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Welcome back to Wednesday Wildcard: Writer's Workshop!

I'm your host, Edgar Allan Hobo and today we will be discussing methods for creating believable characters and strategies for keeping them that way. Feel free to jump into the comments with questions or relevant discussion!

Cue cheesy theme song


Characters are an important element of storytelling. While it’s certainly possible to write a compelling story that lacks characters, we can at least agree that most stories will have characters and, in these stories, the characters need to feel believable in order for a reader to connect.

So, what is it that helps readers connect to your characters?

In most cases, the answer to that question is: How real they feel.

So, how to you write a character who feels real?

Glad you asked!

Get to Know Your Character(s)

Whether you’re an obsessive outliner or a pantser, you need to know something about your character(s) before you dive into the story. Whether it’s how lazy they are or their hatred of another town or their unrequited love with the kid who sits in front of them in English class, you’ll need some starting point.

For some people, this start point comes in the form of a character outline. For others, it’s the moment that character makes an appearance in the first draft. There’s no one perfect way to develop your character as long as you are getting to know them, who they are, what they want, and how they think. Nothing breaks immersion like getting halfway through a book only to see a main character make an uncharacteristic decision for no discernible reason.

So, treat your character like he/she/it is real. Get to know them thoroughly. If it helps, answer strange questions about them in your spare time.

Here’s a little list of some weird questions:

  • Who would they call first if they needed help urgently at two in the morning?
  • What’s their phone background?
  • What was their first big independant purchase as a child / teenager?
  • If they were stood up on a date, would they order food and make the best of it, or would they go home?
  • What is the most expensive thing they own?

It might be tempting to spend hours and hours on a name, but James and John and Kophalgar Delusious IV don’t matter unless their portrayal is consistent and believable.

Some people go so far as to take the Myers-Briggs personality test as their character.

Do you need to do any of this? No way, not at all. But, you should find your own way to sit down and become well acquainted with the people you’ll be portraying. Of course, you’ll want to examine your genre and the complexity of your story in order to decide what method best suits your needs.

Remember, the longer your book gets, the more difficult it becomes to track character development.

Avoid Stereotypes

So, you’re creating your character outline and you have an innocent hero, a serious mentor, the morally ambiguous rogue, a love interest, and a bad guy. Maybe even some comic relief. Great! You’ve got a cast.

But, if you approach your book from this angle, you’re going to have flat characters. Thinking of a character only in terms of the archetype they represent is an easy way to forget that they need to be well rounded. For example, if you only consider your villain in terms of their malevolent actions it becomes easy to neglect their backstory. Their motivation. In life, while stereotypes often originate from some truth, it would be ludicrous to minimise an evil entity such that their identity revolves solely around enacting evil plans. People aren’t this flat and flimsy in life, so don’t let your characters be either.

Examine your recurring cast (as well as your minor characters) and ask yourself:

Would I be offended if someone simplified me as much as I am simplifying this character?

When describing people, we often trim them down to their most noticeable / most personally important qualities. But, if you want a reader to latch onto a character or relate to them, you’ll need to tactfully expand them beyond the confines of the purpose you’d like them to serve.

This includes characters added for the sake of diversity. I promise that readers will see right through a poorly thought out character only added to diversify your cast.

Give Them Clear Motivations

A good way to to break free of a character who is struggling to break free from a stereotype is to ask yourself what your character wants and why. While you might have an absolutely stunning plot, if your character is nodding his head through the entire adventure and going along with everything you throw his way until he achieves his goal, you’re going to have a boring story. Every character should have their own motivation. Even characters in parties, while the group may have one primary goal, will have their own reasons for wanting to achieve that goal.

Think of Star Wars: A New Hope. You have Luke, Obi Wan, and Han, all of whom ultimately want to accomplish the primary goal of saving Leia. Obi Wan has a sense of obligation, burdened by guilt and knowledge the rest of the party aren’t privy to. Luke is driven by a thirst for adventure and the need to rescue a princess (how exciting!). Then we have Han, who’d really like to get his hands on some money.

