What Does Your Hero Carry With Her?

In case you aren’t YET a fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and you aren’t aware that the newest book, Changes, has been on bookstore shelves for a while, I’m here to let you know about it. I’ll also mention that I haven’t read it yet. It’s just come out in hardback and, while sometimes I don’t buy hard-cover booksbecause I’m cheap trying not to break the house budget by spending all our food dollars on book, that’s not why this time. I’m not buying it yet, because I, my son, and my husband reread and reread the Dresden books, which means I will be storing them all for decades. If I bought hardcovers of all the books I was going to keep and reread, I’d run out of space. Like tomorrow. Not to mention, when I truly want to disappear into a book, to just curl up and escape, I really like a light, bendable paperback that doesn’t break my wrist.

So I’m like #3,282,619 on the hold list at the library, and meanwhile, I’m rereading the series to catch up. Again.

And I’m realizing something new. Harry  has stuff.

He’s got magical powers, too, but that’s beside the point. No, he’s got several things that he takes pretty much everywhere with him. I’m not going to get them all, but some are:

  • His wizard staff, which he has carved himself and which gets beaten up and scarred as he goes along
  • His silver pentacle necklace, left to him by the mother he never met, which he can use to bring magical light into any dark situation
  • His blasting rod, which helps him fine-tune his sort of brick-bashing power
  • His black leather duster, given to him by his ex-girlfriend (now disappeared out of his life after she was bitten by vamps and turned into an ALMOST vamp who loves him to much to be with him).  He magicks the duster so that it resists stuff like fire and bullets. Pretty much beats Kevlar hands down.

He also picks up a foo-dog puppy along the way. How cute are these?

Okay, back to the stuff. You can see that each of these items has some symbolic meaning. Butcher does this all much better than my list shows–each of these items is a tool that, most of the time, he uses to accomplish some piece of magic. Yes, sometimes a staff is just a… (couldn’t resist!) But here’s the thing, somewhere in each book, at least one of those tools takes on extra meaning, and–when this happens–Butcher packs the tool and the whole scene with an beautifully emotional wallop that makes the reader sit up and say, “Wow.” And “Oh….”

I want to do this.

Dresden has a lot of things that help him out, but Changes is something like Book 12 in his series. I’m looking for one item, one thing with room for that kind of emotional punch. I’ve been playing with the idea of a photograph in my WIP that will seem to tell one story and, by the end of  the book, reveal a truth that hits my hero hard. On the one hand, this feels a bit trite, but look at my descriptions of Butcher’s symbols–the way I’ve written them, they read as pretty trite, but in Butcher’s stories they feel anything but. So once again, it comes down to craft–it’s only cliché if you let it stay that way. Whether I have that level of craft yet…well, that’s the $10,000,000 question.

Step one, though?

This is a scene I’ve already 1st-drafted, and the photo was nowhere to be seen. It may be too late in the story for an intro, and I may need to find an earlier spot to seed that picture. Or it may turn out that the photo doesn’t work, that I need to dig further, past my first idea, for something that has more inherent meaning, more possible layers. For now, though, I’ve done what’s important. I’ve taken the idea, the initial piece of stuff, and I’ve given it to my hero.

Let’s see what she decides to do with it.

What does your hero carry with her? Why? What meaning does the object have at the start, and how does that meaning change over the story arc?


Opening Those Closed Doors

I come from a long-lived family. I got to know three of my grandparents well into my thirties, and both of my grandmothers made it past 90. I was lucky in many ways to have them in my life, but one of the more shallow ways in which I like to look at that luck was that, truly, I got to put middle-age off for quite a while. (Do the math. Divide 93 by 2. Forty is NOT middle-age.)

Still, somewhere in the past few years, I got there. And, yes, twisted ankles take quite a while to heal; finding a comfortable & decent-looking pair of jeans takes even longer. On the flip side, it hardly takes any time, once I’ve curled up with a book, for me to fall asleep!

And there are days when I look ahead and feel like I need to race a whole lot faster if I want to do all the things I…want to do.

But I’m finding a big plus to being a person “of a certain age.” And that is that I believe in more possibilities than I did when I was younger.

When I left college, I decided that I was not a good enough writer to get into an MFA problem. This wasn’t low self-esteem; I’m pretty sure I was right. Unfortunately, I used that decision to do something we should never do…close a door. For too many years after that, I puttered with my writing, something that had previously been–since I was about ten years old–one of the most important things in my life. I wrote, or I said I was writing, but I drifted from project to project, with long gaps in between, and never getting further along than a beginning. If that.

Sometime in my thirties, I decided I was missing out and moved writing back up to a priority. The years off had put a dent in my confidence, though, had made me view myself as less of a Writer, had made me unsure if I had the skill or commitment to really produce anything. I wrote and I joined critique groups, and I wrote some more. And gradually, I began to take myself seriously enough to move steadily forward. That door was open, and I dared (and still dare) anybody to push aside the boulder I’ve got keeping it that way.

I thought this was it. I thought this was all the looking back I needed to do, that there were no other doors–in terms of my writing–that I needed to unlock.

Then just the other day I saw another door. It was tucked far into a corner. The bulb at that end of the room must have burned out, because I’ve passed that door a gazillion times in the last ten years and not even noticed it. I did hear some tapping, so muffled and quiet, I didn’t even realize something was trying to get in. A few authors I’ve been reading lately–Naomi Novik, Jim Butcher, Laini Taylor joined in, bringing the tapping up to a loud knocking. Then, finally, with a huge DUH!, my brain got it.

This was the fantasy door.

Basically, in junior high, I went straight from kids’ books and required classics to fantasy–via Tolkien and McCaffrey and Brooks and anyone else who fed my craving for elves and wizards and dragons and dark forests and sword fights. I never even heard of fan fiction until people went crazy with Harry Potter, and I never thought of sharing stories with my friends, but that’s what I was writing. Every story I started had someone with a long, white beard who spoke profoundly and made no sense. I didn’t read my work out loud, but you can bet every single character spoke with a beautiful British accent. My heroes communicated by mind with unicorns and dragons; they turned from poverty-stricken, hard-working peasants into powerful bearers of heretofore unknown magic.

You get the point.

And then–I can’t tell you when or why–I shut that door. I have a feeling it was the same kind of decision as the MFA one–I wasn’t good enough yet, so I wasn’t good enough.

Oh, all the things this writer “of a certain age” that I am now wants to say to that young girl writer…

Luckily, as I said, somehow getting older has taught me to stop putting limits on my future. I don’t know if I will ever write a fantasy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come up with something non-derivative, completely my own.

But I do know that, as of a week ago, there is a folder in my filing cabinet labeled FANTASY. And in that folder, there are a few slips of paper, with just a few scribbled notes on them. Ideas.


What doors have you closed and either forgotten about or too stubbornly ignored? Is it time, perhaps, to go oil the lock and hunt out the key?