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My daughter just finished first grade—a year of filled with holiday parties, cutesy art projects, and learning to read. It would’ve been altogether wonderful if it wasn’t for the mean girl. Yes, the 6-year-old mean girl. It wasn’t anything major, just your typical using-guilt-to-manipulate, ruling-the-first-grade-roost-with-a-pink-clad-fist kind of thing. It ended up being a great learning experience for my daughter, as we were able to teach her some valuable life lessons and give her the tools necessary for dealing with not-nice people. But honestly, in the beginning, I was totally at a loss.
Growing up, I didn’t understand girls; girl relationships were complicated with way too much subtext for me to figure out. So I hung out with boys. Boys were straightforward. I didn’t have to play games or curry favor in order to be friends with them. But my daughter’s a social BEAST. She wants to be friends with everyone and play with everyone and my advice to avoid the little Napoleon just didn’t fly with her. Then one of my friends told me about this book she had read. So I checked out Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. And oh boy did I get an education.
This book, to put it simply, is AWESOME. Written by a former educator who has spent most of her life studying teens and their group dynamics, it pulls back the curtain to reveal the intricacies of the typical girl clique: the players and their roles, currency within the group, what motivates them, and a ton of other stuff. This book has been incredibly useful because it’s TRUE; as I’ve looked back over my experiences with other girls, I’ve seen it played out at all different ages and in different groups. When I shared what I’d learned with my neighbor, she said that she’s unfortunately seeing this among the women at the nursing home when she goes to visit her 80-year-old grandmother.
So as the mother of even a six-year-old girl, I’ve found this information to be really helpful. As someone who would like to relentlessly stamp out bullying, it’s invaluable. But I’m blogging about it today because of its practical use for writers—because if you’re writing about girls (or even women), the information can come in really handy.
As I say in most of my webinars and workshops, one of our most important jobs as authors is to make readers care about our characters. And one way to do that is to write characters who are believable. If your writing involves girls and the popular girl clique, it’s important to understand the way these groups typically operate, so you can write their dynamics in a way that rings true with readers.
Now, I’m just getting started and I know that some of you are already bristling, so please allow me to disclaim. The information from Wiseman’s book is applied mostly to the popular girl clique, not to every group of girls; girl groups do exist that are healthy and positive. Dynamics within these popular cliques are often (but not always) similar. While I’ll be sharing these commonalities, I understand that every human being is intrinsically different and not all girls fit this mold. But by understanding how the dynamics typically work, we will hopefully be able to 1) write girl groups realistically, according to the way they tend to exist, or 2) turn the cliché on its ear by using the information to write girls in a new and fresh way.
Enough posturing ;). Let’s get to it…
According to Wiseman, most girl cliques have an established social structure, with each person playing a clearly-defined position. Today I’d like to focus on those roles within the popular girl group, and what they typically look like.
Wiseman’s book was the basis for the movie “Mean Girls”
The Queen Bee
Reigns through a combination of charisma, force, money, looks, and social intelligence
Strengthens her power and influence by weakening girls’ relationships with each other
Is usually at the center of the group
Transfers affections from one girl to another as she deems strategically appropriate
Seeks revenge when someone has “wronged” her
Uses subversive means to maintain control or subdue a perceived threat
Is always in control
Can manipulate girls, boys, and even adults to get them to do what she wants
Gains power by being in close proximity to the Queen Bee
Is closest to the Queen Bee
Unquestioningly backs the Queen Bee
Works with the Queen Bee to intimidate and bully other girls to get them back in line
Becomes jealous if the Queen Bee warms to other girls
Often loses her sense of identity as she adopts the Queen Bee’s attitudes, likes, and dislikes as her own
Gains power by being the one who always knows what’s going on
Is the confidant of the group; can easily get information out of other girls
Uses learned information strategically against other girls
Causes conflict through the sharing of information
Gains power out of her ability to “save” relationships and resolve conflict
Delivers information about others, but does so out of a desire to act as mediator
Appears to be a peacemaker, as she’s always trying to fix people’s problems
Loves to create drama
Is always involving herself in other people’s conflicts
Gains power by feeling that she belongs in the group
Will do anything to keep her spot in the group
Imitates the behavior of the others in the group
Is always currying favor from those in a position of power
Has no sense of personal identity as she takes on the likes, dislikes, and opinions of the powerful girls in the group
The Torn Bystander
Gains power through her silence, which she utilizes so she can stay in the group
Often disagrees with how the group treats people but is afraid to act on those beliefs
Rationalizes her decisions to not oppose the group
Often has to choose between friends in the group
Tries to accommodate everyone
Toes the line when she’s with the powerful girls but is often a truer version of herself when she’s not with them
Has no power within the group
Is at the bottom of the pecking order within the group
Is often made fun of or humiliated by the other girls
Doesn’t truly feel part of the group
Will change herself in an effort to fit in
Gains power by knowing she’s liked for who she is as a person rather than who she is within the group
Belongs to different groups and can move freely between them
Is able to take criticism
Doesn’t view or treat people as commodities in the social game
Stands up to the Queen Bee when she feels it’s necessary
Treats people with dignity and respect
So there you have it. In most popular girl cliques, these are the players. Depending on the size of the group, some of these can be missing, or numerous roles may be combined and taken on by one member. What’s interesting is that while most parents would say that their daughter is The Champion of her group, most parents would be fooling themselves. But the fact is that every girl can have champion moments; it’s these moments of growth that give girls the strength and confidence to rise above their roles, move out of these relationships—which are sometimes abusive—and become better versions of themselves. In books, it’s these champion moments that provide important crossroads scenarios that can propel our heroes along their character arcs and help them become happier and healthier characters.