These motivations create tension, stall plot, and allow the viewer to better understand each character as an individual outside of their party.

Give Them Flaws

In the same way that people latch onto character motivations, relating to those driving forces behind the characters they connect with, flaws will bring potential for a more intimate connection with your characters. Why? Because we have flaws.

The second your reader goes “heh, me too”, you know you’ve hooked them. They aren’t going to relate to every single character, but adding flaws makes it infinitely more likely that at least one of your characters will resonate with your reader. So, go ahead and make your good guy wide-eyed and over excited for adventure, give your bad guy a weak spot for his estranged son, and make your side character greedy. People will relate to these elements and it will add another dimension to your now pretty darn round characters.

Allow Your Characters to Grow and Drive the Plot

At this point, we should have a character who has personality, is not simply a plot device, has unique motivations, and a few flaws. What happens as the story progresses?

What happens when your character’s motivations, flaws, or other elements of their personality lead them to make a decision that is not in line with your plot? You freakin’ celebrate. That means you’ve made a dimensional character and not a plot device. Guess what? Forcing a character to follow a plot that they’re rebelling against is liable to flatten your character. After all of the work we’ve done creating well rounded characters, that would just be counter-productive. It’s fine to let your characters take over your book for the sake of seeing how they would reach the intended endpoint without all of your meddling.

On that note, keep in mind that your character should change and grow as they have experiences. If your character is really optimistic and over-ambitious in the beginning of the story but encounters failure, loss, and has to spend a bunch of time running around with a tiny green man on his back, he’s going to be different when the tale comes to an end. Let him grow!

When all is said and done, the best advice I can give is this: if you’d like people to see your characters as real people, you need to treat your characters like real people.

Character AMA

While I won’t be free all day, I’d like to replace the discussion question section of this post with a character AMA event, which will take place in the comments.

I will be posting several top-level comments containing a few questions each. You can reply to those comments for as many characters as you’d like (please keep it contained in a single comment, though). From there, feel free to engage your fellow community members and ask them follow up questions. I’ll do my best to continue to ask follow up questions myself. Please understand that, as an author and a parent of a toddler, my time is limited so I may copy and paste questions between people.

The goal of this exercise is to help you become better acquainted with your characters and to support your fellow authors in doing the same.


Have suggestions for next month's workshop? Go ahead and let me know in the comments.


Past Workshops

Show versus Tell | Apostrophe Usage

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Welcome back to Wednesday Wildcard: Writer's Workshop!

It's me again, the wonderful Edgar Allan Hobo, here to guide you through another workshop experience...or something like that. Today we will be looking at "thought" verbs and working through a small exercise in removing them from our writing.

This week's workshop was inspired by this article written by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) and I highly suggest you give it a read. I'm not just saying that because he was the author who inspired me to write. Seriously, this is a short read and it will much more elegantly discuss what we will be going over today.


What is a "thought" verb?

A thought verb is a verb that expresses a character having an internal thought or experience and is used to convey that thought or experience to a reader in a straightforward manner. Examples of thought verbs are: thinks, realises, dreams, remembers, wants, fears, understands, worries...so on and so on until the end of time. There are a million of them.

So, Hobo, why shouldn't I be using these verbs?

The answer is simple. It's a shortcut that can potentially take away from your writing and the reader's experience while reading your work.

Does that mean you cannot use them? No. freakin'. way. Chuck Palahniuk, himself, uses a truly massive amount of thought verbs in his writing. The point is that you should learn how to tactfully unpack these thought verbs before you decide how often you're going to use them. All I want to do here is challenge you to think critically before you toss an easy "I thought" or "He remembered" into your story. Maybe, just maybe, there's a better way for you to get that information across. More often than not, you'll find that removing "thought" verbs will grant you very natural opportunities to inject personal narrative into your story. This will help minimise narrative info dumps!

