Thursday, May 4, 2017

Stripping Your Characters of Their Identities

Ramping up internal conflict the easy way.

with guest Connie Queen.

No, we’re not talking about leaving our characters in a chilly state of dress or even giving them amnesia. Today, we’re talking about stripping them of the very thing that makes them, well, them.

But why would we do that?

Stripping your character of a core piece of identity strengthens internal conflict.


Most of us realize we need to give our character’s problems, something that makes them less than perfect. There are many informative posts that talk about internal conflict and ways to make it stronger. 

While we don’t want our characters having to call the suicide hotline or spend half their day on the couch talking with their therapist, at least one of our characters should face a major internal struggle.

For me, there are two things I’ve learned that make that easier. And who doesn’t like things easier?

1. Foster care.

Let’s go back seventeen years.

My husband and I were sitting in a training class to become foster care parents. The instructor handed out five little pieces of paper to everyone and said, “Write down the five most important things in your life, or what makes you, you.”

I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it was something along the lines of:

God, Church, being a wife, being a mom, I’m the daughter of Tex Monk.

“Now,” the instructor said, “pick one of your pieces and throw it away. Wad it up and toss it into the middle of the floor. You’re giving it up.” 

This made me uncomfortable, as it did everyone, but we took a deep breath, selected the least important thing, (Really? I couldn’t live without any of them but the instructor would never know) and flung our precious papers to the ground. Then another round followed by another until she had us dispose of everything that mattered to us. Ok, this wasn’t funny. 

“There,” she said when the floor was littered with our very being. “That’s what these kids are asked to give up.”



This stuck with me. These kids were giving up parents, siblings, religion, friends, schools, pets, toys and everything they’ve ever known. It didn’t matter if their parents were imperfect. It was their world. Gone in an instant. (BTW this is why these children don’t give a hoot if your house is bigger, filled with better toys and you’re really nice people.)

2. Narrative Identity

My sister used narrative identity in her thesis which led to numerous conversations between us of how it applied to our own lives and that of our friends. 

Now that this concept is ingrained in my mind, I can’t help but apply it to my writing.

I’d explain the loss of narrative identity like this, “You’re going about your life believing something about yourself when the rug is suddenly pulled out from underneath you. Now you doubt your identity. You can either try to get back on your normal path so your identity doesn’t change, or abandon your identity in search of a new one.”

Examples:

A woman believes she’s a good wife. After 19 years, her husband comes home and says he want a divorce. She can try to save the marriage or divorce him and be open to finding another man—hence trying to hang onto her identity. Or she can abandon ship by swearing off men and immersing herself in her new career as a divorce attorney. 

  • From my current WIP:

Riley, my hero, is a doting uncle to his 6-month-old nephew. His sister asks Riley to drop her son off at daycare. On the way, Riley receives a call from his captain informing him they received a break on a big case. Distracted with his boss’s lengthy phone call, Riley forgets his sleeping nephew in the backseat. The baby dies. Not only is Riley challenged by what he believes about himself, but also what his family, social media, and his employer thinks about him. Is he a monster like the public claims, or is there room for him to be redeemed? 

  • My friend, Leah, the caregiver:

A wife and a mother to two teenage sons. Anyone who knew Leah would tell you it was her life to tend to other people. A few years ago, she learned she had cancer. As the illness progressed, her role as a caregiver was changed. Gone were the days of her cooking, cleaning and taking care of her family, but rather, she had to lean on them for everything. I went to see her toward the end. She was lying in bed and asked me to tell her what I had been writing. As I started telling her the stories, her eyes drifted shut. I thought I’d put her to sleep, but then her eyes fluttered open and she asked more questions. It didn’t hit me until after I left that she’d done it again. Even sick and weak, it was always Leah’s job to take care of others.


Unlike the example in my WIP, Leah’s challenge was private. So much so, most of her acquaintances probably never realized how much it affected her. 

When creating your character’s internal conflict, consider whether their challenge should be secret or public. Private doesn’t mean less impactful.