So when you’re writing a story where your main character is part of a group like this, consider this information and ask yourself the following questions:
Which role does my hero play?
Is she satisfied or conflicted about the role she plays?
At the end of the story, will she be in the same position?
At the end of the story, will she be in the same group?
What will she gain by changing her role?
What will she lose by staying the same?
Who is speaking truth into her life? Who is challenging her?
What circumstance would make her rise above her role?
Here are some questions to consider if you’re looking to switch things up:
How can I make my girl group different?
How does the dynamic change if I remove one or more of the players?
What new roles can I add?
Does any one character play more than one role?
What other ways can a girl gain power within the group? What role might emerge out of a desire to gain power in that way?
What character could I add that would throw the group into disarray?
If the Queen Bee abruptly disappeared, what would happen to the group? Would it fall apart? Would someone new rise to take her place? Would that person come from within or outside of the group?
I hope I’ve given you some helpful information today, or at least some food for thought—either for a writing project or your own personal introspection. If you’re interested in learning more about girl dynamics, do check out Queen Bees and Wannabes. And because I’m just figuring all of this girl stuff out, I’d love to hear any comments, opinions, or girl-group stories that you’d be willing to share.
If you ever wondered who Sonia Manzano’s (“Maria” from Sesame Street) favorite Muppet is, here’s her answer: Oscar the Grouch. “He’s negative.” He acts anywhere from age 80 to 8. He stirs up conflict in an otherwise harmonious neighborhood, and this conflict leads to stories.
In fact, Manzano’s new memoir, “Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx” (Scholastic) is all about conflict–her tumultuous childhood in the Bronx, her Puerto Rican roots, and her longing for a “Leave it to Beaver” type of stability. With Maria, she was able to act out (and later, write scripts about) a character that children in inner cities could relate to, and provide them with storylines that offered satisfying resolutions–something they may seldom get in real life. She could be a mirror for these kids, an escape from a hard home life, and a role model.
Manzano thinks her difficult childhood lead to her success. Not in spite of her challenges, but because of her challenges, she was able to become a great actor, writer, and humanitarian.
She spoke quite a bit about the importance of empathy. Sure, people tell their kids to “Be nice.” But what about going beyond that? She questions why some people are afraid to let kids read sad stories. In books, readers are able to connect with characters and feel the deep emotions that dwell within them. It’s the perfect avenue for building empathy, and she believes we should consciously instill this value in children.
Manzano was a fabulous speaker. Many of us in the audience grew up watching her on television, and looked to her as one of the really inspirational and comforting adult figures in our lives. Manzano advocated for television; she pointed out that sometimes TV is a much-needed escape for some children, and that, like a book, it’s just the jumping off point for the imagination: What happens to characters when they’re not on TV, how does the story continue when the set is off? Kids with the freedom to imagine can, and will, grow up to be resourceful and successful adults.
Anyone care to Find the DISRUPTIVE bone in your body?
Disrupt: : to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way : to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something)
As I walked from event to event in San Francisco, rode the shuttle buses and rubbed elbows at the sit down and stand up events, I really wanted to know what it was like to be in other people’s library world and to get a sense of their challenges.
So I asked people this question, “What would you do to be disruptive in your library world?”
That word disruptive hit some people instantly as something negative and unruly. There was a little bit of fear in the first hearing of it.
