And the Light Goes On

Isn’t it funny how things sometimes just happen? I had just finished reading Julia Cameron’s newest book, The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration: Finding Your True North (you can read my review about that if you’d like) and had a real ‘light goes on’ moment. It was amazing. It was completely out of the blue, caught me off guard, amazing. And it was so simple. Why exactly hadn’t I thought about this before????

There I was making my bed (yes, right in the middle of the afternoon) and it struck me. It struck me hard! The book that Ms. Cameron had written portrayed her as a real live human being.  She wasn’t  ‘an author’. She wasn’t a super hero. She was a person. A real person. I felt like I got to know her, her likes and dislikes, an inside glimpse of her as just an ordinary person who happens to write.  That is when I made the connection.

I guess I’d been percolating an idea for a story for a while and it melded together with the things that I was thinking about Julia Cameron’s book and before I knew it I’d brewed up a solution to why most of my stories fall flat. The characters just aren’t real.

Let me explain it this way. You know how when someone dies, an ordinary person, the loved ones left behind suddenly sanctify them as Saint ‘Insert Name Here’.  Miraculously they have no flaws. They were perfect. Gods who walked amongst us without whom we will now flounder and live an empty hollow existence. Half the time you don’t recognize the person that they are talking about. “Uncle Phil?” you’ll ask as you hear Aunt Martha sing her praises for her recently departed saint of a husband. Yes. Uncle Phil.

Well, that’s been part of the problem with my characters I think. They are all perfect, even the non-perfect characters. The non-perfect characters are PERFECT at being the villain so they are of course perfect. Well, except to the reader of course to whom they are merely a caricature of a character. Let’s face it, if you don’t have good characters you’re not going to have a good story.  Now, here I’ve almost diverted you away from my lights on, brilliant, I finally get it moment. Almost but not quite.

So, what was it? Remember, I told you it was simple. I just need to make my characters human.  You know, like the rest of us. Let’s face it, I’m a pretty normal, regular kind of person. (No do NOT read boring here!) I try and do the right things and stay out of trouble. But, confession time, sometimes I speed. Not terrible 120 m.p.h. speeding, more like the if I get caught I’m getting a ticket maybe speeding. So why is my main character a goody-toe shoes that doesn’t speed? Or peek in her kids dresser drawers. Or sometimes walks right past litter and doesn’t pick it up. Why does she bear a huge resemblance to Uncle Phil.

And why does my bad guy have to be evil to the core? Sometimes I think if we closed our eyes and listened to stories about not so perfect characters we’d see cartoon characters flying around in our heads. Even ‘bad guys’ can have a good side. Maybe they always pick up litter, who knows?

All of this enlightenment struck me while I made my bed, stewing over the things I’d read in that little book by Julia Cameron. The story that I thought merely gave me a look into her life and had nothing to do with writing sure had an enormous impact on my writing.

Thank you Ms. Cameron, where ever you are. Here’s one writer who loved learning a lesson when she didn’t even realize she was. And here’s a special thanks from the character who got rescued by you when she didn’t realize that she needed it.


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