About Marcy Kennedy

Posts by Marcy Kennedy:

The Lie of Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy for BOAW Blogfest by Marcy KennedyThe dental hygienist peered into my mouth at the gap where my front tooth used to be. “How did it happen?” she asked. “Did you fall?”

“I bit a piece of soft caraway-rye bread.”

“Oh.”

It started when a previous dentist botched a simple filling. I returned to him four times to have it fixed, and on the final visit, he hit my root, so I needed a root canal. During the root canal, he compromised the integrity of my tooth enough that I had to have my tooth ground down to a peg and a cap placed on. No surprise that, instead of lasting ten years, the peg snapped after three, breaking off at the gum line.

And so there I sat in the office of my new dentist, a hole in my mouth, with two important flute performances (one of which was my brother’s wedding) scheduled, and my own wedding day less than six months away, and asked, “What are my options?”

My dentist adjusted my x-rays on the 8”-by-11” illuminated screen. “You could have a bridge put in, but that would mean destroying the healthy teeth on the sides.”

Ruining two more teeth? No thanks. “What else?”

“We could try to drive a peg into what remains of the tooth pulp, but there’s not much left and we can’t guarantee how long it’ll last.”

“So I’d lose my tooth again at some undefined time in the future?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Are there any other options?”

“An implant.”

“How long does that take?”

“Usually eight months to a year.”

And my wedding was in . . .

That night, when I got onto webcams with my fiancé (now my husband), I didn’t even want to look at my image on the screen. Not only did I have no front tooth, but my eyes were puffy from crying and ringed in black from a lack of sleep.

And maybe that shouldn’t have mattered. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so devastated. It was just a tooth.

But I’d bought into the Helen of Troy lie. In Greek mythology, Helen was a demigod, the daughter of Zeus and the queen of Sparta. When Helen reached marriageable age, anywhere from 11 to 36 suitors (depending on the source you read) competed for her hand because she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Reports differ on how Helen later ended up with the Trojan prince Paris, but the Greek poet Sappo says she simply deserted her husband and nine-year-old daughter to go with him to Troy. Her husband wanted her back, and put together an army to attack Troy. Unfortunately, the ships they were to travel on couldn’t sail because there wasn’t any wind.

Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to get wind. For Helen.

Iphigenia’s mother (who was also Helen’s sister) argued with Agamemnon, telling him he was “buying what we most detest with what we hold most dear” (Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, 1170). She called her sister a “wicked woman,” but to no avail. Iphigenia died. Troy fell. Helen abandoned Paris and later betrayed to death the man she took as a lover after him. When her husband went to kill her for her infidelity, she dropped her robe and her beauty stayed his hand.

They didn’t compete for her, fight for her, kill and die for her because she was loyal or intelligent or brave. They did it because she was beautiful. Her beauty made her the most desirable and valued woman in the Greek world.

The lie of Helen of Troy is that beauty is purely physical and that it matters more than character, more than honor, more than intelligence. The lie of Helen of Troy drove me to starve myself and work out for four hours or more a day to try to become beautiful.

The lie of Helen of Troy made me actually worry that my fiancé might stop loving me if I wasn’t pretty on the outside.

But he knew that without me ever having to tell him because he knew me. When our webcams turned on, he called me beautiful, but then told me what made me beautiful to him.

It wasn’t my eyes. It was the things we had in common. It wasn’t whether or not I had wrinkles (or a tooth). It was my brain. It wasn’t anything physical at all. What I looked like was just a bonus, he said. What made me beautiful was who I was inside and the things I did.

I’ve never felt more beautiful than when I saw myself through his eyes. And thanks to him, I’m starting to see the lie of Helen of Troy for what it is—just a lie.

When have you bought into the lie of Helen of Troy? What helped you see it for a lie?

