definitely agree that character growth and change is an integral part of a good story. Static characters are unrealistic. We are shaped by our experiences and our surroundings; our characters should do the same.

Funny you should post about MCs today. I had an MC epiphany as well over the weekend that I decided to share this morning. Coincidence? Or was it something in the snow? :)

Bish Denham said...

Great post. Love the pictures. Just wait, it gets better

Shannon O'Donnell said...

You are far braver than most of us, Elana. Good for you! I loved the pics - all of them! Your aha! moment is incredible. I'm still waiting for that, I think. :-)

Lady Glamis said...

Elana, this is so great! I think you're beautiful at every stage!

Tere Kirkland said...

LOl, your denim vest days were much more photogenic than mine.

I've been learning that I can't just force things to happen-- in life or in my novels. Things have to develop. Unfold. And that perfection can't be rushed.

Thanks for the reminder.

Indigo said...

Love this trip down memory lane. I used to be one of those people that was consumed with the what ifs. These days I realize events had to unfold the way they did to become the person I am. Life lessons are the greatest source of inspiration for a character. In the same instance, you can also freely play with all those elusive what if moments.

Great post! (Hugs)Indigo

Eric said...

Every time I think I've just about become worthy to kneel at your toes, you launch skyward with no fear and leave us all behind. This is a truly brave and awesome post, Elana. Ain't no way I'd post the ugly days of yesteryear (okay, maybe if I was drunk or something, but anyway). Seriously though, this is a great post and an really interesting way to think about characterization. Thanks for sharing with us.

Christina Lee said...

Shut UP!!! That is so not you.:D
I don't cry, I usually just cringe. But great insight!

Elle Strauss said...

So, true. I'm nothing like I was. I wish I could have just skipped ahead without having to go through some of those less than stellar stages, but then I would have missed out on living. A good reminder now when writing character arcs in fiction, they need to happen.

Mandy said...

Wow! You are BLONDE! :) Cute pics too! I get what you mean about change. I am SO not the person I was 20 or even 10 years ago. And as for character arc... Ya, it's one of those things I don't like to think about. That's a toughy for me. Maybe I'd better get to internalizing ;)

Tina Lee said...

This is a great post and I'm with Paul, I have to think about it for a bit. Framing my life this way is a great exercise, I think. Thanks.

Love the pictures!

Jackee said...

Brave, brave girl to post pictures of the eighties and nineties. (But I loved them and laughed because we must be about the same age.)

There is a wholeness about looking back and looking forward that I love when it comes to both my own life and my characters too.

Thanks for the nostalgia!

WindyA said...

It's amazing to see how much you change externally through the pictures, and then when you think really hard, you realize just how much you've changed internally that ends up radiating through your appearance.

You're a doll, Elana! Thanks so much for sharing and for reminding us that people (real and imaginary) change.

Catherine Denton said...

Yes I cry. Sometimes out of sadness for that girl and sometimes out of relief.
Winged Writer

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, Catherine, for me it's all relief. I mean, fishing? Gross. I can't even believe I did that!

Thanks for the kind words. At least none of you are making fun of the mullet! Or the deer antlers. I think my dad still has those somewhere. And my mom buys them on eBay for her gourd art. I wish I were kidding. But this is the same woman who plucked quills from a dead porcupine on the side of the road.

Ah, my heritage. Where would I be without it? (lol!)

Solvang Sherrie said...

Oh, man, what a great post! And dude, you're a blonde!

BTW, I had the same denim vest :)

Kayeleen said...

I love to read your blog! I have learned that I write most authentically when I can relate to my character on a personal level, when there is a small piece of me or my own experiences in what I am writing.

Kelly said...

Love, love the pics!
I once wore a mullet myself....I blame Mtv.
I put my throwback pic on Facebook too. I had coke bottle glasses and a boys flannel tucked into my jeans.
Change is good! :)

Nisa said...

When I see myself ten years ago, I bawl because I'm not that girl anymore. lol! Life's funny...

Patti said...

Interesting evolution and a great exercise to see how much we all grow and change.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Elana those pictures are great. I think I'm too much of a wimp to post 90's pictures of me. YIKES!

Anyway, now that you bring it up, I,too, am a much different person than I used to be. Life tends to make that happen (I'm a lot crazier than I used to be...bwhahahaha).

I haven't thought to much about my characters. I must go do that now.

Happy Monday!

Kirsten Hubbard said...

great post -- I know exactly what you mean -- and I love the adorable 90s fashion :)

Kristi said...

I am loving these pictures!!! What a great, thought inspiring post!

To think at one point in my life I was a total introvert and had no friends...the quiet type whose mother had to go to a teacher conference because my teachers thought something was honestly wrong with me. WOW. No one would recognize that girl now.

I definitely think it's worth putting this into our characters as we write...thanks for sharing!!!