A particularly good point from Chuck's article, which deserves repeating, is to identify whether or not the sentence is acting as a thesis statement for the rest of the paragraph. For example, a paragraph describing a bad memory about elevators with a first sentence of: "I hate elevators". The author might consider removing that first sentence entirely because, by the end of the paragraph, the reader ought to be able to infer that fact themselves!

As is the case with any so-called writing rules, it's not so much about always following the rule as it is understanding why it exists in the first place.


Unpacking "Thought" verbs.

Let's start with a sentence.

Nancy knew how much Todd cared for that teddy bear.

The goal of the sentence is to express to the reader how much Todd cared for his bear while indicating that Nancy is aware of that fact. Unpacking it, expanding it to be more insightful, might look something like this.

Todd used to bring the bear everywhere. Whether they were out to the supermarket or travelling to Florida to visit her parents, she kept an eye on that little brown bear as if it were her second child. Now that it was gone, its absence left a void in both of their lives.

Boom. We've conveyed the information and were also able to provide the reader with more insight into the impact the bear had, both when it was present and when it was gone.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, hey Hobo! This sounds an awful lot like "show, don't tell" And you'd be correct! It's just a little more specific and easier to pinpoint in your own writing. Ultimately, though, you are trying to show your reader a specific thought process instead of simply telling them that it's happening.


The exercise

I'm going to post several simple sentences here, all of which include thought verbs, and it's up to you to expand them in a meaningful way. If you're bored today (or tomorrow, or next week), consider looking back at an old writing prompt and doing your best to unpack all of the "thought" verbs! Remember, you'll want to imagine these as a sentence in a larger story, not as a prompt or a premise for a story to be written.

  • I thought about the time Natasha spent all of her allowance on candy, instead of saving up for the trip like we'd planned.
  • Tony hated cats.
  • Wanda forgot how much she disliked the smell of salt and vinegar chips.
  • Steve knew that James was hiding something.
  • Anna dreams about a life with Wade, but she worries that it's only a fantasy.
  • I remember how often my parents used to argue.
  • He wants to talk to her, but he fears rejection too much to follow through.
  • In the middle of the fight, Charles realises just how powerful Erik is.

Don't like any of these? Want to get some feedback on your own work? Grab a sentence or two from a previously written piece and apply the exercise to those examples. I'll be giving feedback and answering comments on and off throughout the day.


Have suggestions for next month's workshop? Go ahead and let me know in the comments.


Past Workshops

Character Development | Show versus Tell | Apostrophe Usage

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I call dibs on this one! By the power of Hobo, I'll post 5 RF prompts within the next week.

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My power!?

"Judenstern"

...

She had few friends.

Not that she cared. In her shop, her instruments would never betray her, nor would they reject her for who she really was. To be alone was to be free.

With the curfews in effect until five in the morning, there was always a sense of urgency that lingered in the air. Sometimes she would hear yelling outside, sometimes sirens, planes hovering over the buildings, or the occasional fire cracker.

She knew the truth about the last one. Naive... but not that naive.

The radio was what she missed the most. Whilst it was still present, it did not emit those wistful notes anymore. Just blabbering that made little sense to her, confusing notions of grandeur and harshness that made her wonder why she stayed in the city. Too much investment, she thought to herself. Too much investment in her family, her routines.

It wasn't the same anymore. Something was wrong, no matter how long the sun stayed out.

It was They, and They were here to stay.

Her stomach growled in protest, despite the plate left on the counter. Sighing, she patted her dress down, and set her slender fingers on the keys of the piano.

Everyday she would play, and the number of patrons would dwindle regardless.

The woman could barely look at herself in the mirror. Splash after splash, the water could not wash away this expression of worry that curled up and made its home on her face.

Outside, it began to rain heavily.

A bell dinged.

She emerged from the bathroom, a slight spring in her step.

It was a young boy, dressed in a brown jacket that's too big for him and dirty pants. His hair stretched just above his brow, flakes of dirt seasoned through the strands. No older than thirteen, she supposed. On his left breast was the Star of David sewn into his jacket. She gave it a longer look than usual, but said nothing.