But being librarians they pushed past the fear and really thought about it. I heard about school librarians who work in more than one building.
I met librarians who come in to different libraries in their district and who see librarians who are holding on to “their system” and “their way of doing things.” One story was about a librarian who shelved all of the Barbie and Batman books (etc.) by author significantly challenging anyone to find more than one book on these characters.
I heard about the struggle a public library system has to create a partnership with their public school system.
I heard about the fight to “teach” the community about the VALUE of libraries and what we have to offer.
I thought about the long line of librarians who have been fighting the good fight for so many years and remembered this piece I’d seen recently.
In October 1945 the ALA Executive Board dedicated a morning to explore the future of librarianship. Here are some quotes from this ALA Executive Board meeting from 70 years ago (and the source is the A.L.A. Bulletin published in February 1946.)
“If the profession seems to lack dynamism some of the responsibility rests with administrators. All too many still hold professional members to routine work and give what seem valid reasons why all must take their turn at essential clerical tasks.
We need an improved type of professional personnel, a conception of administration which would make use of all the thinking, all the ideas and potential planning of the entire professional body in an institution, not just of departmental heads.
Personally, I believe in the Campbell soup method. It is very nearly impossible to pick up a magazine without coming face to face with a colorful Campbell soup advertisement or a glamorous liquor ad. The first makes you hungry and the second makes you want to go right out and imbibe. This method must be good. Even religion is catching on. “Go to church next Sunday” is the exhortation I’ve been noticing on billboards and in magazines these last few years.
I should like to know what an advertising campaign on a national scale would do for libraries. I’d be willing to wager that it would up their status as a matter of course. Communities generally get what they want if they want it hard enough, and when the people as a whole get library conscious they will tend to demand better libraries.
As to coverage, brought into the picture by Mr. Richards, Mr. Ulveling, and Miss Rothrock — deploring the low percentage of use of libraries –I agree that it is deplorable, but I am convinced that the answer is not just a question of obtaining finances for exploiting all the new devices — the film, the record, the phonograph, television — which will insure us a new dynamism, but something more basic, even more fundamental, important as that is, than a reorganization which will free the heads of departments, as Miss Herbert urges, “to do the thinking and planning.”
This board in 1945 was shouting out the need to be disruptive, to let new ideas push through, to invite librarians at all levels in the organization to create new ideas and make the library synonymous with the word dynamic. Does any of this sound familiar?
So now it’s your turn…… “What would you do to be disruptive in your library system?”
As Lizette Serano took the stage for the Scholastic Preview yesterday some of her first and best words were, “BE WHO YOU ARE.” We were about to be treated to Readers’ Theater by Jennifer Nielsen, Jennifer Holm, Alex Gino, Craig Thompson, Jon Muth and Dav Pilkey.
I had to run at the end of that fabulous event… I mean, really, Dav Pilkey doing the sound effects for other people’s stories? Uh YEAHHHHH…..and between that ballroom and my awaiting suitcase were the crowds lining the sidewalks and lampposts on Market Street.
The Gay Pride Parade was in full swing. The marchers and riders in the parade were exciting and colorful but the ROAR of the crowd that rolled down the street…that was where the goosebumps started.
I cannot even begin to describe the variety of human beings in the crowd. The best outfit I saw was created by a young lady who had made a rainbow dress out of flip flops. Tiers of flip flops encircled her beginning with red at the top and making its way through stacked rows of orange, yellow, green …you get the idea…flip flops ..a full length affair… Gorgeous!
It just struck me how authentic these people were being. How they were letting their “self” shine through even though that self might be a little different.
We all belong here in this library world. Some of us choose to serve on Committees with a capital C. Some of us choose to blog and shout out the news of the latest books. Some of us want to work with one person at a time outside of the limelight. Some of us want to be able to hand a child that very special book that sets off the reading explosion. Some of us guard the good treasure that has been created for years. Some of us look to create new treasure.
So, pick out your flip flops…whatever color you love and know you are a valuable part of this rainbow.
Sunday’s Pura Belpré 19th annual award ceremony featured a vibrant mix of illuminating speeches, laughter, and entertainment that celebrated Latino Children’s Literature.
Yuyi Morales’s acceptance speech in which she vividly recounted her positive and life-changing experiences as a young mother and new immigrant visiting the San Francisco Public Library’s Western Addition branch. Ann, a librarian at the branch, put The Watsons Go to Birmingham in her hands and it was the first English language chapter book she loved, that she shared with her son.
