Transfer students had a summer reading project, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and I needed to interpret a connection to one of the topics in the book. A lively discussion had ensued that hot August afternoon in a packed College Hall. While all of the other incoming students connected to topics through academia; sociology, psychology, and business practices to name a few, I connected to teaching preschoolers through the use of the Sesame Street television show. This topic in the book talks about how small lessons can make big improvements in the education of children.
I’m 100 pages into my memoir about attending college as a mother of five and at the point where I’ve won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and am about to begin. I’m scared to death!
Were you ever too eager to please someone or a group of someones? A boss? A hopeful romantic interest or co-worker or editor?
Like in many stories or movies, this is where the protagonist usually messes up. At least in her first few attempts at acquiring the desired goal of pleasing those in charge. This can happen for a variety reasons; i.e., not thinking before you speak, doing inappropriate actions, or not consciously listening to those around you.
At this stage in my college memoir, I felt the need to prove to those at Penn that I could be an Ivy Leaguer. I wanted them to see that they did not make a mistake in granting me the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship. I needed to make a good first impression at Penn, and of course it backfired on me.
Yes. I heard everyone else speak. In fact I was almost the last student to speak. I was afraid to speak because my connection was from life experience, not academic study. I thought possibly these academics hadn’t had the experience with Sesame Street I had raising my five children. I thought they might appreciate my insight because it was so different from all the intellectuals in the room. So while everyone else received comments or questions or further discussion into their topics from the panel of Penn administrators, my topic crashed into the floor like a lead balloon. No discussion. You could hear the air conditioning unit cycle on again.
Just like characters in stories, our protagonists need to make mistakes, need to feel defeat, anxiety, or humiliation in order to be real to the readers. Readers want to connect to our characters, especially our protagonists.
So while our stories are unique, what our characters do is unique, there needs to be some base feeling or action that our readers can connect to. Embarrassment is a good one. So is fear of the unknown or hurt from someone we love or trust. Characters need to be vulnerable at one time or another in our stories to be real, no matter what genre we are writing in.
So how do you make your characters seem vulnerable to the reader or other characters in the story you are telling?
Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s summer reading project scenario. It would be truly appreciated.
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