He jumped a bit at her presence, weary eyes darting back and forth. She knew the look all too well. That look of constant worry.

The two exchanged greetings, albeit brief ones.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

He digs his hands into his pockets and nods. "Yes."

"Are you looking for something in particular? Violins? Strings? Or are you just browsing?"

"...Just browsing."

"Alright then. I will be over here, if you need anything."

The boy walked almost in a pacing fashion, giving quick glances at the cafe across the street every so often.

When the rainstorm left, so did he.

...

Through the window of her shop, she observed.

The pattern would continue over the course of four days. The boy would loiter around the cafe, looking at a pocket watch. When the patrons left their tables, the boy would scamper to their plates and pocket what scraps he could carry before retreating to the alley beside it, dodging the jeeps and patrols.

Only when the rain came again did the boy come back to the shop, after being told off by the cafe manager.

"Hello again." she spoke.

"Hi." he said meekly.

"Can I help you with anything?"

"I'm fine." he replied, pacing as usual, giving a gander over the guitars and keys. "Um... actually..."

"Yes?"

"Have you seen some people around here? Um, a tall man with gray hair? And-and a woman about this big? Brown hair?" he asks, motioning with his hands. "They're my parents. I'm just waiting for them to...to get back. They told me they'll be at the cafe. Or in this area."

"Oh." The woman thought for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm sorry. I haven't seen anyone like that."

Thunder stomped across the murky heavens with heightened rage.

"Oh. Okay. Um..." said the boy. "It's... well, it's just that they said they would come for me. Um, they traveled a long way...so..."

"I'm sure they're be here soon."

"Right. Thanks."

She gave him a warm smile, the best she could muster up. "...You can stay here. If you want. I don't mind. It's lonely around here. Heh. Plus, it's cold out there."

The boy laughs nervously. "Thank you..."

"Do you have anyone else you can contact? Siblings? Uncles?"

He shakes his head. "No... I, uh, I don't have anyone else. They're... far away."

"I see. Well, I'm making some coffee, some biscuits I made at home. Would you like some?"

"No, I'm okay..."

"You sure?"

"..."

"..."

"Alright."

"Coming right up."

...

The days passed. The boy would come, eat, and the woman would keep him company until he left. Occasionally, he would smile when he heard her play a short piece, but his glumness would soon return like clockwork.

One day on a cold morning, the boy did not return, and so the woman went out looking for him near the cafe.

He was sitting in the same alley, arms wrapped around his knees, sniffling. Scraps and bones piled up near his side.

"Hey. Didn't see you today."

Clearing his throat, he stands up, slightly startled. "Oh. Sorry."

"No, it's okay." The lady looks around. "Have your parents come?"

His silence is telling. Hope is fading like a candle in the wind.

"Let's head inside, hmm? Warmer in my shop."

Nodding, he follows her, his steps quickening when he sees several jeeps down the street, a crowd of hollering people gathered around them being formed into a queue. Soldiers marched down the streets completely stone-faced.

The eyes of the woman narrowed into slits as she escorted the boy into the building.

"Here, I'll go make us some coffee..." she began. "Perhaps the storms have delayed your mother and father. They'll be here soon, I'm sure of it-"

"-It's been two weeks. I..." The boy barely finishes.

"It'll be alright. Okay? Look at me. You won't be alone..."

The boy takes off his jacket and sits near the piano, unsure of what to do.

The woman peers outside, seeing the cafe manager being escorted out of his own establishment at gunpoint. Suppressing a gasp, she quickly walks over to the boy. "Hide. Go in the back room and hide in the closet. Now."

"Huh? What..."

"Do it. There's little time. Something's happening."

Without another word, he dashes past the register and enters the darkness of the rooms.

A moment later, a trio of uniformed men donning trench coats enter the shop, blackened rifles slung over their shoulders. One of them whistles at all of the merchandise.

The woman finds her hands gripping the edge of the counter. She lets out a slow but ragged breath. It does not help. The officer sets his cap down, then removes his gloves in a meticulous fashion.

