Well it’s that time of semester again, when I have another assignment due. Yet, as usual I am finding every reason to avoid it, even though it is due tomorrow, but needs to be uploaded tonight because I’ll be at work tomorrow. So despite these facts, here I am writing this week’s post in order to procrastinate just a little bit longer.
I started this post-graduate degree in 2012, usually it is a one-year full-time course, but with work and having a young family I have been doing just one unit per semester. Sometimes I wish I had embraced the writer within sooner, then perhaps I wouldn’t have started this degree. At times I enjoy the mental stimulation from the units I am doing, other times I just want it to be over and done with (mostly when assignments are due). I suppose most of you are wondering why I don’t just quit, it’s not like getting a post-grad degree is compulsory, it’s something I chose to do. The thing is, I’ve started something and I have to finish it, no matter how long it takes (FYI I only have two units left after this semester!). I’ve worked too hard to get this far and I can’t just quit now, I want that certificate, I want something to show for all my hard work. Even if that sounds a little materialistic it’s true.
But what about writing? If I keep working hard, will I ever have something to show for it? It’s highly probably that I won’t, but with writing it’s different. I think the late Maya Angelou said it best when she said,
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Writing is a reward in itself, to be able to create characters and tell their story is its own reward. If people enjoy reading these stories, then that is yet another reward, but not one that is necessary in order for me to even begin to write in the first place.
So as I head off to start and finish (I hope my lecturer does come across this Blog) my assignment, I leave you with this;
Writing is its own reward, if you are writing to gain fame and fortune, then perhaps you need to find another path to that kind of glory.
Each time I catch up on the recent news events, I more often than not, spot an article where someone expresses their disgust in relation to unrealistically Photoshopped images in the media. If even celebrities and models are saying that it’s not OK to promote such an unrealistic (and often unhealthy) body image, why is it that this is still occurring?
These images are sending the message that it’s not OK to be yourself and that you will never be perfect. The models and celebrities whom many aspire to be like, are not free from the cruelty of being deemed imperfect. The young model whose appearance and image is her livelihood, is being told she is not good enough, not thin enough, not busty enough. The freckles on your face that hint at your heritage and love for the outdoors are betraying you, you’re not perfect. The stretchmarks and saggy stomach you have after having 3 children make you a disgusting unhealthy pig who needs to go on a diet, join a gym and consider making an appointment with a plastic surgeon.
This is ridiculous.
I know I’ve joked in a previous post that I didn’t want to be old and fat (when coming to terms with turning 30), but there is no way I condone the use of excessively Photoshopped images in the media. What most people perceive to be perfect, healthy and beautiful is derived from these unrealistic images, but what we need to see is that each and every person is different, each person is beautiful, but not all in the same way. Unrealistically Photoshopped images and trends such as the “Bikini bridge” are sending the message that if you’re not a size 6 then you’re not good enough.
Taryn Brumfitt, founder of Body Image Movement is one person who is working hard to create a positive and realistic attitude towards body image, one that embraces all body types and states that the Body Image Movement is “… on a quest to redefine and rewrite the ideals of beauty.”
I’ve spoken before about the need to create realistic characters that are perhaps not perfect, as a way of connecting with your audience, creating characters that your audience is able to relate to. Too often I am reading about characters that are the picture of perfection, particularly in the romance genre. A lot of the time, the male lead is always the epitome of male perfection and the female lead is often an insecure blonde bombshell or something similar. Again I’m going to admit to reading a fair few Sylvia Day books and while some of her main characters are picture perfect, often her characters are quite realistic, with different body types reflecting the people of the real world. Not only is the development of realistic characters important to connect with the reader, but also I would hate to think that my own characters and writingwould contribute in some way to the unrealistic and unhealthy body image promoted in the media.