This post was written as part of the Beauty of a Woman blogfest being hosted by the truly beautiful August McLaughlin. Visit her blog tomorrow (Friday, February 10th) to read a bunch of inspiring stories and for chances to win awesome prizes, including a Kindle Touch or a $99 Amazon gift card, body image coaching, BOAW mugs, and more.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

6 Grammar Mistakes That Will Cost You Readers

Make these mistakes in a query letter, and your work might never see publication. Make these mistakes in a blog often enough, and your readers will find another similar blog that doesn’t make them cringe.

Mistake #1: Your/You’re

This mistake is why I can only take Facebook in small doses some days.

Add to the list it’s/its.
Please also add their/there/they’re.

This is a ridiculously simple mistake to avoid. Just stop and ask whether your sentence requires a possessive or a contraction.

Your is possessive, implying ownership: “I love your blog.”
You’re is a contraction of you are. The apostrophe indicates that you and are smashed together to make them shorter and smoother to say: “You’re giving me a headache with all this grammar talk.”

Their = possessive
There = a place (“I’ve been there”) or a pronoun (“There is no way I’m jumping off that cliff.”)
They’re = they are

It’s = it is (or it has)
Its = possessive

Mistake #2: Leaving Out a Serial Comma

A serial comma involves placing a comma after every item in a series: “I love eating jelly beans, chocolate, and cranberries.”

You could write this without the serial comma: “I love eating jelly beans, chocolate and cranberries.”

Serial commas aren’t mandatory, but they are recommended by most major style guides for a very simple reason—they eliminate the risk of being unintentionally funny.

“A housewife’s job involves more than cleaning, cooking and birthing babies.”
Is it just me, or does that sound like she’s serving up roast baby for dinner?

But add a serial comma and we have “A housewife’s job involves more than cleaning, cooking, and birthing babies.” Now we have a clear tribute to mothers rather than cannibalism.

The only thing worse than being boring is being unintentionally funny. Once people laugh at you, that’s all they’re going to remember about your post. At least if you’re boring, they forget about you.

I live by the better safe than sorry rule. If I always use a serial comma, I never run the risk of leaving it out when I should have put it in.

Mistake #3: Could of, Should of, Would of

“I could of finished that 10 oz. steak if I wanted to, but I’m watching my waistline.”

This mistake crops up when people write the same way they speak. When we speak, we often slur could’ve (the contraction of could have) so that it sounds like could of.

Of can be used correctly in many different ways. This isn’t one of them. You might be able to get away with it in speech, but not in your writing.

Mistake #4: To/Too/Two

I know. This one just seems like the first English speakers were being mean. Not only do these all sound the same, but they’re only one letter different from each other.

Two is a number: “If you already have one chocolate bar and I give you mine, then you have two chocolate bars and I’m going to be asking you to share.” Hold up two fingers. They form half a W. To and too don’t have that shape in them. They are not numbers. If that doesn’t work for you, remember that two (as a number) starts the same way as twins.

Too is an adverb expressing the idea of “excessively,” “also,” or “as well”: “This word has one too many o‘s in it.”

To is a preposition. It’s used to begin a prepositional phrase or an infinitive. The best way to remember to is to place it where neither two nor too will work.

“I went to church on Sunday.” (preposition)

“I want to eat your chocolate.” (infinitive)

Mistake #5: Lack of Parallelism in Lists

Parallelism in a list makes your sentences easier for your reader to understand.

“To contribute to Easter dinner, I peeled two potatoes, three yams, and baked a pie.”

Your reader will understand this sentence, but it will feel awkward. And grammar Nazis will snicker at you behind their hands.

Take the sentence apart, and you’ll see the problem.

To contribute to Easter dinner, I . . .

  • peeled two potatoes
  • three yams
  • baked a pie.

You wouldn’t say, “To contribute to Easter dinner, I two yams.” At least I hope you wouldn’t. You need to add a verb in front of “three yams” to make this sentence parallel. “Peeled,” “washed,” “chopped,” or “mashed” would all be correct.

Mistake #6: Dangling Participles

A dangling participle is a word or phrase that’s placed so it modifies the wrong thing. This is another one where your readers will find you extremely funny for all the wrong reasons.

