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Michelle's Musings

Tickle Your Fantasy

We are living in rough times, to put it mildly. I can't recall when I've ever known such chaos on so many fronts. We're seeing internal and external interference in our democratic election process in the midst of a divisive presidential election season; an unrelenting deadly coronavirus pandemic with its attendant record unemployment; and ongoing civic protest against longstanding racial injustices. How much more can we take?

 

As writers, we may wonder what we can do to help assuage the negative impact of these dire forces. Turning off the television might help, but we are surrounded by media on which we tend to rely not only for current events but also for information about our industry. So I have another timely idea that syncs with the upcoming National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which writers are challenged to produce 50,000 words of a brand-new novel during November.

 

For an escape from the madness, I suggest a writing prompt that goes something like this: Create and write about your ideal fantasyland to which you can get away whenever you need a respite. Your destination can be as fanciful and colorful as one of your more vivid fantastical dreams set in a foreign land, or as serene and meditative as hiding out in an austere hut at a faraway beach in the most tropical of locations where the sun reliably shines and the breeze always calms.

 

Good fiction contains a relatable protagonist—you; a strong plot line; conflict (maybe not so much for this exercise!); powerful dialogue (internal monologue will do well here), and a wonderfully detailed setting. All of these aspects of storytelling needn't be present for this short exercise, but try including those you've previously found troublesome. This exercise can also apply to nonfiction writers who want to spruce up their works with a touch of creativity.

 

The point is to write a short story about a destination to which you can periodically venture and nurture your mental health. Only you can create the ideal escape, because only you know what best tickles your fantasy. No one will criticize your work—except you, of course!

 

So go ahead, and dream big. Though we still have to deal with reality, maybe this exercise will help us reemerge from this nightmare with our sanities intact.

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The Gasp

As mentioned in last month's blog post, I participated in a Zoom videoconference by reading a personal essay on racism in which I incorporated a tragic vignette about a long-deceased ancestor. In this post, I'm sharing my unexpected emotional reaction at the conclusion of that reading, which I believe demonstrates the importance of strong character development in writing fiction.

 

The discovery of a bounty notice posted by my White third great-grandfather (confirmed by DNA) advertising a cash reward for the capture of my Mulatto third great-grandmother and her husband (not genetically related to me) was simultaneously shocking and intriguing. Eager to learn more, I explored the discovery from the perspective of an objective investigator hunting for data. I wanted to know what life must have been like back then for this couple. What were their circumstances at the time they fled?

 

Although the presentation of my discovery was rather matter-of-fact, the vignette elicited gasps from the audience. It wasn't until the subsequent question-and-answer session that I was forced to confront the intimate connection I'd unwittingly made with my "character."

 

The first question asked of me was, "What would you say to your great-grandmother if she were alive today?" Suddenly, I was struck with the reality that this woman was my flesh and blood. I'd engaged in a fact-finding search about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, but I'd also traveled back into her soul as if I'd run off with her. Contemplating an answer to that initial question, I was overcome with emotion and unable to speak.

 

Strong character development establishes an emotional bond with the reader that elicits a range of feelings, including empathy. I want to inspire my readers to journey into the heads and hearts of my fictional characters where they can linger and develop a connection as profound as that which I experienced. If I can make my readers gasp, then I'll know I've done a decent job!

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