**They only wish they could shut me up now! LOL!

Michelle McLean said...

Okay, it took me a minute to recognize you with the long blond hair! :) Love the pics!! Hmmm, now I'm wanting (sorta) to find some of mine LOL Except I'd probably get all depressed looking at how skinny I was way back when, despite the horrid clothes :D

Cole Gibsen said...

Love the pics! What a great post; :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Whoa! This is one of my favorite posts of yours! I really didn't recognize you with blond hair.

I don't consciously think about character arcs when I write, but I do know that my MC better not be the same at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Now I'm going to watch this during my last edit before querying. Eek!

Jenn Johansson said...

I've learned that no one fits into a mold...but most people aren't that far off from a mold either. It's finding that spot in between that defines both people and characters. That's where you find who they and you really are.

Great post, Elana! :)

Jenn's Blogdom :)

Sliding on the Edge said...

Time does very interesting things to us, doesn't it? I love your pictures from past to present. I hate to think of looking back at my own, but you've made me curious, so I might have to.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

I think each person is all the people they have ever been - the facets just rotate. Glimmers of the once, or future, self take it in turns to shine - hence the unexpected wisdom of youth or the free-fall descent into infantile mayhem.

Thanks for calling by and following, Elana - I was delighted to find you there.
Great hook for your book, by the by. :)

Carolyn V. said...

Oh Elana! I love the pictures!!!!

From real life? Just that sometimes when you try to reach your goals, you get yourself stuck in a tree where people are throwing rocks at you.

Why am I always stuck up that tree???

Southpaw said...

Wow that's a lot of fish! Good size too. You are brave.

Erica said...

Great pics - you know we all have pics like that hanging in our pasts somewhere...

It is a good lesson to remember that the character does change and evolve just like we do. Great post :o)

Jess of All Trades said...

Rockin' pictures. And what an important thing to think about...I'm a YA girl myself, and I think with all the fantasy elements thrown in, simple Growing Up and even things like evolving tastes in clothing :D get shuffled to the wayside. Thanks for this...

J.A. Palermo said...

You are not alone.

And then I think about where I'll be ten years from now...and as long as I f=don't start bawlin' then, I figure I'm good.

Liza said...

This brought such a smile...and the desire to dig out old pictures...but I'm have, ahem, a few years on you, and the progression would take a lot longer. The good news is that old as I am, I am as happy with myself as I have ever been, regardless of the hairstyle!

Cheree said...

Great post. I believe that life is the perfect starting place to create a character. Every choice has a different path where people turn out differently, characters need to have a life to be able to feel realistic.

Tiana Lei said...

These are such important thoughts! I always have this problem, but hopefully I will get it all worked out--my characters tend to act a lot like I would in any given situation. Cute pics!

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Thanks for visiting my blog! Love to make new friends! Look forward to getting to know you better.

Your blog post today is hysterical...maybe 'cuz I can relate to the pic thing!

My stories are about women in the "arc". Just like me, they start out sort of quirky and full of problems and they let me share their adventures! Who knows how their next pic will develop!

Tabitha Bird said...

Love those pics. I think you look like you. I posted on looking like me not long ago. I shaved off my hair recently and I love it. I look back on photos of me and think the same as you. "How did I become who I am today?" And my answer is the same as yours too. Life. I would also add that a great deal of healing has gone into my learning to look like me and love it. Great post. Thanks for the photos. Very brave :)

Elana Johnson said...

Tabitha, yes, you're absolutely right. So much healing. So many more experiences hide behind my eyes now. In the lines of my forehead. In my smile. It's just my mask for years and years of living.

Tiana, that's my problem. I'm trying to make my characters act how they haven't learned how to act yet. But I'm working on it. I will prevail!

Liza, I'd love to see your pics! Years just mean more laughs and more love, right?? Right.

J.A. Envisioning the future? Now that is a scary thought!!

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the photos! Memory lane can be scary, but you survived it well :)

I had a seriously screwed up time frame involving frizzy perms - not pretty. Not pretty at all.

L.T. Elliot said...

This post really struck me. Why? Because I feel like that everyday. How did the girl I am evolve from that girl of yesterday?
When applied to characters, it's useful but sometimes almost as painful. I should be laughing and all but I'm not because I see my old pictures and wonder how I got where I am and who I am now. I'm all...nostalgic over this post. I'm not sure if I should thank you or send you a bill for future therapy sessions. You could always pay me in ginger ale.

Candice said...

Your first picture is the same haircut I got right before Christmas a month ago. It's the merger of the bowl cut and mullet. I call it the bullet. I'm not even kidding right now.

Imagine a thirty-two, ahem...I mean twenty-nine year old with THAT haircut. So attractive, I assure you. At least when you had it was in style and you were a child. The cute freckles totally help you pull it off! Okay, that had nothing to do with the question you asked, but I had to share. :)

Melissa said...