"Good morning, mademoiselle." he speaks in a chipper tone, though his dialect sounds disjointed. Broken, coming only from a foreign tongue.

Her eyes remain forward. "Good morning. How can I help you gentlemen?"

Two of the soldiers peruse the hardware, tapping random piano keys and cymbals.

The officer blinks. "My name is Heinrich. What is your name?"

"...Helene."

"Is this your shop, Helene?"

"Yes. I inherited it."

"From your father?"

"No, my uncle."

"How is he doing?"

"He is doing fine. At the moment."

"You just sell instruments?"

"I also do lessons."

Officer Heinrich stares at the posters around the shop. "I enjoy jazz... from time to time. Amazing stuff."

"Is there something you're looking for? Sheet music? Records?"

He grins. "No, I'm looking for people. Certain types of people. People branded..." He takes a jacket from a chair, the jacket branded with the Star of David. "With something very much like this."

"Oh. I see."

"Seen anyone like that? Has anyone wearing this star entered your shop recently?"

"Yes. The customer must've forgotten it."

"I see. What did he or she buy?"

"She didn't buy anything. Just browsed."

"Just browsed?"

"Yes."

"Why did she take off her jacket?"

"Maybe...maybe it was too warm for her in here."

The officer pauses. "Helene... are you married?"

"I was."

"What happened?"

"My husband passed away."

"I am sorry. Do you have any other family?"

"Yes."

"Do you wish for them to be safe, Helene?"

She can barely hear her thoughts above the sound of her heart. "Yes. Of course..."

"Are you aware that harboring enemies of the state is a severe offence punishable by death?"

"...I am. No one wearing that star is here. I swear."

"Do you mind if we search your shop? We won't knock anything over."

"...Alright."

They began the search, scouring every inch.

As they approached the closet, Helene yelled out. "Stop. I know where she is."

"What is it?" asked Heinrich.

"The woman is upstairs. She...she ran upstairs before I could say anything..."

"So you lied to me."

"She threatened to sack my shop if I said anything."

The soldiers don't seem to buy it.

Then Helene screamed at the boy to run out the back.

And so he did, bursting out of the closet doors and into the alleyways, footsteps clattering onto the cobblestone, away from the gunshots.

...

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Original Poster1 point · 1 month ago

This was really sad, but also quite lovely. I'm curious as to how the prompt inspired this, nonetheless, really great. Thanks for the reply.

26 points · 2 months ago · edited 2 months ago

When I was a little boy, I'd toss feverishly in my sheets, plagued by a single reoccurring nightmare. It started with a jiggle at the handle of our front door. A figure obscured by the three panels of rain-spatter pattern glass set in the cherry-wood. I was at the table. Sometimes I was eating but mostly it didn't matter what I was doing because, in the end, I'd be running. Lead shoes protested with each stunted stride as I tried to escape the shadowed intruder, his presence taking up every space I left like an expanding foam or a virus, pressing me forward, the only path to freedom.

Freedom back then meant watching TV after 8. Or an extra scoop of ice cream. Everything I knew about freedom was a product of misinterpreting adulthood.

I would always take the same route, up the stairs and down the hallway, off of which my room, my parents' room, my brother's room, and the bathroom were located. My room was the safest. It had a large walk in closet, perfect for taking shelter in as the hide-and-seek countdown grew muted by walls. Perfect for fleeing from intruders. It was full of clothes, behind which I would hide as I tried to catch my breath, heart rattling like a lame bat.

It's these sort habits that get you into trouble. When you repeat something over and over again, it becomes second-nature. You stop thinking. It's when you stop thinking that you make a mistake.

Eventually, the intruder would occupy my room with his aggressive air and I'd be forced impossibly deeper into the closet. The wall would push farther and farther back until a small panel was exposed behind the lazy arm of a sweater or a stack of toys I once loved, but can't bear to give away. Through the panel I'd discover a room that didn't exist. A place I'd never been. I could pass through doorway after doorway, some small and inconspicuous and others large and obvious, some mystical and others plain. But I'd only be sending myself deeper into my home. The only way out infested by him.