  • Hoosiers

Remember Gene Hackman as Norman Dale? The basketball coach who punched one of his own players. Years later, he moves to a small town to coach their high school. He faces resistance from the players, parents, and the attractive acting principal. (He chooses to get back on the normal path and his challenge was public.)


  • Angels in the Outfield

Dan Glover went from “I don’t like kids” and being a cursing, kicking-the-dirt professional baseball coach to cleaning up his act and adopting two foster boys. (He abandoned his old identity and grabbed hold of a new one. His challenge was public.)

Possible identities to overthrow.


  • Career. For some, their career is a major factor in how they identify themselves. I’d be willing to wager most teachers, nurses, military, peace officers, pastors, lawyers, and yes, authors, would write their occupation on one of those white slips of paper if taking that foster care class. 


What about a pastor who, when is facing bankruptcy, steals from the church treasury, intending to pay it back? What about a nurse who accidentally gives the wrong medicine? 


  • Faith. A person’s belief, or lack of belief, in God and how that relates to their everyday decisions. Either way, an 180-degree turn would be monumental.


  • Family. If you’ll notice I put dad on my paper. “oh, you’re Tex Monk’s daughter”. That phrase brought on certain expectations of who I should be. My identity would be quite different if my dad had been a druggy who had abandoned his family to pursue his life of crime. 


  • Romantic relationships. How people of the opposite sex treat us can affect how we view ourselves. In school, I thought of myself as a good athlete who all they guys liked, but not necessarily the cheer leader-type that they wanted to date. I married my husband when I was 18. My view of romance would be different had I never been asked out, never been kissed (hmm, sounds like an idea for a movie), or had a boyfriend that cheated on me.


So, when creating my character’s internal conflict, I always ask if it overthrows or strips them of their identity. If not, I dig deeper.

What about you? What would you put on your paper? Have you ever been thrown into a narrative abyss? Did you abandon your identity or try to get back on the course? How about your characters? Please share.

Seekerville, thank you for having me today. I’m honored to be your guest.


Connie Queen lives in north Texas with her husband of over thirty-one years, two kids, and several Great Danes. She has 6 more grown kids and 8 grandkids (one more on the way) scattered across the state. 

She has been writing for many years, but only seriously the last few. She has finaled in numerous contests. Although she used to write western historicals, she now targets suspense lines. Connie is a member of ACFW.  She does NOT like pictures of herself. 

Connect with Connie at: 
Facebook: Connie Queen 
Twitter: @conniesuequeen 






Today Connie is giving away an amazing 15-ounce Seekerville mug to TWO different commenters. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!

177 comments :

  1. Welcome to the other side of the stage, Connie Queen. I am so going to swipe those mugs!

    They look perfect for today's snacks. Hot or iced, coffee or Tea and Texas BBQ. Yes!

    So glad to have you here and I have been thinking about this topic a lot. The whole explanation really begs you to think about it as you create your characters.

    I'm writing about orphans in my new series and I honestly never thought of it the way you described your fostering experience. You have given me new insight. It's also helpful for characters who have lost parents and spouses.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yes, Texas BBQ! And since I don't drink coffee or tea, I'll be in charge of Coke floats for dessert.

      Sometimes when I read about characters that are orphans or that have been raised in the foster-care system, I think how unbelievable it is. But in fiction, it's probably better that way. In books, foster/adoptive parents are either cruel and uncaring, or they were the most wonderful people in the world that made everything right.

      Most are probably somewhere in the middle. These kids come with baggage and parents aren't perfect.

      Delete
  2. I'm struggling with my current manuscript, and this is a big help. My heroine isn't a foster child (great illustration!), but she has lost her identity. You've given me some good questions to investigate as I work though my edits. Thank you!

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    1. Good morning Lola!
      I'm glad the post helped. Good luck working through the edits.

      Delete
  3. I really don't want to write what I'd put on the papers. You might make me throw them away. Very emotional just thinking about that.

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    1. Aw, you are so sweet, Mary. HUGS TO YOU!

      Delete
    2. I won't make you throw them away. Promise. I'll just peak at them.