Duncan Tonatiuh invited civil rights leader Sylvia Mendez, the subject of his award-winning book Separate Is Never Equal, to address the audience.
United States Poet Laurete Juan Felipe Herrera’s speech chronicled his research and writing that documented the extraordinary achievements of Hispanic-Americans.
Heartfelt speeches by Susan Guevara, John Parra, and Marjorie Agosín.
A fantastic performance by by Quenepas, a Bomba youth song and dance ensemble.
This fantastic event was hosted by the dream team Reforma and ALSC, and is always one of the highlights of ALA conferences. Next year will mark the 20th Anniversary of the Belpré Award and it promises to be a huge occasion. See you in Orlando!
The other day, I was fortunate enough to attend a Book Summit, which was a day of discussion and education for people from all facets of the book industry in Canada. In one of the sessions, the speaker was discussing the pros and cons of Amazon and virtual book shopping, and he raised some interesting points. While online bookstores offer readers greater choice than they ever had before, they are also limiting our ability to discover books, and thus also limiting our choice.
While at first this notion may sound ludicrous, it actually makes perfect sense. The algorithms that suggest books to you on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads are designed to collect information on what authors/titles you are reading, looking at or purchasing, and then to search the database for identifiers that suggest authors/titles that are somehow considered similar. For example: On Amazon, when I entered Hunger Games, it told me that other customers had bought Divergent, Maze Runner, The Outsiders, and Twilight to name a few. It also gives me the option to search within similar categories such as Teen sci-fi, fantasy, adventure and thriller. Sounds good right? Amazon obviously believes that in looking at The Hunger Games, I must have an interest in one of those categories, because these are subject codes that have been assigned to this book, but they aren’t made on any personal knowledge of my personal or reading interests, and of the first several they recommended, I’ve already read them or didn’t want to read them, so I struck out on all counts.
Goodreads is slightly better, showing me books that other users who have read or are interested in reading the book I’m reading have also read. I won’t pretend that I haven’t scrolled through the list to see if anything catches my eye, or even that I have occasionally discovered something cool. I like to know what others are reading- especially if they seem to like something I’ve enjoyed- but it’s also very limiting. The recommendations are typically books of the same or similar genre. If they identify that I’m reading a YA fantasy, other books that are YA fantasies come up on the feed. Goodreads is a community, and there are opportunities to join groups and engage others in discussion, but that’s different. What I’m specifically talking about is the computer controlled portion of these sites.
I couldn’t even give you an exact figure of how many books are in print, but chances are, most of them are available online from Amazon. They have something around 15 million titles to purchase which is vast and a bit overwhelming, so they try to narrow your focus to something they think you’ll like. Nothing wrong with that, but it comes back to the question how do we know what we don’t know? We don’t- just as we don’t know about all the books that are out there that we might like to read but won’t unless we discover them somehow, and a computer can only go so far to help us do that.
Human interaction is still the best way to weed our way through all of the millions of books out there and find exactly the right book for ourselves or for whoever we are purchasing for. A knowledgeable bookseller/librarian knows exactly the right questions to ask you, and can find that hidden gem for you. And if you visit frequently, over time, they might even have books already in mind that they want to share with you! We hear tons about blockbuster authors & bestsellers. My Twitter feed is inundated with information about the new Harper Lee, Stephen King or James Patterson, or the surprise hit that everybody is reading for book club, but my reading tastes do not fit into a narrow little box. Just because I enjoy horror doesn’t mean that I only want to read horror. And just because I liked Gone Girl doesn’t mean I’m only interested in authors who write thrillers.
If we are indeed in a “golden age” of publishing and storytelling as experts proclaim, then the next time you’re wondering what to read next, don’t ask Amazon. Instead, try visiting your local bookstore/library and asking for a recommendation. You might just be amazed at what you end up with!
Those canny readers amongst you will notice immediately that the date of this post is all wrong. What am I trying to pull here? After all, International Migratory Bird Day (as every good schoolchild knows) is always held on the second Saturday in May. Yet here I am on June 29th, saying unto you that it is nigh. And, in a way, it is.
Folks, what is the state bird of Illinois?
Actually, it’s the plucky little Northern cardinal (plucky, because it’s apparently the state bird for seven states), but if we’re talking the state Bird (capital B) then it’s me.
Is it just me, or does this cardinal look seriously displeased with the state of the world today?
On Friday, July 31st I will start my new job as the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system. Which is to say, I am leaving New York Public Library and I will no longer be your roving reporter in NYC.