No matter how far I ran from my mistake, it seemed to follow me. My routines, my false perception of freedom, they're all responsible for what happened.

In the end, he'd get me. After that, just as his hand wrapped around my wrist, I'd wake up safe and in my bed.

It's raining at the bus stop. I'm getting soaked, but I no longer care. I'm free. A freedom bigger than owning a cell phone, or eating pizza at midnight. I shouldn't have told him where I went to school, but all that matters now is that I find my way home.

The bus pulls up to the station, I have no money, but I get on anyway. Still, I feel like I'm just running deeper into the house. The bruised skin around my wrists begins to itch.

such vivid and foreboding visual imagery.

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Thanks for reading (:

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I just read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and I'm a big fan of the voice she gave her narrator. Her writing style is fascinating to me. Before that I read the Patrick Melrose series, which I was also very fond of, though for much different reasons. I've been experiencing a nagging urge to reread both, and it occurred to me that it might be super interesting to read Patrick Melrose reinterpreted by Flynn.

Are there any books that you might be interested in rereading if the text were reinterpreted by another author? Same plot, same characters, different style.

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20 comments

"Ahab sworn vengeance against the great white beast. This has since been widely regarded as a bad move."

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Original Poster1 point · 2 months ago

I would read that for sure.

Twilight by Stephen King

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Original Poster3 points · 2 months ago

Is this suggesting that the plot of Twilight is good enough that better writing would make it enjoyable? I'm not digging on it, I haven't read or seen it.

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4

Matilda loved to watch the sunrise.

It's 5AM in Glasgow. She sits on a hill in the park, grass tickling her icy legs, and misses before. She'd made so many mistakes over the years that they seemed to burden her with a physical presence that curved shoulders and rendered her sluggish. Her mother used to envy her posture but now she envied her mother. It must be so easy to lie straight in a coffin. Prior to the day that she believed divided her present from the now mystical and idealized land of her past, a very specific pivotal point in her downhill journey, she'd watch the sunset every morning. Now she only sees the ground beneath her feet. The moving shadows as the sun reclaims the sky.

She sees the empty bottle. It clinks against the strap of her sandal as she tries to sweep it away with her foot. If she could take the first step, she could take the second, and perhaps the third too. This was step one.

Matilda stood up and staggered down the hill.

It's 5AM in Sienna. She watches the sunrise over the piazza. Long shadows move in slow motion across clusters of lazy birds cleaning up from the night before. All of those people, all of the food. She's hungry but this second step comes with a required fast. A purge. Her past returns to her in bursts that fade like the smell of a perfume dispersing in the air, leaving her with only an impression. Floral something. Pear whatever.

She knows that there's a solution, an easy fix to her problem, but she stays seated on the wall. The town sleeps around her. Surrounding her like a warm blanket. Her mother used to send her duvet for a tumble in the dryer before bedtime, wrapping her up in the heat and calling it her love, reminding her that it will always be there.

Matilda hops down from the wall, shoes clattering against the stone ground.

It's 5AM in Paris. She's taken in a stray cat with a missing eye due to a sense of comradely through shared displacement, relating to the ugliness of the creature. It needed to be protected. It climbs with her, out of the window of her tiny studio apartment and onto the roof to enjoy the colours in the sky. She prefers the days with orange and pink. Still, she doesn't complain when it's blue or green or purple. It really can't be helped and she's not in the habit of starting a row with the sky. Especially not when it's so beautiful. As the cat rubs against her side, Matilda feels the warmth of her mother's embrace and is struck by the beauty of her new memories. Her travels.

She'll never stop walking. The journey, she knows, is endless. Her problems, while not much different than the problems of the butcher or the post man, have no easy solution. The town is waking up. A baby here and a shift-worker there, all rising, some falling for a day-sleep. She sits comfortably and wraps her arm around the cat, offering her love the way her mother had to her, remembering that it will never go away.