When I was 17 I got braces to straighten my teeth and correct my overbite. I admit that I hated my teeth throughout my adolescent years and I often struggled with the cruelly expressed opinions of others (calling me Mister Ed and Bucky Beaver among other things). After about a year I got my braces removed and my orthodontist showed me some of my “before and after” shots of my teeth, I was pretty pleased with the result, while I still have a slight overbite, I was still pleased. Then there was another “before and after” photo. I didn’t really think much of at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I am appalled that this was shown to an impressionable 18 year old. The “before” photo was what I looked like then (after my braces had been taken off) the “after” photo was a computer generated image of what I would look like after a few surgical procedures such as rhinoplasty and a chin augmentation. Now I admit I have a bump on my nose and a gap between the bones on the bridge of my nose, presumably from breaking my nose at some point (I was a bit of an accident prone kids at times) and I don’t really have much of a chin, but seriously, who in their right mind shows an 18 year old something like that? Now I think back to that day, it was like, “Now, I’ve done a pretty good job on your teeth, they look pretty awesome, but your face is still kind of ugly. I know a friend that can fix your bumpy nose and lack of chin, he could make you look like this.” (shows picture)
What if I had chosen to go ahead with something like that? What if I had thought to myself, “Wow, so I’ve got good teeth now but I’m still pretty ugly, better go get this sh** fixed up.” What then, would that have been enough? Would I have been deemed perfect after that? Or perhaps they would recommend I get rid of my freckles and perhaps get a breast augmentation as well, heck let’s get the nose, chin and boob combo! I’m glad I didn’t even think about it then, because if those pictures were shown to me now that I’m older (and perhaps wiser), I think I would have given him a piece of my mind. Letting him know that he was contributing to the unrealistic and unhealthy body image young girls (and boys of different ages). Perhaps his actions even adding to the number of people who develop eating disorders and turn to self-harm, perhaps security would have been called, so probably better that I didn’t pay it any attention at the time!
“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”
― Amy Bloom
Whilst I admit that I am not as thin as I used to be (especially after 3 children) and it doesn’t matter how much weight I lose, I don’t think I’ll ever have a “Bikini bridge” and you know what, I DON”T WANT ONE! Sure I would like to lose a few kilos, but my stretch marks, freckles, bumpy nose and other “imperfections” are here to stay, they make me who I am, they make me unique and if that makes me less than perfect then so be it.
So this is my message to you all, in a world where differences are seen as imperfection rather than celebrated, let us remember the old saying and never judge a book by its cover because the chubby girl that walked past you may very well be healthier than the busty blonde with the tiny waist and perfectly toned body that you saw in the magazine. May writers create characters that are a healthy reflection of the real world, where each and every person is different.
Unless you are living in the dark ages, I’m sure you have all heard of the sad passing of the much loved comedian and actor, Robin Williams. As details of his passing emerged, most expressed their surprise, sadness and sympathy and extended their condolences to his family and loved ones. Sadly though, a small minority referred to his final actions as selfish or cowardly.
In a world where political correctness is spiraling out of control, how is it that people are still ignorant and discriminative against those who suffer from mental illness? I think Ricky Gervais was spot on when he posted this on social media the other day,
Telling people with depression to “just snap out of it” is about as useful as telling people with cancer to “just stop having cancer”.
People all over the world are struggling to comprehend how a man who was loved and admired by so many could take his own life. The thing is though, we (the public) saw Robin Williams the comedic genius, talented actor and generous person, but we didn’t know that man that struggled with depression and substance abuse*. People are asking why, they want to know why he did what he did, why he didn’t ask for help, they want to know why he couldn’t see how much he had to live for and how much people loved and admired him. Whilst I haven’t experienced depression myself and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to suffer depression, I can see that it’s important to bring it out in the open and to create a society where people are not ashamed, embarrassed, criticised or discriminated against for suffering a mental illness. Organisations such as beyondblue, R U OK? and Lifeline are working towards bringing mental illness out of the shadows, removing the stigma attached to mental illness and providing help and support not only for those who suffer from mental illness but also those who are supporting loved ones.
Although society seems to be obsessed with political correctness, discrimination against others because of race, social class,religion, mental illness and a range of other factors is still clearly evident in all corners of the world.
I began writing down my thoughts and this is what I came up with:
There are countries at war, because of race, religion or land.
There’s death, destruction and devastation.
But why is it so?
There are people without homes, people with no place to go.
They’re cold, hungry and alone.
But why is it so?
There are children born to parents who cannot or will not care for them.
They’re feeling unloved and unwanted.
But why is it so?
There are people who discriminate towards others because of race, social class, religion, sexual orientation, mental illness.
They’re leaving people feeling alone and afraid, unable to ask for help.
But why is it so?
In a society that promotes equality and fairness, a society that encourages us to embrace our differences, why are we still not equal? Why is there not peace? Why is there loneliness, despair, discrimination, death?
Why is it so?
Now I leave you with this final statement, if you are ever feeling down, alone or afraid please ask for help and if you suspect someone might be feeling this way, simply ask them R U OK?