“Walking down the road, the house came into view.”
A house taking a walk? I’d buy tickets to see that.

“Featuring an ensuite hot tub and extra fluffy pillows, we highly recommend this hotel for honeymooning couples.”
The mental image of people with hot tubs where their bellies should be and pillows for arms . . . I probably won’t stop laughing long enough to read the rest of what you’ve written.

“After rotting in the back of the fridge for three months, my husband cleaned out his forgotten leftovers.”
Based on this sentence, I need to take my husband to a doctor to find out why he’s rotting.

What are some grammar gaffes that drive you nuts?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

(This was a replay of a post I wrote originally for Girls With Pens and which first appeared on May 9, 2011. Because it’s still one of my favorites, I decided to share it with you here today.)

What Star Trek Race Are You?

When two nerds fight, especially two married nerds, it can take a very strange turn. She tells him that the problem is she’s a Vulcan and he’s a Klingon, and he counters that she’s not a Vulcan, she’s a Borg. And he’s not like a Klingon, he’s more like a Hirogen.

And pretty soon they forget what they were fighting about in the first place because she says, “Hey, wouldn’t that be a fun blog post?” And off they go discussing the traits that are unique to each race in Star Trek.

So now it’s your turn – what Star Trek race are you? Read the descriptions below and write down the letter of the one that’s most like you. (Don’t look for it to be exact, since you might be half-human, half-alien.) At the end, I’ll tell you what race you picked 🙂

(A) You hide your emotions and often devalue them, refusing to let them control you. You prefer things you can quantify and measure, so you’re drawn to math and the hard sciences. You’re rational and like your home to be neat and tidy.

(B) You like traditions and value honor above all else. You tend to see the world in black and white and don’t like indecision. Sometimes you can be hot-headed and easily offended, but you’re also strong and willing to fight for what you think is right.

(C) You’re a good judge of character. You’re also the kind of person complete strangers tend to open up to (whether you like it or not). You have a big heart and hurt when others hurt. You believe that honesty is always the best policy, sometimes to the point of embarrassing your loved ones.

(D) You strive for perfection, and love order and efficiency. You don’t know how to accept defeat and are creative in solving problems. You can be stubborn. Others’ opinions matter to you more than you’d like.

(E) You’re quirky and have a strong sense of humor. You enjoy the company of people and the simple pleasures in life like food, a hot bath, or working with your hands. Unfortunately, sometimes you’re also gullible because you think the best of everyone.

(F) You’re a very spiritual person and love culture and the arts. You defend your beliefs against attack and tend to prefer to associate with people who think the same way you do because you’ve been hurt in the past.

ANSWER KEY:

(A) You’re a Vulcan like Spock in the original Star Trek, Tuvok in Voyager, and T’Pol in Enterprise. Due to nearly allowing their strong emotions to destroy them, Vulcans learned how to control and repress their emotions through meditation so that they no longer feel them. Vulcans prize logic and are a generally peaceful, honest people unless logic dictates they must fight or lie.

(B) You’re a Klingon like Worf in The Next Generation or B’Elanna Torres (half-human) in Voyager. Klingons are a warrior species, passionate in all they do (including love). They’d prefer an honorable death in battle to going home in defeat. Ritual, tradition, and family honor are core values in their society.

(C) You’re a Betazoid like Deanna Troi in The Next Generation. Even though Betazoids look human, they have empathic and telepathic abilities, meaning they’re able to sense other people’s emotions and thoughts. While this means they can help others (for example, by counseling them), they need to be careful not to use their abilities to manipulate others for their own benefit.

(D) You’re Borg like Seven of Nine in Voyager. The Borg don’t reproduce like other species, but rather assimilate people from other species (usually against their will) into the Borg Collective. Their goal is to attain perfection by adding each species’ “biological and technological distinctiveness” to their own. Borg don’t consider themselves individuals because they’re all connected through a hive mind and function as a unit. They’re able to quickly adapt to almost any situation.