Matilda climbs back through her window and starts her day.

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Matilda loved to watch the sunrise.

It's 5AM in Glasgow. She sits on a hill in the park, grass tickling her icy legs, and misses before. She'd made so many mistakes over the years that they seemed to burden her with a physical presence that curved shoulders and rendered her sluggish. Her mother used to envy her posture but now she envied her mother. It must be so easy to lie straight in a coffin. Prior to the day that she believed divided her present from the now mystical and idealized land of her past, a very specific pivotal point in her downhill journey, she'd watch the sunset every morning. Now she only sees the ground beneath her feet. The moving shadows as the sun reclaims the sky.

She sees the empty bottle. It clinks against the strap of her sandal as she tries to sweep it away with her foot. If she could take the first step, she could take the second, and perhaps the third too. This was step one.

Matilda stood up and staggered down the hill.

It's 5AM in Sienna. She watches the sunrise over the piazza. Long shadows move in slow motion across clusters of lazy birds cleaning up from the night before. All of those people, all of the food. She's hungry but this second step comes with a required fast. A purge. Her past returns to her in bursts that fade like the smell of a perfume dispersing in the air, leaving her with only an impression. Floral something. Pear whatever.

She knows that there's a solution, an easy fix to her problem, but she stays seated on the wall. The town sleeps around her. Surrounding her like a warm blanket. Her mother used to send her duvet for a tumble in the dryer before bedtime, wrapping her up in the heat and calling it her love, reminding her that it will always be there.

Matilda hops down from the wall, shoes clattering against the stone ground.

It's 5AM in Paris. She's taken in a stray cat with a missing eye due to a sense of comradely through shared displacement, relating to the ugliness of the creature. It needed to be protected. It climbs with her, out of the window of her tiny studio apartment and onto the roof to enjoy the colours in the sky. She prefers the days with orange and pink. Still, she doesn't complain when it's blue or green or purple. It really can't be helped and she's not in the habit of starting a row with the sky. Especially not when it's so beautiful. As the cat rubs against her side, Matilda feels the warmth of her mother's embrace and is struck by the beauty of her new memories. Her travels.

She'll never stop walking. The journey, she knows, is endless. Her problems, while not much different than the problems of the butcher or the post man, have no easy solution. The town is waking up. A baby here and a shift-worker there, all rising, some falling for a day-sleep. She sits comfortably and wraps her arm around the cat, offering her love the way her mother had to her, remembering that it will never go away.

So, to me, the purpose of a time out is to calm the child down and allow them time to reflect on misbehaviour. I have a 17 month old and I don't think her hitting is due to any sort of bad behaviour. She's exploring her body and the reactions she gets from people. Usually if I just calmly say "No, I don't like it when you hit" she will move on. If I grab her hand, make a big deal of it, or anything else, she will do it again to see if the reaction is the same. Now, if she hits me again, I'll walk away, which upsets her. But it teaches her an actual lesson. People will not tolerate being hit, the consequence of hitting is that the person will leave.

Think of it this way, can your toddler even sit still for a minute? If you ask them to find something in another room, how often do they totally forget or become distracted by the time they get there? A time out makes no sense to them. It's not an immediate consequence related to what they've done wrong. Ultimately, cornering them is going to become a game and they're probably not going to get any real lesson out of it.

Original Poster3 points · 3 months ago

Right. He's not doing anything bad on purpose but I want to discourage it. Especially hitting the dogs.

I'm trying to expand on redirection I guess.

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I totally get it. My kid is the same way. Right now she is pulling the dogs' tails and it's totally a problem. But redirecting and saying "I can't let you do that" has been working best for us. I'm not trying to tell you that you can't use time outs, I just don't think a toddler that young is capable of understanding the time out.

Another thing that works for us (and might not work for you, all kids are different) is to give her a positive instruction. So saying "We let the dog gently" and then modelling proper petting. Toddlers do best when you aren't saying no, rather directing them to what is acceptable.