LOL! Love the pictures. I think I went through my really bad hair days in the late 80's/early 90's. Big hair, tall bangs, bad perms. You get the idea:)

But seriously, this is an excellent post. In order for our characters to become more life-like, we need show how they change over time. Thanks for using your own pictures to illustrate this point.

Katie Ganshert said...

I love the photos. It is crazy how life happens and changes us without us even realizing it.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I love how many comments you get. Sometimes, I see how many you have and I'm like, forget it! I'm not even going to leave one.

But the gap-toothed twelve-year-old inside me couldn't resist posting.

The fourteen year old with the orangey sun-in treated hair concurred -- this post needed my input.

When I look at pictures of myself as a young teen, I wonder how I survived my childhood at all. :)

Jaime Theler said...

Great pictures! And a great post. Thanks for helping me think.

B.J. Anderson said...

Holy cow. I don't even want to open that door to the 90's because I had big hair and jean vests and the whole thing. Scary. I feel I, too, have changed drastically over the years, which is a pretty good thing. Great post. :D

Aaron Polson said...

I feel a night of scrapbook gawking is coming on. What I might find could be scary. (for me at least)

Lisa and Laura said...

Excellent post Elana. I love this. It makes character growth so much more tangible when you compare it to how much you personally have changed. What a great idea!

Little Ms J said...

O.M.G. Thank goodness there is someone else out there that had a mullet! My husband actually asked my sister (Purple Clover) why mom cut my hair into a "party on the top" and left hers alone. My sister smiled, "Because she loved me."

I love this post.

And not just because of the mullet.

But mostly.

ali said...

Whoa. Look at your comments girl.

And Whoa. Would you quit being so deep on a Monday? It's Monday night but my brain still hasn't kicked into gear.

I think your aha moment is tremendous. Brilliant. I'm basking in your glory.

And yes, I snarfed a good one at the pic of you what, karate kicking? the thing? Oh yeah.

Cindy said...

Those are great pictures. I know how you feel about looking back 10 or 15 years and feeling like...well, like crying. Sometimes it's so fun to see how far things have come and sometimes it baffles me how it becomes harder and harder to be that carefree girl who had all the energy in the world. Yeah, life. It gets to you.

I'm really having to examine this with the character in my new WIP. She's just about to turn 30 and suddenly she realizes that she's accomplished so much but none of that has really made her grow as a person. She's become a product of years of hard work, of routine, of necessity and she doesn't know who she really is or how to be anyone but who she's created. Ahh...sounds familiar. I guess we really do infuse a lot of our own lives into our characters sometimes.

Sarah Bromley said...

Fantastic post, Elana. 10 years ago, I was a teenaged bride-to-be who still hadn't dealt with losing her dad and couldn't wait for her "real" life to begin. Sometimes I fall into that pattern with a book, I keep waiting for the story to get moving, for the real living to begin. Yet, silly me, the character's story has already started.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Wow, this is beautiful, Elana! I understand... I feel as if I've lived several lifetimes since college. It's made me "me". I'm still learning my new MC. Gotta see what makes her tick.

Casey McCormick said...

Amazing post, Elana. I love the pictures! I'm tempted to do a post on my own character arc. Sort of a frightening thought...

Susan R. Mills said...

I'm crying right now. I know what you mean. Life has a way of changing us, doesn't it? You were a cute little fisher girl. :)

Sharon Mayhew said...

I loved the photos and the memmories you shared. :) In high school, I had the Olivia Newton John look...In college and sadly for the next 15 years, I had big hair. (Even worse, I missed my big hair.) In the early 2000's I straightened and cut my hair. (Man, I miss my big hair!) I wonder if my characters all miss their big hair days????

Shawntelle Madison said...

So cute Elana! Thanks for sharing.

V. S said...

You were brave for posting this, I admire that! Great pictures.

jess said...

don't judge me, but I love that pic of me, you and granny great. I think you look awesome! My pants have a really high waist; however. I also think my shirt is tucked in. I love you, sister. You are brave to post these photos!!!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh my word, you're adorable, now and then. Loving the orange shoes!My goodness, I just love those magic moments when life presents you with little epiphanies. Congrats on the breakthrough! Makes me want to go digging through old pictures.

lynnrush said...

Fantastic post. Oh yeah, I bawl OFTEN when I see pictures of my self from way back. . . .

This was great.

Linda Kage said...

Loved all the pictures of the different phases of your life. And how you tied it in with changing and developing character was just genius. Very nice. Thank you.

Amber Lynae said...

We are definitely shaped through our experiences. I laugh and cry when I look at pictures of me and think back of the joys and heartaches that make me the current me that I am. I often wonder if the now me told the then me what I know now if I would change anything.

Ian said...

what a wonderful post :)

Natalie Lloyd said...

Beautiful post (and gorgeous pic! I wish I could do funky short hair!).

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