Monday, June 30, 2014

Virtue: It's Not Just for Women

For some reason, people associate virtue with women more than they do with men. Maybe it's because of Proverbs 30, the scripture about a virtuous woman or maybe it's because of the Victorian era.

When I see the word virtue, the first thing I think is man because vir is the Latin word for man. In my five years of Latin classes we always translated virtus (the Latin word for virtue) as manliness. Think of a war hero—someone who is physically strong, but also courageous and able to choose the right even in difficult circumstances.

The word virtue came into the English language very early on. (I checked the Old English Dictionary. I'm cool that way.) It still meant manliness, but it also took on a new meaning. It meant power. More specifically, God's power to perform miracles, to heal the sick, and to create life. I like to think of the Spiderman theme, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That is really the essence of virtue.

The first record we have of the word virtue being applied to women was in 1390 when someone used it to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary was certainly a woman who had great power and great responsibility. Sometime later, people decided that virtue also meant chastity and modesty. That's about when it became associated more and more with women. Hmmm. Should chastity and modesty only be associated with women? I think not. Men can exercise self-control, and, though it's not as hard for them, they also have choices regarding modesty.

Elaine S. Dalton defines virtue as, “A pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. It encompasses chastity and moral purity. Virtue begins in the heart and mind. It is nurtured in the home. . . It is a word we don't often hear in today's society.”

She's right. We don't often hear about virtue in today's society. That's why I was surprised when I heard President Barack Obama, in his first inauguration address, call for Americans to be responsible citizens and to go forward with “hope and virtue.” When he used the words hope and virtue, I found myself hoping that Americans would open up their dictionaries and see what virtue actually means: “conformity to a standard of right, morality, a particular moral excellence, manly strength or courage, . . . chastity.”

As I remember the birth of the United States of America this week, I remember so many of the founding fathers as virtuous men. George Washington, though he wasn't perfect, did his best to live according to what he believed to be right. I admire him for the sacrifices he made for our country and for his fidelity to his family. He took upon himself the power of the presidency, but he did so with restraint, setting the standards that have kept our nation free from a too-powerful president.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

6 Ways to Get Your VOICE On

Before I wrote Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale, I never paid much attention to voice. It was just something that came naturally--the sound of my character's voice in my thoughts. But writing from two different voices forced me to dissect the whole concept of voice. What was voice anyway? And how could I make it so my reader could instantly recognize which character was speaking through her voice?

I've always heard that voice is one of the most important elements of novel-writing. Voice makes your story real. When you have a good voice, your readers feel as if they've entered your characters' world. Voice is something intangible--something you shouldn't think about too much--but in my case, I had to think about it in a tangible way. Here are the tangible elements of voice that I discovered:

1. Style: The most obvious part of voice is style. Do you want your character to speak in a snarky, matter-of-fact style? Or will she speak in a lyrical, poetic style. Will she speak directly to the reader and ask rhetorical questions? Will she use metaphors and similes? Will she use precise, complete sentences, or will she occasionally use sentence fragments? How long will she make her sentences?

To help distinguish the two sisters in my book, I gave one a snarky style and the other a poetic style. One used rhetorical questions; the other didn't. The same went for the use of similes and metaphors--the poetic sister got dibs on almost all of them. The other sister used more precise, technical language.

2. Vocabulary: The vocabulary your character uses will reflect her education, interests, and profession. An artist will describe the world through an artistic lens while a computer programmer may use technical language. Ideally, each character in the book has a unique vocabulary that may include some catch phrases or vocabulary reserved only for him or her.

As I wrote each character, I tried to immerse myself in her world. I searched art books for ways to describe emotions, colors, and facial features. I also browsed the programming shelves at my local bookstore, trying to think like a programmer.

3. Actions: Each character has habits that define her personality. A divorcee may unconsciously rub the finger where she once wore a wedding ring. Someone who's been in a serious accident may avoid driving on the freeway. A construction worker may inspect each building she enters for flaws.  A teacher may have to stop herself from shushing people. All these actions and habits play a part in the voice of a character.

One of my characters tap-danced when she got nervous. As I scattered tap-dance steps throughout the book, they became a way of defining that character's voice. My other character reacted more emotionally and dramatically to events. Her tendency toward drama also became a part of her voice.

4. History: A character's past will also play a part in her voice. This may include past relationships, traumas, and other experiences. If a character has been abused, for example, she may react differently to a sudden movement than one who has always been treated with respect. Her thoughts and reactions depend largely on what has happened to her before.

5. Strengths and Flaws: Every character needs a few strengths and a few flaws. These will also help define her voice. What makes your character special? This could be anything from great business sense or social skills to just being incredibly lucky. On the other hand, what are her weaknesses?  Does she have a bad temper, a mental illness, an addiction to video games? A character's strengths and flaws should pop up again and again throughout the book, not just at the beginning or the end.

6. Interests: Each character notices different things in a scene based on her interests and perspective. A character with an interest in nature will describe the flora and fauna while one who's interested in fashion will notice the clothes people are wearing. Another character may notice food. Still another may notice attractive men. What a character notices and fails to notice says volumes about her.

Trying to further distinguish the two characters in my book, I asked myself what a programmer would want to do on a date. For once, I didn't send her on a date I would have enjoyed. I did the same thing with my artist. My characters' interests governed their vocabulary, their descriptions, and their actions. All these things added together, helped make it so that readers could tell which sister was speaking without looking for their names at the beginning of each chapter.

I'm sure I've only scratched the surface here. I hope what I've learned about voice can help some other writers out there. If you have any advice for me about voice, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Spring Summary

So far, it's been a fun and busy spring. 

In April, we got a new laminate floor in the living room, and I've been trying to remind the boys to take off their shoes before coming inside with signs on the door knobs that say "Please remove your shoes before entering." Their reaction was to make the above sign for my room.

Kids are always so creative. My son invented a game with his dinosaurs, using the squares on my rug. My younger kids have been left to themselves a lot lately because the focus has been on the teenagers. My daughter graduated from high school. She was the valedictorian and got a scholarship to her favorite college. We've been busy preparing her for college and attending orientations.

My son, Luke, has developed an interest in metalwork. Don't ask. It freaks me out, but here he is with the 75-pound anvil his dad got him for his birthday. (My husband ordered it by mail on the same week he had a fifty pound shipment of books shipped. "Don't worry," he said, "I'll take it inside when I come home." The mail carrier was not happy, and left the anvil right in front of the door to prove it. I couldn't open the door and had to lift it out of the way. Since my husband is an LDS bishop, we receive a lot of heavy packages, containing books and manuals, most of which I end up somehow heaving into the house. We're not popular with the mail carriers, though.)

I'm making great progress on my goals this year.  This is the goal chart I have on the back of my door. It's been very motivating and includes my weekly goals, my yearly bucket list, and my kids' yearly goals. I also have a goal to write 500 words per day on my new book. It's been hard settling on which book to write next. I finally decided to just write what makes me happy.

As of yesterday, my husband has also jumped into the game of goal-setting. Yay! He added his own paper to my goal collection. (It's the one with the piece of masking tape across the top. He's all about aesthetics.

One of the goals I finally accomplished was helping my two oldest to get summer jobs. That was my goal for last summer, but last summer was just such a mess, it never happened. Luke's having a lot of fun working at a Boy Scout camp. Emily's making good money, but is pretty bored working temporary jobs. Next, I need to help my fourteen-year-old to complete his Eagle project (another goal from last summer.)