Turn Your ‘Ah Ha!’ Moments into Amazing Characters

When was the last time you had an “ah ha!” moment? Mine happened about two months ago, after I arrived home from work and found my house ransacked.

That Monday in April was the day I realized how much I appreciate my right to own a gun. You see, I’d called 9-1-1 (I was alone at the time) and frantically told the operator the burglar may still be inside my house. I was stuck outside–a young woman in the dark–with no protection.

The police took 40 minutes to finally show. And I realized, the only person who will protect me–is me. “Ah ha!”

For the first time in my life, I considered becoming a gun owner. If I were a character in your book or story, what would this moment reveal about me?

Use your revelations to reveal your characters’ truths

My blogging buddy, Leah Singer, wrote this great post back in May called, “My ‘Ah Ha!’ Moments.” Even though she didn’t refer to character development, she got me thinking: How can we use these revelatory moments to unearth greater truths about our fictional characters?

In her bestselling book, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” Anne Lamott said a death or a birth must occur in every story. Whether it’s the death of a dream, a physical death, or a realization (birth), you cannot have that dramatic conflict without either/or.

5 Personal “Ah Ha!” Moments to Consider

Yes, I’m going to take a leap of faith here, and reveal five of MY “ah ha!” moments. With each revelation, consider the story behind the statement, and what might have led to this conclusion:

  1. Just because I was thin through my 20’s, doesn’t mean I’ll be thin in my 30’s (unless I work at it).
  2. I may never work in journalism again.
  3. Sometimes, money is more important than dreams.
  4. I betrayed myself when I refused to accept my heritage.
  5. My family is more important than my career.

Notice, each one of these “ah ha!” moments reveals some sort of internal or societal conflict.

SO TELL ME: What have been significant “ah ha!” moments in YOUR life, and how could those experiences add depth to your characters?

NOTE TO FACEBOOK USERS: I took the plunge and opened an official Facebook page for this blog and all things writing. Thanks for everyone’s input! If you’re in a supportive mood, head on over to my page and “like” me. 🙂 We’ll see how this goes …

Perfecting the Chocolate Chip Cookie

I’m a foodie–with an unfortunate addiction to sweets. That’s why I clicked with Leah Singer, the second writer I’m introducing, who’s part of a special networking project (a few weeks ago, you met V.V. Denman).

Leah blogs at “Leah’s Thoughts,” and like me, she loves food, family and words. I’d like you to join me in welcoming Leah as a guest blogger today, where she draws a profound conclusion for writers, from chocolate chip cookies:

Perfecting the Chocolate Chip Cookie

By Guest Blogger Leah Singer

I’ve spent many years of my life obsessed with making (what I believe) is the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I had a picture in my mind of what this perfect cookie looked like – soft, chewy, puffy with texture (not flat!), sweet, but a little savory too. And I’d stop at nothing to get it that way.

I tried everything – changing the oven temperature; more baking powder; less baking soda; hundreds of recipes; Crisco instead of butter; semi-sweet chips; milk chocolate chips; refrigerating the dough; using vanilla pudding; you name it, I tried it. Yet still, nothing I baked came close to what I considered the perfect cookie.

Countless times I’d try a new recipe, pull the tray out of the oven, and … flat cookies – my nemesis. “But they taste great,” my husband would reassure me. But his words meant nothing to me. The cookies were a failure, and I could not fathom eating them.

Interestingly, I realized through this journey that the process of “perfecting” the perfect cookie was how I used to approach writing.

I was one of those people that drafted something and thought, This is it! Perfection. I seemed to be under the illusion that I could write something and it would be immediately perfect. And we writers know that is just simply not true. Rarely do we ever write something that’s perfect. There’s always editing or word-smithing that can be done.

I’ve considered myself a writer all my life. But one reason I never started a blog until somewhat recently was the fear that my posts wouldn’t be perfect. Once I realized and accepted that nothing is perfect – and that the imperfections are what makes thing special – my creative juices started flowing.

During my “day job,” I’m a speechwriter at a large university. I have learned so much about the process of writing in the short time I’ve had this job. I NEVER write a speech and it’s ready to go after the first draft. That’s just the beginning of the speech. I sometimes go through 5 – 10 versions of “perfecting” the remarks. And that’s okay. Because I know what I’ll finish with will be better than what I started with. And what I learn while “perfecting” the speech is exactly what makes the writing good.

For writers (and bakers), it’s not perfection one should strive for; it’s the process of perfecting. That’s where the magic happens, the ingredients come together, and the learning takes place. The perfecting is the beauty of the writing process.

With respect to the chocolate chip cookies, I’ve since eased up on myself and realized there is not the perfect cookie. (Or at least I’m not meant to bake it.) Each cookie I made had its strength and weakness; its perfections and imperfections. I accepted that fact and I’ve learned so much about baking along the way. And, oh yeah, I now bake cookie bars instead.

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By day, Leah Singer is a freelance writer, as well as a speechwriter and communicationsprofessional for the largest university in San Diego, Calif. By night, Leah blogs about family, motherhood, traditions, cooking, her crazy animal family, and other such topics at Leah’s Thoughts. Blogging is a way for Leah to journal, share ideas, essays, musings, frustrations, recipes, funny stories, and – most importantly – exercise her lifelong passion for writing. Read more about Leah at: www.leahsthoughts.com.