For the record, that costume is enormously warm.
This may come as a bit of a shock, but for those of you who know me (or who have brushed against me in the past five years) you’ll know that it’s a long time coming. Over the last few years I think I’ve mentioned to friends and acquaintances an “imminent” move to L.A., Minneapolis, Vermont, Connecticut, and Amherst (and I know there are a few additional places I’m forgetting as well). But extricating myself from NYC has been difficult. The only way I can describe it is to the say that it’s been like a big stone lion has been sitting on my back and I’ve had to pluck out its claws one by one before being able to move on (any artist that wants to bring that image to life, I encourage you to do so). Which is NOT to say that I don’t still love NYPL with all the beatings of my blackened little heart. If I could pick up my current job and carry it with me out of NYC I would do so. This city has given me opportunities I could never have found anywhere, and New York Public Library in particular allowed me to attain what I really do believe was my dream job. I owe New York City everything. That said, I am a mother with two small children and I’m a city employee. I may have a lovely life in Harlem but it’s not the kind of thing one can maintain for a long period of time. And so, I go.
I assure you that in terms of this blog, nothing much will change. Thanks to the appearance of Bird #2 my librarian previews pretty much trickled away to nothingness anyway. Plus, Chicago offers a LOT of good possibilities. ALA is centered there. Book Expo is slated to go there next year (which I think is awfully kind of its managers to think of me like that). I could finally attend ChLA for the first time in my life. Add in the LOADS of children’s book names centered in that town and I have big plans. Big big big plans! Watch out, Windy City. We’re about to have a whole lotta fun.
And, of course, my departure from NYC can only mean one thing.
Kidlit Drink Night Returns!!
Awwwwww, yeah, baby. You didn’t think I’d bow out of the New York scene without a bash? A bash to which you and all your kin are invited? Heck no! I want to say bye bye to you in style so for one night only I’ll be holding court at the Houndstooth Pub later in the month (details to come).
And you may, in the midst of the move, see a small gap on the blog postings. Then again, I managed to blog continually when my two kiddos were born, so maybe not. I really have no idea. This blog has never known me to live anywhere else.
I attended the Babies Need Words Every Day workshop this afternoon. The Babies Need Words Every Day program is designed to help parents and caregivers understand the importance of talking to their babies.
The workshop offered attendees a chance to learn more about this initiative and ways other communities are already creating partnerships with local agencies to get the word out in hopes of increasing children’s exposure to language.
Go to here for more information. There you will find downloadable posters, book list brochures, and soon a media kit.
Yesterday, I had a random free hour in my day (what?) and I decided to stop by the Notable Children’s Books discussion. It was so inspiring to hear such intelligent, funny and thoughtful librarians critiquing some of the most interesting books of the year. If you’re at ALA, I would recommend listening in on their discussion. They meet from 1-4 today and 1-4 tomorrow in room 3022 W at the Moscone Center. If you’re at home, just go read Sidewalk Flowers (by Jon Arno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith). Then read it again and talk to all your favorite people about it. This will get you closer to replicating the Notable’s experience!
A funny thing happened at the Metreon food court…some friends and I were admiring a woman’s Rad American Women A-Z (City Lights Publishers) tote bag. We just couldn’t resist going up to her and asking “Where did you get that amazing bag?” She said, “I have a family connection.” A few minutes later, Rad American’s illustrator, Miriam Klein Stahl, walked up to us and we were introduced. In a Wayne’s World type moment, we all felt “not worthy!” Ms. Stahl was super gracious and nice, and gave us a stack of Patti Smith stickers. Just goes to show that ALA Annual is always full of surprising and lovely random moments….
There is so much going on at #alasf2015, that a couple of times I’ve had to take a break from all the noise and confusion of the conference. There just is so much happening all at once that at times it is a bit too stimulating.
The first time I took a break I sat in the lovely Yerba Buena Gardens and watched the world go by. The breeze felt great.
The second time was when I got something to eat at Whole Foods. I was checking out and made a comment about visiting from Maine and guess what? My cashier was also from Maine! Not only was she from Maine, but she grew up in the town right next to mine! When I told her where I worked she said her family uses that library all the time. How cool is that?
We chatted a bit about books and reading versus watching movies, gaming and electronic devices. It was really nice and made my experience here at #alasf2015 all the more enjoyable.
It really is a small world.
And, then I met political cartoonist and author, Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer) As he drew his autograph in my ARC of his newest book Trapped, we chatted about how drawing can help some people make sense of the world.