Charlie runs a hand across her head, shoving it backwards. The water slicks it down to her head, not letting it forward to cover her right eye. She covers her left for a moment, peering through the other eye.

Blurry. Scarred.

But it doesn’t feel as bad. The same wound, the same scar, the same inability to properly see from that eye. She lets her hand drop from her left eye.

Nothing had changed. Charlie looked no different. Her scars hadn’t gone away. Her vision hadn’t gotten better.

Yet here she was, staring at herself in the mirror and not feeling the same revulsion she had before. Not the same revulsion to calling herself ‘Charlotte’ again and maybe, just maybe, actually acting like she had a right side of her face.

Fingers lift up as her hair begins to spring loose of the water slicking it down. She runs a finger across the bottom of the scars.

How many years had it been since she’d really, properly looked at it?

Never. The answer was never. Since the glance in the mirror at the hospital when the bandages came off and she sobbed at that mere glance all the way to now. A glance, here and there in a mirror. Only looking halfway when applying makeup and never to that eye. No one saw it anyways. There was no use in attempting to make it pretty.

Her hair finally springs free, wet strands cascading across her face and hiding the old injury from view again. Between the wet strands, she can see it though, stretched skin and the white flesh of scar tissue marring the area. Standing out like a light in darkness.

It’s all the same as it had always been. She looks the same as she always had.

She certainly doesn’t feel the same.

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Original Poster2 points · 3 months ago

This was fantastic, Syra. It took a different turn than I had expected. Thanks so much for the story.

Original Poster1 point · 3 months ago · edited 3 months ago

It's a moderately hard magic setting and introducing magical feel bad pills would probably require rewriting some of the basic rules of the setting.

I could introduce a new species of magical creatures whose powers are specifically to induce nausea in other people, but that'd introduce a bunch of other complications in the plot, so if it comes to that I'd rather go for the thumbtack plan.

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Or some specific native frog who released a poison that, in small doses, makes you ill. A plant that causes nausea. I mean, this things exist in our world, I just don't personally know the names. It doesn't need to be "feel bad magic".

Well, associating pain / sickness with behaviour to be avoided was sort of a big part of A Clockwork Orange. If you're already making a supernatural premise, why not have a pill with a made up name that the character or someone they know manufacturers to induce these symptoms? Must it be a real drug?

Not married. Dad died of a medical thing, as far as I can remember. I don't recall it being much more clear than it was in the series. His relationship with Julia has existed far before he was married so he was rekindling a relationship that made him nostalgic because he was incredibly jealous of the love his wife had for Thomas.

I have a 1.5 year old and The biggest advice I can give you isn't about the day to day, rather the connection I have with my kid. Day to day is easy to guess. Wake up, get dressed, food, playing, keeping her engaged and happy, naps, so on. But that kid is like an extension of myself. When she falls, the sound of her falling opens up the floodgates and, for a fraction of a second, every memory of every time I fell comes pouring out. Pain radiates up my leg, I cringe, I feel sick, but I'm forced to stay calm and not make a big deal of it for her sake. So many aspects of parenting are like that. You can easily become consumed by little decisions, particularly when you are a first time parent.

But when you produce another human, you obsess. Are you teaching them enough? Are you letting them play and be free enough? Do they eat healthy? Is one youtube video okay, or are you melting their brain? What if that one time you took zoloft while you were pregnant ruins your child for life? Did they get the crappier aspects of your genetics? So on and so on. It's a lot of pressure.

The bigger day to day concerns, especially for a single working mother, would be who will watch their kid. If they work, remember that good daycare is wildly expensive in most places. Even sub-par daycare is pricey. They get no break. As soon as she gets home from work or school, no matter what kind of day she had, there is a human, both incapable of fully understanding the world and unable to adequately express themselves, relying on her. There is some level of guilt and anxiety that comes with leaving your child in the care of other people and a different kind of guilt and anxiety that comes with being too mentally exhausted to want to care for your own child after a hard day.

It requires a lot of empathy, in my experience.

E. A. Hobbs

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