      And yes, it is emotional. It made me rebellious. I wasn't REALLY going to get rid of anything and there was nothing they could do about it! LOL.

      Delete
    3. I admit. That made me extremely nervous. I'm so literal that I would have probably refused to throw any of my papers away. And then they would have marked me off the potential foster parent list.

      But the lesson learned. Powerful!

      Delete
  4. Personally, I think it would be hard to throw part of my identity away. I sort of feel I lost part of my identity already when my Mom passed away because we were so very close. I do appreciate the post and can see how stripping away something from a character can enrich the character in other ways.

    I am crazy about coffee mugs and I absolutely LOVE these Seeker mugs.

    Oh please put me in the drawing! I would absolutely cherish it if I won. It would become my new 'favorite; mug. Thank you for the chance to win.

    Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Cindy, your name is in the hat for your favorite new mug!

      I understand what you're saying about your mom. I lost my dad last year and things are just not the same. I definitely think they take a part of us with them.

      Delete
  5. Great post, Connie! You've got me thinking about my current WIP. Like Cindy, I've been feeling as though pieces of my identity are slipping away as I watch my mother drift into the abyss of dementia. I'm thankful to God that she's still healthy apart from the disease, but there's definitely a major disconnect happening. Thank you for being here today. I'd love to be entered in the drawing! By the way, your current WIP sounds like a great story. I can't wait to read it.

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    1. Jill, I understand how you feel as if pieces of your identity are slipping away as you lose your relationship with your mother. I can't imagine how hard that must be.

      Delete
    2. Jill, watching a parent go through dementia is heart-wrenching. I'm so sorry you're going through it.

      Your name is in the hat!

      Delete
  6. Great post, Connie! The example of writing the five most important things in your life on paper and throwing them away gave me chills when I read it. Then I got to thinking about what I would write on my papers now versus what I would have written five, ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. It helped me to see what parts of my identity I've lost through the years and the new parts that filled in the "holes" (or tried to fill them in). I won't share them all, some are too personal, but one example would be when we became empty-nesters. I was still a mom, but my identity shifted. I no longer had children (and their friends) running in and out of the house all the time, and no more late night card games or chats about their day. Now it's long-distance phone calls and Facetime. On the plus side, I now have grandbabies, and they are a total joy.

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    1. Oh, I forgot to add. I love the mugs!! Please, put my name in the drawing.

      Delete
    2. Excellent point about what I would write different compared to years ago. You're so right!

      I hadn't thought of empty-nesters. That'd be a big life change. Of course, I can't quite relate yet. I still have teenagers getting speeding tickets, letting their vehicles run out of oil which blows up the engine, and figuring out how to read a clock at curfew.
      I'll take your word for it.

      Your name's in the hat!

      Delete
  7. Good morning, Connie! In my stories I've had (and am having in my current WIP) my hero/heroine be stripped of a critical piece of their identity. Makes for some deep struggles. Thank you for sharing these great points!

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    1. Way to go Glynna.

      Do you find it makes the story easier to write the deeper the struggles? (I do, I was just wondering if it was me.)

      Delete
    2. Connie - I think once I've identified a character's "core" struggle it definitely makes the story come together in my mind, which always helps me to write & makes all the pieces fit together more cohesively.

      Delete
  8. Hi Connie
    Awesome post. I'm with the others who've mentioned not wanting to write down those identity keys since I'd have to throw them away (not really... but still...) Wow. what a powerful visual.
    I will definitely apply this to my character development in the future. I can see how the stripping process can deepen the character development.
    Those coffee mugs are uber cool. May I have one pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez? lol

    ReplyDelete
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    1. LOL. Those little pieces of paper are a very personal thing. I don't think the instructor made us tell what we wrote, but she asked a few people to share at least one thing they had written.

      Your name is at the top for the mug!

      Delete
  9. Connie, this is BRILLIANT. I agree with Rhonda, the throwing-away stuff gives me chills. But what an astute way to introduce foster parenting.
    I don't think I've done this yet in any of my stories (stripping a character of their identity), but this post makes me want to do it.
    I will be mulling this for a while.
    Kathy B.

