December 2006

Realizing Story in Everyday Life

Don lives in a small, remote town in hill country where life is simple and change is difficult. I love going to Don’s place because of the quiet and my feeling of stepping back in time. This weekend was no exception.

Saturday was alive with a Christmas party at a historic two-story house on the state park replicated to the early 1900’s. In the parlor sat a beautiful decorated Christmas tree with presents beneath, Santa sat in a chair next to the fireplace and musicians, complete with guitar, base, mandolin and piano, led young and old alike in carols. Children sat on Santa’s lap and leaned close to his ear and whispered their wishes. People from all walks of life, who might not normally cross paths during everyday life, came together to share in the joy of Christmas.

During a pause in music, one of the musicians said, “You know, this is exactly what people used to do years ago, sit around and sing. They didn’t have electricity, just some oil lanterns and everybody else.” As I pondered his words, I realized what a great story this would make, about a poor family whose only gifts were each other and the sounds of their voices in music. This story has been lived and written many times over the generations, but it becomes fresh with each new writer’s voice and perception. What would be different for my characters around Christmas, or would Christmas be just the same as any time of the year? Would it matter? What all of the gift shared be handmade? The questions come until I have taken an old story and made it new again.

Each day of my life is a new experience waiting for the realization of a new story. Now, all I need to do is sit down and write.

© 2006 By Susan Littlefield

December 2006


This evening, while sweating away on the stair master (that’s the one that looks like escalating stairs, but never gets you to the second floor of the mall), I engaged in 40 minutes of enjoyable people-watching. I love to people watch at the gym, or in any venue where interesting people congregate. While observing people, it is too easy to project my own judgments and create a persona of who I think a person is. In everyday life, this is a sign I am not accepting a person as is. But, in writing, it is impossible to create a character without drawing upon observations I have of other people (i.e., people watching) and who I think they might be.

What does building a character look like? Think about yourself and your own character. We create ourselves by our actions, words and choices. Sometimes we have behaviors that are not desirable to who we want to be; behavior is a symptom, whether positive or negative, of some underlying belief. In real life, we have many tools to for self-actualization and improvement. The concept of creating self can be applied to creating characters in story. If my character has a certain belief, or a certain set of beliefs, he or she will behave in certain ways- just like in real life!

Before building character, I need to have some idea what my story will be about and what the situation of the story is. For example, if I’m writing a novel set during the civil war, I cannot create a female protagonist who is a left-wing activist who convinces her female friends to burn their bras and forget about their husbands who are out fighting the war. But, it might be reasonable to create a strong female protagonist who is an example to other civil war wives, a woman who does what she has to do while her husband is at war.

Once I have decided my story line and situation, I can pull out all my perceptions drawn from people watching and throw them into a big old kaleidoscope and start spinning it around to see how the different characteristics mix together. Maybe my male protagonist will look like that tall man I saw running on the treadmill who did not make eye contact with anyone. I sensed he was lost in his own world and focused on his task at hand. But, in my story, my character’s wife has died in a car accident. In his grief, he keeps prefers to let no one into his life, thus he has difficulty making eye contact with others.

The wonderful thing is that building character is not black and white, but more like a characterscope filled with colorful possibilities.

Now, it’s time to go and give my new character some color!

© 2006 by Susan Littlefield

December 2006

My First Words

I wonder what my first word was. I’m sure mother cried as she told her friends in the sewing circle, “Her first word was Mama.” Or, maybe dad passed around cigars to his work buddies as he said, “Dada. That’s the first word my girl said.” I wonder, was my first word actually some unintelligible muttering that pleased my parents so much that they simply heard what they pleased? What parent doesn’t want their child’s first word to be a reflection of their own parenthood?

The power of the written word captured me at an early age. When I was a little girl, my mother used to read me a story titled The Little Engine That Could. I can still see the smooth, bright cover with the train on the front, the colorful pictures and words within, as my mother read me the story about the train who had trouble getting up the hill. Ms. Choo-Choo pushed herself up the hill on pure motivation and the words, “I think I can, I think I can.” While growing up and going through the growing pains of pessimism, my mother would say, “Remember the little train that could?” Even as an adult, those words have become a part of my being, a mantra that carries me through darker periods of low motivation and self-imposed pity.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I discovered poetry when I was about 12 years old, scribbling out long, rhyming verses on notebook paper. Poetry helped me escape to a place were I could create any kind of story I wanted, all it took was stanzas, meter and rhyming. I still have copies of those poems tucked away in a notebook.

When I was in high school, I began writing lyrics. I wondered what my words would sound like set to music. I studied everything I could at the library on writing lyrics. When I was 17, I secretly entered Velvet Roses in the American Song Festival Lyric Competition. Out of thousands of entrants, I won an honorable mention. I laminated that award, and it now lives with all of my precious memorabilia.

I have been a self-proclaimed writer for many years- I have poetry published in a few small press magazines, and have won first place for two stories in writing contests and have authored other small non-paying contributions. For my senior project for my Bachelor Degree, I wrote a novella then gave a presentation of my creative process. I have never been paid in more than copies, and most of my work has been for self-fulfillment purposes.

Now, as I embark on my new adventure, I feel a little like I am speaking my first words, or writing my first poem or short story. When I want to give up on my writing, or I wonder why I write at all, my mother whispers from a faraway place, “I think I can, I think I can.”

Yes- I think I can. In fact, I’m sure I can.

(c) 2006 by Susan Littlefield