(E) You’re a Talaxian like Neelix in Voyager. Talaxians are a friendly, gregarious, well-meaning race who is always willing to lend a hand when needed, leaving them open to being taken advantage of. They enjoy food and entertainment, which made Neelix a perfect choice for cook and morale officer on Voyager (even though his cooking was often too creative for some).

(F) You’re a Bajoran like Kira Nerys in Deep Space Nine and Ro Loren in The Next Generation. Bajorans have a long history and rich culture, but their fertile planet was oppressed and pillaged by the Cardassians for years, making them fiercely independent (understandably) now that they have their freedom back. The major unifying force for Bajorans is their religion.

I still think that my husband is more like a Klingon than a Hirogen, but in the end, I had to admit he was right about me. I’m basically a Borg. Resistance is futile 😉

What race (or combination of races) are you?

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Something Like This, But Not This

Writing can be one of the most confusing professions around. We’re told that agents and editors are looking for something fresh and unique–but not too fresh and unique. We go to our critique group or send out our manuscript to beta readers and what one person loves, another hates. And everyone wants to tell us how they think our book should end.

And we end up feeling exactly like this . . .

Have you ever been in a situation where none of the advice you’re being given makes sense and you start to suspect that the person giving it doesn’t have any more of a clue than you do? 😉

Are You Brave Enough to Punch A Shark?

Scuba diving with sharksWhen most people think of their honeymoon, they envision sipping drinks on a beach, touring the museums and art galleries of Paris, or eating their way around Italy. My husband and I dreamed about scuba diving with sharks.

So when my grandpa gave us a very generous gift and made us promise we’d spend it on a honeymoon, we booked tickets to Australia and found a place that offered a no-experience-necessary chance to breathe underwater and face one of the world’s scariest predators.

After two hours of training in the classroom and pool, we swam out into OceanWorld Manly’s Shark Dive X-Treme tank, coming face to face with giant turtles, stingrays big enough I could have used them as a blanket, and sharks ranging in size from three to 10 feet and weighing up to 770 pounds.

They gave us three very simple rules to follow when it came to the sharks.

(1)   Don’t touch the sharks.
(2)   Don’t hop up and down or wave your hands in front of the sharks.
(3)   Whatever you do, don’t go into the section of the tank where they feed the sharks.

Makes sense, right? The idea is to avoid notice. Don’t mark yourself as food, but don’t mark yourself as a threat either. If you’re either, even a peaceful shark will bite. If you’re neither, a shark will swim by, even brush against you, without danger.

It’s the perfect advice for real sharks, but I think it might be the opposite of what we need to do with the sharks in life.

We often use the term shark to refer to a person who preys on others by cheating them or otherwise tricking them out of something.

With the sharks in life, you want to be noticed. You need to punch them in the nose to show them you’re not afraid.

I’m a softy and painfully shy, making me easy shark bait because I rarely stand up for myself. But this past weekend, I faced a shark and I don’t know what happened. Whether it was the sleep deprivation, the elation from the agent requests, or that I’d just had enough of sharks taking advantage of me in the last couple months, for the first time, I stood up and made sure the shark noticed me.

My co-writer (Lisa Hall-Wilson) and I went to New York for the Writer’s Digest conference, and because we’re both navigationally challenged, we stayed on-site at the hotel—where everything costs extra, including the Internet. We decided to buy just one day’s worth of Internet access so we could communicate with our families, and asked questions of the reception staff until we were sure how it worked. When we got our bill at checkout, they’d charged us twice (once for each of our laptops) even though we were told they wouldn’t because we were sharing a room.

Maybe they thought the amount was small enough we wouldn’t bother to argue over it.

What they didn’t count on was that to me it sounded like a lot of money. It represented my husband needing to work two additional hours at a job he hated, or no coffee for a month, or no treats for our dog.

Lisa and I told the lady at reception about the mistake, and she told us the charge was automatic and they had nothing to do with it. She wasn’t going to refund the second charge.