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    1. Good morning Kaybee.
      That simple exercise really hit home. You'd think as adults we would've realized what these kids were giving up, but we were so busy concentrating on what we hoped to give them, we missed the big picture.

      Try it and see if it makes it easer.
      Thanks.

      Delete
  10. Wow. This post. So much to think about. This made me stop: "From my current WIP:Riley, my hero, is a doting uncle to his 6-month-old nephew. His sister asks Riley to drop her son off at daycare. On the way, Riley receives a call from his captain informing him they received a break on a big case. Distracted with his boss’s lengthy phone call, Riley forgets his sleeping nephew in the backseat. The baby dies. Not only is Riley challenged by what he believes about himself, but also what his family, social media, and his employer thinks about him. Is he a monster like the public claims, or is there room for him to be redeemed?" This topic is so close here. I hear about it, but have always wondered how you come back from an experience like that. He's not the parent, but I can't believe the feelings aren't the same as if it were. I cannot believe someone would intentionally do that to their child, but that is the first thing I hear people say. Is no one else busy? Multi-tasking? Get distracted thinking about your day? I tear up every time I hear about this happening, but could never say how could they forget their child. As our pastor says, "My that may not be your that, but your that isn't my that." Will have to keep my eye out for when this book comes out to read it. Great post!

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    1. Aww...Thanks for the comments Sally.
      Personally, I don't know anyone who's ever done this, but it breaks my heart when it happens. I live in Texas and we rate the highest in the nation for kids dying in cars. I always wonder how the people cope w/what they've done.
      How can they ever forgive themselves especially when so many people are telling them they don't deserve to live. Then I realize, these people really need to have a good relationship to God. It's the only way they could get through it.

      The closet story I personally knew of was an elderly couple who accidently ran over a 7 year-old child in the church parking lot. Again, how to over come the guilt?


      Delete
  11. It makes me think of older people who "lose" part of themselves when they retire, or when they finally have to give up their beloved home. I'm at the throwing-away, giving-away stage of life, and it often pinches a little to realize that some things are just not going to happen (grandchildren, travel, graduate degree), or not happen any more.
    My husband wants to keep everything. I am anticipating a major battle over the VCR tapes, sigh.
    KB

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    1. More great examples. It doesn't have to big, just big to that person.

      Ha. Ha. VCR tapes. Besides a few I saved to put on top of cabinets to jack up my decorative items so they could be seen, we finally caved and got rid of our tapes a year or so ago. And don't forget, Tom Hanks put his to good use in Castaway.

      Delete
    2. Oh dear. I have a whole cupboard full of old VHS tapes. More than half are family home movies. I should get them copied to DVD but I would have no idea where to start.

      Delete
  12. Connie, awesome post! The example of writing down pieces of your identity on paper was especially powerful.

    Throughout the years, I learned that there are pieces of yourself that can be taken away but who you are can never leave you. For years, I identified myself as a "Baillargeon" (my maiden name.) But my dad died suddenly when I was fourteen and my sister and I were told we would not inherit anything of our grandparents because of the way the will was set up. As everyone in the family received a key to the homestead (except for us) I felt like I no longer was a member of that family. They still opened up their arms to us but it didn't feel the same anymore. I'd lost my father and my inheritance.

    There were years when God was so quiet, I felt like he abandoned me. (That's the worst of the worst.) I cried out and...nothing. Total silence. I also yelled, screamed and had major tantrums. Still, nothing. Looking back, it's a miracle I didn't lose my faith. To the contrary, it strengthened it.

    I hope I'm not tested like that again but I will say this, even if I wrote down "Child of God" and had to throw it in the center of the room, it wouldn't change a thing. My identity is in Christ, first and foremost and there is NOTHING, there is NO ONE who could ever take that away.




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    1. Yes. This made me shiver. You nailed it Josee. When I was in a dark place, God told me..walk with me or walk away from me. My choice. Of course I chose to walk by faith.

      Honestly these stories really are making me rethink my character motivations. In a good way. Even if Connie is pinching me HARD.