“What you cannot imagine, you cannot do!” says astronaut, Alvin Drew.
Just had lunch with Andrea Beaty, author of Rosie Revere, Engineer…and…. wait for it….her book is going up to the International Space Station… to be a read-aloud… by an astronaut … and videotaped… YES YES YES…we are about to see astronaut (librarians in space) doing read-alouds in space!!! WOOHOOOO! Book launches around the end of November or early December. AMAZING!!!! Yep…the book is goin’ up!!!!
Here’s a link to Storytime From Space! http://storytimefromspace.com
I walked into the Harper Collins breakfast this morning and stood in line for the galleys. After loading up my bag with way too many great books…never can resist a good book… I headed to the buffet line and found myself talking with strangers and soon-to-be new friends. I did the nametag check to see if I knew them…nope… so I asked the husband if he is an author and he said no…he’s married to an author…and that author turned out to be Rita Garcia-Williams…YES… I WAS standing there getting my eggs and honeydew with THE RITA GARCIA-WILLIAMS..and she was telling me all about the new book she is working on …a high-low… with another plot line that just gives you goosebumps… she is such a gift to the world of children and books.
Left there and found myself walking along the sidewalk with Deborah Taylor who is getting the Coretta Scott King lifetime achievement award tomorrow morning. She was headed to the Margaret A. Edwards award ceremony where the one and only Sharon Draper was receiving her award.
Headed to the exhibits and found myself being introduced to Louis Sachar at the Random House booth… what does one say to the man who has written a book that has turned so many reluctant readers on to books?
Walked a few steps and was told Nikki Grimes was signing three feet away from me…had to go talk to her…I fell in love with her storytelling when I read Bronx Masquerade a decade ago… and now I hand out her Dyamonde Daniel books three times a week…thank God they are on the shelf.
The chance to meet these amazing human beings is one of the reasons I love coming to the conferences. You get a chance to tell them in person what a difference they make in the lives of so many children. Little miracles all.
It’s just noon…. I wonder what the afternoon will bring?
I didn’t actually meet Gloria Steinmen, but I heard her speak to a packed audience this morning starting at 8:30am.
Gloria has been my hero throughout my life. I’ve admired her passion and commitment advocating for women to be seen as equal citizens and our right to control our bodies. Her message of being aware and opening your mind to seeing things with a different perspective was a reason I became a children’s librarian.
Gloria said many amazing things as she spoke, but I found it admirable when she would admit that there were moments in her life when she connected the dots. Though she may have been talking about equality of the sexes, not realizing a female rock band could elicit as much screaming from fans as their male counterparts until she witnessed the explosion of emotions while at a Heart concert.
That realizing your state legislators were more important than those in Washington, D.C.
Her wisdom, candor, and wit has left me feeling as if I am riding on a cloud.
I only wish I had asked her these two questions.
If being an activist means you must be angry enough (and passionate) about something, and believe in every fiber of your being that fighting for it is the single most important focus of your life, how do you find the balance between anger and happiness?
Did you ever worry that you would be content with just okay?
Gloria closed with a recommendation for a library sign: No talking. Only laughter.
When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.
Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.
NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect.
A ROLE MODEL OR MENTOR WHO DISAPPOINTS
a pastor’s affair
a teacher’s arrest
a coach’s abuse of a player
a parent charged with propositioning a prostitute
a teen or adult sibling caught selling drugs
a respected boss being caught embezzling from a business or non-profit
a family member discovered scamming seniors out of pension checks
a favorite uncle or aunt being accused of child abuse
a parent lying about an severe addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.)
close family or friends who preach Christian values but are involved in activities not approved by the church
a parent or close friend’s infidelity
a family member or friend who is on the take (a police officer, a judge, etc.)
an athletic cousin who preaches clean living caught doping for a competition
a relative’s bad choices leading to public humiliation, dragging the family name through the mud
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
Everyone lies; I can’t trust anyone
I am gullible and will believe anything
People are all hypocrites
I have no one to look up to
I cant be an example for others when I’ll fail at it like everyone else
If my mentor was weak inside, I must be too
If I let people get close they will find out how gullible I am
Why try to be a good person when no one else is?
Why work hard when the world rewards cheaters?