I gathered all my trembling insides together and stared her in the eye. “It’s unfortunate that we have to pay for a mistake made by your desk staff.”

And then I waited, making it clear we weren’t leaving until she fixed it. And grumbled a bit to Lisa the way you see really rich people do in movies when something isn’t to their liking.

And she removed the charge.

I’m realistic enough to know that I won’t always have the courage to face life’s sharks and force them to notice me, but maybe this is the start of a trend where I will be brave enough to punch at least some of those sharks right in the nose and win.

How do you usually deal with sharks? Have you ever challenged a shark and won?

Enter your email address for free updates:
Delivered by FeedBurner

Five Reasons I Wish I Was a Jedi

Wish I Was A JediSince I was out of town this past weekend attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York, I asked my husband (a.k.a. one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans) back to fill in today while I’m “recovering” 🙂

*********************************************

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and Star Wars is nerd-indulgence of choice. Ever since I saw Top Gun for the first time, I knew I wanted to be a fighter pilot. And ever since I was a wee lad, I knew I wanted to join the military or be a police officer so I could protect and help those that needed help and protection.

When I saw Star Wars for the first time (when Empire Strikes Back was re-released in 1997), I knew that my ultimate fantasy was to be an ace Jedi pilot for five reasons.

Highly Trained and Extremely Disciplined

Jedi are highly trained and extremely disciplined individuals. Taught from an early age to deny themselves for the greater good of the galaxy and its people, Jedi constantly train in everything from combat to acrobatics and gymnastics, and practice tremendous self-discipline through self-denial and frequent meditation. Even their clothing helps cultivate self-discipline, as the rough material of their cloaks is chosen specifically to help them learn how to ignore hardship and life’s minor annoyances.

All Jedi practice both armed and unarmed combat techniques, with their armed training including lightsabers, blasters, and vibroblades (small, ultrasonic-vibrating knives). Most Jedi were also trained to be competent pilots. The self-discipline and work ethic displayed by Jedi is something I’m envious of.

Force Powers, of Course

Need I say more? The coolest part about being a Jedi is the Force powers. Being able to cloud people’s minds, levitate incredibly heavy objects, tell if a person is lying, or have superhuman strength, stamina, wisdom, and combat prowess would be fantastic. And let’s not forget about one of the most-overlooked parts of having Force powers: you’d never again be tormented by that itch in the center of your back that you just…can’t…quite…reach.

Honorable

Jedi remain true to their duties, often sacrificing their lives on the altar of freedom. Jedi don’t run from danger, and they always confronted evil when they saw it. A good example of this is when Obi-Wan Kenobi allowed Darth Vader to strike him down, giving Luke, Han, and Leia time to escape the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. This appeals to me probably more than any other characteristic of the Jedi, because it accurately reflects what I feel is the most worthy personality trait a person can have.

Lightsabers and Starfighters

I would love to have a lightsaber. Lightsabers can deflect blaster fire, absorb incoming electricity or Force lightning, and cut through several meters of ultra-dense, extremely heavy composite metal doors—and they’re just so danged amazing. They’re so amazing, in fact, that I once tried to talk my physics teacher into building me one. Too bad he gave some excuse about lightsabers not being possible.

And don’t even get me started on being a starfighter pilot—being able to engage in fast and furious dogfights with enemy fighters, pulling off thrilling maneuvers, and independently pushing .7 past lightspeed would definitely satisfy my craving for doing all things adrenaline-producing.

Guardians of Peace and Justice

Jedi are the Star Wars equivalent of today’s police officers and military personnel. They frequently put their lives on the line in the face of great personal danger so that others would be safe and free from evil and tyranny.

During the time of the Old Republic, Jedi were often called upon to mediate disputes between groups or individuals that were at odds with each other, such as when Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn were sent to try to mediate a dispute between the pastoral planet of Naboo and the greedy Trade Federation. Although not technically part of any military or police force, the Jedi Order often took military action to eradicate evil and protect the innocent. To quote a very famous teacher, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

What do you think would be the best part about being a Jedi? If being a Jedi isn’t for you, what’s your ultimate fantasy career?