      Delete
    2. Seriously, Tina. Living out "walking by faith and not by sight" is no joke. Stumbling in the dark. Literally. One perilous step at a time. I walked away from him for a bit (but not really, just rebelled a little.) I walked toward him but it was a while before I felt like we were walking together. Of course he never leaves us or forsakes us and I'm sure I'll understand so much more fully when I'm with him and he shows me the "This is your life" video in HD.

      Delete
    3. Josee, you definitely nailed it!

      I can only imagine how you felt around your family. And yes, you do come out on the other side changed. Several years ago, we went some very difficult times. (There's a reason I had so many conversations about Narrative Identity and the abyss.)That's when it's time to make a choice.

      Delete
    4. Josee, chills. Been in that dark abyss. Thanks for sharing -- We are all fallible...and human. And -- God is God. Praise!!!!!!

      Delete
  13. I just wanted to add that your post inspired me to DIG DEEPER into my characters' identities, which is always a good thing! Thank you!

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    1. Josee, I said the same thing in my comment below...written before I read your comment.

      Dig deeper...

      Delete
  14. Wow, Connie, you really got me thinking this morning! I've never "been thrown into a narrative abyss" but I had a friend who discovered that the father she loved, respected and was particularly close to wasn't her father at all. It changed her relationship with him and,of course, with her mother. And changed how she looked at life. Another woman (just an acquaintance) lost everything in a house fire. She thought she was doing okay until it came time to move into a new house, and someone (who didn't know the whole story) offered to help move her things for her. She broke down when she realized that she literally had no "things" to move. No cherished keepsakes, none of the pieces of her past, nothing. She knew, of course, that people were more important than things, but she felt totally adrift as she started over from scratch. Thank you for such a helpful, powerful post!

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    1. Wow Laura!
      To find out your father really isn't your biological father. Want to talk about causing someone not to trust anymore! (Actually, I have a character like that in one of my stories. If fun to imagine. It wouldn't be fun to experience.) Both great examples.
      Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  15. Now, I won't lie, there was a time in my life when I was in that abyss. I took every single thing from my closet and evaluated it. One shirt said, David's wife. One shirt said, Mike's mom. Nothing in the entire closet said TINA. Just TINA. It was a startling moment for me and occurred after a death. It made me grab ME and find her. I ended up throwing away like 80 percent of the contents of my closet.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That's a powerful visual. ♥️

      Delete
    2. I just realized it's the motivator for my character to interview for a job. She's been a stay-at-home mom and after losing her husband, she realizes she wants to use her creativity and gifts and stretch those wings.

      Delete
    3. I think you need to come help me clean out my closet, Tina. It's a disaster. Some things I've had in there for 15-20 years and can't part with them even though I never wear them.

      Delete
    4. Tina, I read a book on Toby Keith. (Oh gosh, I hope it was him because I don't want to spread false rumors.) After he and his wife separated, she went into a deep depression and finally realized everything was about him. She knew his favorite colors. Favorite foods, and so on. But didn't know her favorite color or anything about herself. She took time to get to know herself. They did finally worked things out.

      Delete
    5. Tina, helloooo. THAT is a great plot thread. Have you used that in a scene before?

      Delete
    6. Wow, Tina! The way you described that I could see the opening of a movie -- or maybe a book? Hint hint.

      Nancy C

      Delete
  16. BTW, all these stories you are MAKING us share are deep and you are correct, Connie. This is exactly how deep we need to dig to write our characters. WELL DONE!

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    1. Thanks Tina.

      But I really don't want everyone to get depressed. Alas, it's hard to have narrative abyss and not heave a deep sigh.

      Delete
  17. Someone always comments in these threads with "I brought coffee! I have danishes!" and it always makes me hungry. Well, I'm actually making cinnamon rolls with my daughter right now! I'll share!

    (I've always wanted to leave a comment like that.)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Cinnamon rolls. I just gasped. Cinnamon rolls.

    I do need coffee. I was up at 1 am expecting a big important ROYAL announcement. Now it is 6 am and they really annoyed me. I annoyed me for losing sleep. Those Brits.