People only want to take advantage of me
I need to keep my distance from people so they can’t abuse my trust
No one respects me and that’s why they lie
Following rules is for chumps
At the end of the day, everyone is just out for themselves
People pretend to be genuine but they aren’t
I need to learn how to take, not give, if I want to make it in this world
Positive Attributes That May Result: analytical, cautious, discreet, ethical, honorable, independent, just, pensive, observant, perceptive, private, proactive, responsible, sensible, wise
Today at #alaac15 I attend a rousing Guerrilla Storytime! No matter what I try to make it to at least one per conference. I always come away with new ideas, songs, and rhymes. I also feel energized by the positivity of so many wonderful children’s librarians! (If you want to know more about Guerrilla Storytime, check out StorytimeUnderground.org.) Here are a few tips I picked up today:
Looking to model using vocabulary for caregivers? Try swapping out synonyms in familiar songs and rhymes. For instance, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” could also be sung with “sparkle”, “flicker”, or “shine.”
To encourage talking is ask adults how to say a word in another language. This is especially great for caregivers who speak multiple languages.
To incorporate writing try having a brainstorming session at the beginning of storytime. This is a clever way to introduce a new topic or theme, especially one that maybe unfamiliar to kids. As kids shout out answers write them on a white board.
Learning to blog 101…okay…I already forgot to put the link on the post:) Let’s see how much I can learn over the next three days:) I don’t think they are going to ask me to teach the class!
We’ve been asked to invite folks to visit us at the ALSC Booth at ALA Annual…I’ll be volunteering in the ALSC Booth on Friday evening from 6:30pm-7:30pm. and I hope you’ll stop by to say hello. It’s my first time in the booth so an adventure awaits. The booth is in the ALA Membership Pavilion near the Networking Uncommons! I hope you’ll stop by!
Golden Gate Bridge equals opportunity, Lucasfilms Studio equals creativity, Kwame Alexander giving the Newbery Award acceptance speech equals diversity, persistence and excellence. Three powerful ingredients all coming together with thousands of librarians and their very different populations, settings and most importantly in my opinion, different points of view.
What will have changed when we leave? Libraries? Librarians? Us?
I come to this from the perspective of a public librarian..a children’s instructor and research specialist to read from my name tag. What do I need from this conference to feel more empowered? Who is here who can inform me? Inspire me? Give me a new view of what I do?
I’m about to hop on a plane and risk finding out. I expect to meet people from all over the world and especially from all over the U.S. I am always amazed at the different job descriptions of librarians depending on where they work on the planet. So good to talk to people outside your own system and your own way of doing it “right.”
What do I bring to the conference? What can I share with others that they might take home for themselves?
My answer to that question is this: I believe it’s time to focus on “Who is the reader?” I think we can move our profession forward into the 22nd, 23rd, 24th centuries and beyond simply by becoming tuned into WHO the reader is. I am talking about how they are wired.
We all hear about the different types of intelligence. We all hear about the different types of learners. Over the past 20 years I have come to see different types of readers…and they are looking for books that mirror their internal wiring diagram..and their personal situation.
What if we all went home and looked at each “customer” and asked the question..Who are You? And then, what if we could “know” what books that “type” of reader would love? Find those books that open the door to a lifelong love of reading.
I hope we talk about it…and I hope we get really, really good at it…it would be an amazing gift to give every child and even every adult in our library world.
One of my favorite things to do at ALA is grab some free library gear! And the best way to do that is to select some ribbons for your name tag! As it says above the ribbons- “If you are one, take one”. Ribbons are great conversation starters with similar members! It helps put you in a club/grouping, which can be amazing when you are surrounded by thousands of librarians! Not all divisions have ribbons, but ALSC has two!
I’ll be sure to add my twitter handle @merbrarian to mine! Librarians love to organize and catalog things, so why should we not catalog ourselves!
If you’ve ever visited the DEPARTURES area of the airport, you probably know that it is not exactly an oasis of tranquility. There are cars trying to park; cars trying to double park, cars trying to squeeze out of where they’ve double-parked, orange cones, orange vests, whistles, and general chaos.
I was being dropped off at Burbank Bob Hope Airport by my mom and dad, 74 and 80 respectively, and wanted to debark as efficiently as possible so they could be on their way. Adjusting my new felt hat, I strapped my laptop bag across my chest, hauled out my suitcase, and hugged my parents a quick goodbye.
Approaching the Southwest counter, I reached for my purse.
And felt air.
My stomach dropped to my knees. I had made a big mistake. I left my purse in my parents’ car.
Stacey’s troublesome vessel of all things crucial, circa 2004, Anthropologie.
Frantically, I searched my laptop bag, hoping I had jammed it in without realizing. But, no. My purse was in the carpool lane of the Five freeway, headed down to the OC. How the heck was I getting on a plane without my ID?