Chris

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

My Life As A Three-Headed Chimera

Chimera Marcy Kennedy fantasy authorThe Khimaira (Chimera) who snorted raging fire, a beast great and terrible, and strong and swift-footed. Her heads were three: one was that of a glare-eyed lion, one of a goat, and the third of a snake, a powerful drakon ~ Hesiod, Theogony, 319ff (trans. Evelyn White).

For years, I lived life as a chimera with multiple heads, never sure which one I needed to survive. You won’t see them in any pictures, but they were there.

In The Iliad, the earliest written mention of the chimera, Homer describes her as a fire-breathing animal with a front like a lion, a midsection like a black goat, and hindquarters with a tale like a dragon or serpent. Each head grew out of the matching part to create a grotesque animal with no real front or back. 

But what made the chimera so despised wasn’t only the way she terrorized the people of Lycia by scorching their fields and ravaging their herds. What made the chimera so despised was how she wasn’t a lion, or a goat, or a serpent.

What goat has scales like a snake? What lion has cloven hooves like a goat? What snake has a mane like a lion?

In trying to be all three, she failed to be any of them. She became nothing but a monster. Belonging nowhere.

Eventually, Greek hero Bellerophon rode Pegasus to find her and killed her with a block of lead. He shoved it down her throat, and her fiery breath melted it so the metal suffocated her.  

In the medieval era, the term chimera was generalized to mean any creature made up of the body parts of various animals. By the time of Dante’s Inferno, chimerical creatures came to embody deception and hypocrisy.

And, much later, me.

Despite having a happy childhood overall, some of the memories I can’t seem to shake aren’t good ones. Like how, at ten, a mutual friend told me that my cousins, who I thought were my friends and who I had frequent sleepovers with, couldn’t stand me. Like how once we hit high school, another cousin refused to admit we were related. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong.

I so wanted to be loved and accepted that I started to change my personality to fit whoever I was with. You like hockey? Me too! You find math hard? Me too! Didn’t matter if it was true or not.

I kept at it all through high school and into university, and I was suffocating.

I’d sit with my university roommate, wondering why the latest guy had chosen some other girl over me. Hadn’t I proven how much we had in common? Why couldn’t I find someone who liked me for me? I think they could tell I had as many heads as a chimera, and they weren’t any surer of which one was real than I was.

I’d spent so much of my time trying to make everyone like me that I’d never stopped to figure out if I liked playing an instrument or if I only played because all my closest friends in high school were band geeks. Did I really enjoy competing in horse shows or was I still showing because a lot of my friends growing up were horse crazy?

A funny thing happens when you start to ask yourself whether you really like the things you’ve always thought you liked. You find out that, in a lot of cases, the answer is no.

By the time I met my husband, I wasn’t afraid to admit I loved science fiction and fantasy and hated sports. All of them. I wasn’t afraid to tell him I was great at math (even though he wasn’t and hated it).

I didn’t have to try to be everything anymore, and by just being me, I finally found a man who loved me for what I was, not for what I was trying to be.

It’s still a challenge, but now I focus on connecting with people on what we truly have in common. I’ve come to value fewer authentic relationships over more relationships built on smoke and chimeras. And I’m happier for it.

What have you done in the past to try to fit in? How did you finally figure out what was really you and what wasn’t?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Who’s Your Unicorn?

 

Enter your email address:
Delivered by FeedBurner

3 Reasons Kathryn Stockett’s The Help Became A Bestseller

Kathryn Stockett's The HelpTime to get honest. We all want our book to become a runaway bestseller and get turned into a movie.

And we all know exactly what it takes to get there–a great book and word of mouth. That hasn’t changed and won’t change no matter what technological advancements come along. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Social media maven Kristen Lamb pointed out that one of the best ways for novelists to create a great book is to examine successful books to figure out what worked for them. Once we recognize what helped make them great, we can incorporate those things into our own books.