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    1. Is the big announcement you're referring to Prince Philip's retirement? Kind of anti-climatic.

      Delete
    2. Yeah. I want to slap him. Who calls a meeting at 3 am Brit time for that? Sheesh. Get a life. You're 95. Really get a life.

      Delete
    3. Can't you envision it. King and Queen in the royal bed eating peanut butter and crackers at 3 am. Suddenly he says, "I'm going to retire." She says, "Go for it, dude. Pass the peanut butter."

      He pulls the royal cord next to the bed. "Jeeves, call a meeting."

      Delete
    4. STOP!!!! Laughing so hard, I've got tears pouring out my eyes. My daughter is seriously concerned. Can't. Stop. Laughing. Can I share this on FB? Too much. Too much.

      Delete
    5. LOL. Be my guest and tell them to come visit us here in Seekerville.

      Delete
    6. I've always wondered what the Queen carries in her purse. Seriously. I'm warped that way, LOL.

      Delete
    7. Well, LAURA, if you are, so am I. Lol

      Delete
    8. Good to know, Cynthia! Of course, now we know she's carrying little packs of peanut butter and crackers :-)

      Delete
    9. Pass the crackers...

      At 95, Philip should retire. God bless him!

      Delete
    10. Tina, I can't believe you stayed up for the royal announcement! I don't give up my sleep even for Prince Philip. Not even for Prince William! LOL!

      Delete
  19. Wow Connie! Never thought about all this. Guess I better start stripping characters. Seems more productive than staying up all night for royal announcements. Coffee and cinnamon rolls sounds good though. Even peanut butter and crackers. Can we make them gluten free?

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    1. Strip those characters Cindy.

      Gluten free just seems to take the fun out of it. Kind of like caffeine free diet soda.

      Delete
  20. Good morning! this post has given me some things to think on. I love those mugs. Wow.

    This will be another interesting day as I try to stay upright in the storms coming our way. So glad the Lord promises to go through the storms with us. We have an awesome God.

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    1. Stay safe through those storms, Wilani!

      Delete
  21. What a powerful post, Connie! I admit, there have been times in my life when I've WANTED to be able to thrown away one of those things that identified me. I was just tired of being that person. Thank goodness God loves us the way we are, imperfections and all. I love your perspective on it and can't wait to dig into my WIP to see what they hang onto. Have a great day and I love the coffee mugs!

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    1. I've never thought of WANTING to throw away one of those things. But, yep, I guess I've had times like that.

      Delete
  22. Connie! This post really made me think about how we basically strip our characters of their identities every time we throw them under the bus with another inciting incident. Thinking of how it affects them, it really helps get into that character's psyche. Thanks for helping me see this in a whole new light. Please add me to the list for today's giveaway.

    LOL, Tina. Pass the peanut butter and crackers. You crack me up.

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    1. Thanks Renee.

      Your name is in the hat. Keep throwing your characters under the bus.

      Delete
  23. Connie, this is a really thought-provoking post and great insight into creating our characters' inner conflict. Thank you!

    Honestly, it's always eye-opening to have a concept presented in a fresh way, which is exactly what you've done for me. As other commenters have said, you've got me thinking about the characters I'm currently planning proposals around and asking which parts of their identities, if stripped away, would create the most conflict.

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    1. Myra, it took me awhile to realize every time I tried to dig deeper, I'd automatically fall back to that foster care class. It really does help me to see if I've messed w/them enough and how it affects them.

      Delete
  24. Connie, I want to thank you for your eye-opening article. I have always struggled with creating internal conflicts for my characters.

    I have bookmarked your article so I can do a quick re-read anytime.

    Thanks again and please toss my name in the coffee cup drawing.

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    1. I'm so glad this helped.

      Your name's in the drawing!

      Delete
  25. CONNIE, such awesomeness this morning! I salute you with my mug. *clink*

    Love the way you made us think about our characters. Delving deeper into what makes them tick always makes for a better story, I think.