I couldn’t make a phone call, as I didn’t have a cell phone. I couldn’t even use a pay phone, as I had no money. (And btw, the sudden absence of money tends to amplify one’s hunger pains).
I could ask someone to loan me change, but would they think I was a panhandler? And my hat, which I thought was stylish, suddenly cast a shadow of suspicion upon me. Suspicious people always wear hats.
I might have started to hyperventilate. My flight was leaving in an hour.
A petite Japanese security guard asked if everything was alright.
“I left my purse in my parents’ car!” I blubbered.
She tsked her tongue, but then fished out a dollar’s worth in coins so I could use a payphone. After profusely thanking her, I dropped two quarters into the first phone. A metallic crunching and gargling followed, which I believe was the sound of the phone eating my change.
Trying not to panic, I moved onto the next phone. This time, the call went through.
But no one picked up. Remember how I mentioned the age of my parents? Well, with old age comes certain …realities, such as, hearing loss. Mom’s voicemail answered, but that didn’t help me because even if she heard the ding of voicemail, she doesn’t know how to check it (another age-related reality). I tried calling my husband collect, like, a billion times. But it turns out, since his company pays for his cell phone, its collect call feature is disabled.
I explained my situation to Southwest. I must have looked honest, as they issued me the ticket, with the caution that security still might refuse me. Shame-faced, I stepped to the security counter and tried to explain why I wasn’t carrying my ID.
He frowned, and I grew smaller. “Where do you work?”
“At home. I mean, I’m self-employed.”
Another frown, another inch shorter. “Occupation?”
Another frown, this one with an upward flick of his pupils that says, isn’t everyone?
If only I had one of my books on me. I could show him my author picture.
Then it occurred to me, I could show him my author website.
After perusing the site, then conducting a thorough search of myself and my luggage, security finally did let me through.
Stephanie: When Stacey first told me this story, I felt horrible. But since I’m a teacher, I also thought this would make an awesome writing lesson.
The thing I loved about this story (from a writing perspective, because obviously I felt terrible that my friend went through so much stress) was that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. As Stacey said, everyone knows you can’t get on a plane without an ID. And this situation was so much worse because on top of not having her ID:
The hat of suspicion and lawlessness.
Stacey did not have her phone.
The only people who could help her (Stacey’s parents) were impaired, and therefore unable to come to her rescue.
She was hungry.
Her husband wasn’t answering the phone.
On top of not having an ID, she was also wearing a hat, which made her highly suspicious to airport personnel.
And the clock was rapidly ticking. Stacey only had one hour.
Now, imagine you’re writing a character and you’ve put them in this same situation. It could be really tempting to have another character (maybe the husband) make a miraculous appearance and save the day. Perhaps this husband calls in a favor with the head of security. And not only does your character get onto the plane, but they are upgraded to first class and handed a glass of champagne.
Unfortunately that did not happen to Stacey. But I believe what happened was even better. Stacey used her smarts to save herself, by directing the security to her author website, where her photo was able to confirm her identity.
Now if Stacey were a character, not only would readers think, wow this woman is smart! They would also know a little more about her character, because not only did this action save the day, it revealed more about her background, mainly, her profession.
People are always saying, put your characters in the worst situations possible, but then, too often, characters don’t use their intelligence to get out of those miserable scenarios. Because of this, writers often miss great opportunities to deepen their characters, and make their stories richer.
Think about whatever story you’re working on. Are there any scenes where you can pile on more conflicts? Are there scenes where you can show off your character’s strengths, instead of having someone else save the day?
Also, if any of you have stories similar to Stacey’s, we’d love to hear them:
I’m proud to be an ALSC member in this great city at this historic moment. I registered this morning and picked up all the materials and tickets I’d pre-ordered along with this amazing T-shirt to wear as part of the #alaac15 Pride Parade contingent. What a great feeling to know that the Supreme Court has taken a big step towards equality for LGBT in this decision, which is a long time coming but still so sweet.
I went sightseeing today. A great way to get acclimated to a different time zone. (I’m from Maine)
I walked a lot, not realizing just how steep the hills were in San Francisco. Yet, no matter what I saw, from the murals in Coit Tower to Alcatraz island from Pier 39, everything reminded me of a book.
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko Angel Island by Russell Freedman Diego Rivera by Susan Goldman Rubin Hattie Ever After by Kirby Lawson Dragonwings by Lawrence Yep.
Regardless of their format, books offer the curious reader so much.