So today I wanted to look at three reasons Kathryn Stockett’s The Help became a bestseller.

Unique Character Voices

The Help uses three first-person narrators to tell the story. (It’s not as easy as Stockett makes it look.)  Even if you weren’t told each time you hit a switch, you could identify which character was speaking because Stockett gave them each a unique voice.

How? Well, she kept in mind their background, education, and personalities.

Abileen’s voice is lyrical but filled with grammatical mistakes. She uses “they” when she should use “their,” and “a” when she should use “of.” You can hear the accent of black women in the South 60 years ago when she says, “First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic” (pg. 1).

This is Abileen’s voice, and only Abileen can say it just this way because of who she is. She dropped out of school young to work, but always had a knack for writing, and she’s been writing her prayers ever since so she doesn’t lose the ability. She’s older than the other POV characters, and it shows in her accent and attitudes, and in the slightly slower way she moves about things.

Minny’s is sarcastic, cynical, jaded. Her speech is sprinkled with profanity and criticisms of the foolishness she sees around her. Her metaphors tend to center around food.

What makes Minny so different from Abileen? She’s younger and has more education so she lacks the accent and grammatical mistakes, she’s extremely practical, but it’s more than that. Minny looks at the world the way she does in large part because her alcoholic husband beats her. And her food metaphors spring out of her love for cooking. She never burns the fried chicken.

Whether you have one POV character or ten, each of them needs to sounds like an individual.

A Theme People Connect With

You might think the theme of The Help is civil rights and equality for blacks and women. While those issues play a huge role in the book (after all, Skeeter is writing a book that tells the real story of black maids in the South), if that was the theme, it wouldn’t connect with people on an emotional level the way this book did. Civil rights is a political issue you vote on, not something that reaches in, grabs your heart, and squeezes it until it aches.

Stockett weaves a much more subtle and poignant theme throughout each POV character’s story–the struggle to feel worthy, worthwhile, loved, and valuable.

Skeeter feels like an embarrassment to her mother. She’s unmarried and dresses in ways that give her mother heart palpitations. Her hair is completely unmanageable. When she finally gets a boyfriend, she’s forced to choose between being herself and being who he wants her to be.

Minny works for Celia Foote. Celia comes from Sugar Ditch (basically the wrong side of the tracks). She desperately wants to make friends, but her heart of gold is overlooked because she’s tacky and trashy and married to the ex-boyfriend of Hilly, who has all the other white women under her thumb.

Abileen works for a woman who’s ashamed of her daughter. Elisabeth barely picks her toddler up because Mae Mobley is fat with a bald spot on the back of her head. Abileen spends the book trying to teach Mae Mobley that she is kind, she is smart, and she is important.

Each story connects to the theme in a different way, but it’s there under them all. And it’s something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Fresh Descriptions and Metaphors

George Orwell advised, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” His point was that if you’ve seen it in other books before, it’s no longer fresh. It might even be verging on cliched. Worse, it makes your book forgettable.

The best metaphors stick in people’s minds because they don’t remember ever hearing them before. They also stick because they give people something tangible to hang on to.

The dread in my stomach is flat and hard and hot, like a brick in the sun (pg. 178). When I read this, I understood dread in a new way. My gut reaction was “Yes, that’s exactly how it feels. She just put into words something I’ve known all along but haven’t been able to articulate.” That makes for a memorable metaphor.

It smells like meat, like hamburger defrosting on the counter (pg. 232). Even now, months later, this metaphor still turns my stomach. This is how she described the smell of a miscarried baby. I’ve never seen a miscarried baby, never smelled what that sort of death smells like, but with this description, I knew. Stockett associated something unfamiliar to most of us to something familiar to most of us, allowing us to play an intimate part in a foreign experience. That also makes for a memorable metaphor.

Have you read The Help? What did you love about it? What else do you think made it a bestseller?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available. (You also might want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.) All are available in both print and ebook.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Grab Bag January 14, 2012

Like a grab bag of candy where you reach your hand in and pull out some fun surprises, here are some surprising treats from around the web.