*please note, all released statements provided clearly say that they believe Robin Williams was sober at the time of his passing
It’s been another whirlwind week, where again I haven’t had much time for writing of my own choosing. Uni semester has started again and my writing activities have been limited to the writing of online responses and note-taking, as well as the usual teacher-related writing (shared reading programs and what not). Yet, when all seems lost, I have managed to finally start reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I pretty much stayed away from the hype of The Book Thief when the movie was released, so many people insisted that it was a story that I would enjoy but I didn’t want the hype of the movie to taint my perception of the book. Sometimes I will see the movie before reading the book, so I don’t get frustrated with all the ‘bits’ that Hollywood left out, but in this case I am reading the book before seeing the movie. I bought the book about eight months ago, thinking that it would be a great holiday read, but of course something else caught my eye and The Book Thief was shelved until recently.
Image Copyright Markus Zusak
Whilst I have only just started reading, one thing I love about this story is the way that Markus Zusak describes how Liesel’s love of books came to be.
Her great love affair stems from one of the darkest moments in her life – the death of her brother and her separation from her mother. Even though Liesel cannot read, the book she ‘stole’ is a symbolic connection to her brother and mother.
Books have the ability to entertain, this much is true and a well written story will keep us entertained and enthralled page after page. However, Zusak has highlighted something which many of us book lovers are already aware of, whether we realise it or not. Through the character of Liesel (the titular book thief), Zusak shows us that books have the ability to elicit many feelings; books have the ability to comfort, to educate, to allow the reader to escape even for a brief moment.
Another story that highlights the importance of books and the ways in which they enrich our lives is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce.
Image copyright William Joyce
Whilst this is a children’s picture book, it is a prime example of the way in which books influence and enrich our lives. A world without books, is a world that has lost its way and a world without colour.
If it isn’t already obvious, I am a great lover of books. My own love affair started at a young age, I assume. Like most children, I enjoyed listening to stories, my favourite part of kindergarten was shared reading time and of course, our weekly visits to the library to borrow a book. When I became a capable reader I was enjoyed books by Enid Blyton, particularly this one:
Image Copyright Enid Blyton
As I grew older my love of books grew and I enjoyed books written by the likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and John Marsden. I was always the kid that finished the class novel in a matter of days, rather than over the course of the term. Even now, I cannot stop myself from getting more and more books. My ‘to read’ pile is continuously increasing and I can’t help but get excited when my children bring home Scholastic Book Club catalogues.
Image Copyright of Scholastic
My passion for reading is most definitely rubbing off on my children. There’s no such thing as a ‘quick story’ for my children, multiple books are shared in one sitting, although sometimes my toddler also enjoys eating books (he has his own little stack of books that he is allowed to ‘read’ by himself for this reason). Sharing a story is one of the only times (besides when they are sleeping) that my boys will sit and stop doing laps of the house.
Over the years I have found that my love affair with books and reading has not diminished, in fact it seems that it has only increased, particularly as I began to embrace the writer within.
So now I am off to continue my great love affair by reading a little more of The Book Thief before my bedtime.
I’ve had barely any time for writing this week, it’s been another one of those crazy weeks! However, even though I haven’t had time to sit down and actually write, my brain does not have an off switch. So I have been doing a fair amount of character analysis, in my head!
I’ve been starting to think about my characters habits, the little things they do that make them real, that bring them to life.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Rose is a hair adjuster- compulsively tucking stray hair behind her ear whenever she is nervous or unsure. While Thomas is both a smirker and brow creaser. If he find something interesting or amusing he will smirk, ever so slightly, but if something frustrates, upsets or irritates him, he will crease his brow. These are often unintentional actions, providing an insight into each of the characters thoughts and feelings.
By developing these character traits or habits, not only can you develop an understanding between your main characters, but also between the reader and your characters. I’ve written this time and time again and whilst I admit I am not a professional writer, I cannot stress enough the importance of creating characters that reach out from the pages and with your readers. If you are able to create that connection and tell a good story, it almost doesn’t matter whether your writing is grammatically perfect in every way (although too many errors will of course form a distraction). Yet if the connection does not exist, the piece of writing becomes a collection of words, formed into sentences and paragraphs that may or may not be grammatically correct.
If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write. – Somerset Maugham
So with that in mind, what are the traits and habits of your characters that add to the depth of your story?