For Science Fiction and Fantasy Lovers

Star Wars’ Greatest Villain by Patrick Thunstrom – For every Star Wars fan who hates Jar Jar Binks.

Robin Hood: The Man Beneath the Hood by Jessica O’Neal – Do you believe Robin Hood really existed? Was he one man or many?

Who Were the Amazons? by Lisa Hall-Wilson – My co-writer Lisa gives a sneak peak at the society that forms the basis of our current work-in-progress.

For Writers

How to Know If Your Agent Is Any Good? by Jane Friedman – Since I’m headed to the Writer’s Digest conference in New York next weekend, this post couldn’t have come at a better time. As helpful for those still seeking an agent as for those who already have one.

How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day by Rachel Aaron – She gives three great tips for increasing your writing productivity without burning out–know what you’re going to write before you write it, great excited about what you’re writing, and track productivity and evaluate.

What Star Wars “A New Hope” Can Teach Us About In Medias Res by Kristen Lamb – As writers, we’re told to start our story in a way that will capture the reader. The dilemma is if we start in the middle the reader has action but no emotional connection to the characters. Kristen helps sort out this seeming catch-22.

The Meaning of Life

What Are We Doing About the Children? by Louise Behiel – We can’t help stop child abuse until we know the symptoms of it. The statistics Louise shares will shock you.

Timing Is Everything by Serena Dracis – If you have a dog (old or young), you’ll find Serena’s weekly posts on dog training tips infinitely helpful in understanding how your dog communicates and learns.

True strength is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart – Anonymous

Enter your email address:
Delivered by FeedBurner

My Dark Secret

World of Warcraft HobbyI have a dark secret, one certain members of my family feel should never be admitted to. It’s just too embarrassing. Too pathetic. Too geeky. It marks me as a social misfit.

Because at first I didn’t know anyone else who shared my dark secret (other than the man who’s now my husband—but that’s another story), I figured they must be right. I indulged in private, never admitting to anyone what I was doing. And I’ll never forget the patronizing looks and snickers that came whenever I was caught.

You see, on weekdays, I’m a mild-mannered writer, working on grant proposals and magazine articles and correcting grammar. On weekends, however, I don my armor, draw my sword, and become a Draenei paladin named Micaah, slaying monsters in World of Warcraft.

For me, playing means stepping into a story. I customized Micaah from her race (species) and class (what she can do in the game) to her hair, skin, and face. (I think she looks a little like Halle Barry.) Each quest is unique, whether I’m dousing fires in a village, harvesting herbs to make medicine, or killing naga. The quest givers tell you why they’re sending you on this particular mission and what they’ll reward you with if you succeed. And the graphics are incredible.

The longer I played my game, the more I started to question why this particular pastime was less worthwhile than any other. Why should I be ashamed?

It wasn’t illegal, immoral, or otherwise harmful to me or anyone else. It’s less expensive than most sports. I can play with others, giving it a social aspect, or independently, allowing for much needed “alone time.”

And everyone needs a hobby.

A hobby, by definition, is an interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation. I could spend my time on something more acceptable. I could have played soccer or volleyball instead, but I don’t like sports and I find them stressful because I’m afraid of taking a ball to the face. Even if I played a sport, it couldn’t be called a hobby for me. I’m basically a hospital visit waiting to happen.

So I had to ask: Why should anyone be able to tell me that the hobby I enjoyed, that helped me relax, isn’t good enough? If I want to collect antique lunchboxes or learn to play the accordion, I should be able to do so without being afraid of what people will think.

A hobby that you’re forced into and don’t enjoy isn’t a hobby at all. Shouldn’t we each be able to choose the hobby that’s right for us?

What hobby do you hide? Do you collect coins/stamps/vintage toys? Play croquet? Are you a closet gamer like me? Why do you love your dark secret of a hobby?

Enter your email address:
Delivered by FeedBurner