    Oh...a thought. Does the baby have to die in your WIP? Great conflict point, though, and I'm all about true-life scenarios. I'm just wondering if maybe you could have the baby teetering on the brink of life and death and use that as a driving force throughout your story to ratchet up even more tension... I see a lot of angles you could take and still keep the redemption factor. Anyway, just some thoughts. :)

    Thanks for stirring our creative juices this morning! Loved it!

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    1. Cynthia, I really like that idea of keeping the baby alive. Even though I know it happens, I literally could not handle reading about the baby actually dying. It would have to be something that happened in the past when the book started.

      Delete
    2. *clink*

      Right now, I'm sticking to my wip like I have it, BUT I have been considering other options. There's so many ways I could go.

      The way my story reads, the incident happened 2 years ago. I've never thought of having the baby alive and struggling in the present. Great idea. Hmm. Have to think about that one.

      Thanks for the idea, Cynthia!

      Delete
    3. Cynthia, good to know! wink, wink

      Delete
  26. Connie, this is beyond thought-provoking! I'm a visual learner and *that* exercise of throwing parts of your identity on the floor was sobering. After I left the police department I still had to go to court for 1.5 yrs to testify in cases I'd made. I wasn't allowed in the police room anymore, the cruisers were lined up but I didn't have a key to get in one and drive away, and no one paid much attention to me as a "civilian" other than the court officers themselves. I hated going back to court! I felt like I'd literally become a ghost. I've lost other parts of my "identity" over the years but I learned that it's a lot harder to remove a uniform than it is to put it on and learn to BE in a uniform. This is really helping me look at my current hero, so thank you for that! and please throw me in the coffee mug draw because I'd love to edge out my hubby's mug collection. That's a gorgeous mug! Maybe we should take orders for them? :)

    have a blessed day!

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    1. Laurie, how did I miss that you were a police officer? (Former social worker here, and I totally get what you mean.)

      Delete
    2. Love our men and women in blue. Thanks, Laurie, for your service! :)

      Tough to take off the uniform. Interesting.

      Hugs!

      Delete
    3. Still pondering...
      The military is somewhat like law enforcement. It's hard to take off the uniform.

      Delete
    4. Laurie, I can imagine how it felt going back as a civilian. Great example.

      I'm hope it helps w/your current hero.

      Your name is in for the mug. Wonder if we could get discount rates for a larger order???

      Delete
  27. Connie, thank you for this powerful and thought provoking post. I've had dear friends lose their spouse and have seen that they lose more than a husband, they lose their identity as wife, as part of a pair in a paired off world. Thankfully they've had strong identities as child of God, mother, grandmother. Some men go through this when they retire, especially if the most important part of their identities was in the work they did for forty years.

    As to my stories, I've shaken my characters' sense of who they are but I'm not sure I've actually stripped the most vital part of them away. In my wip, my heroine's walking wounded. Her only identity is mom. She's never been a daughter. Never been a wife. Never felt loved by God. Of course she's terrified of anything that could threaten her child. This post makes me realize that's what I've got to do. :-(

    Janet

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    Replies
    1. Janet! You're going to threaten to take your heroine's child??? Cruel. LOL.
      That is very powerful though.

      I agree w/you about when someone loses a spouse. It makes sense. "Part of a paired off world." Great way to look at it.

      Ok, I had to go look this up because I didn't want to get it wrong, but 1 in 5 people who commit suicide do it because of job loss, but it's worse in men. I'd think retirement was a little different but there would still be that loss of purpose.

      Great point.

      Delete
    2. Connie, that's a scary statistic! I'm filing that away in my memory.

      Janet

      Delete
  28. Connie, when writing deeply emotional stories like your wip, do you ever wonder if you've bitten off more than you can chew? I'm going through that with my wip. Heartbreaking stories require a lot of the author.

    On a lighter note, I love the mug!

    Janet

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    Replies
    1. LOL. Yes, I do. I think it was Emily Rodmell that recently reminded us not to forget books were for entertainment. Personally, I love a good dose of humor in a story.

      Delete
    2. Connie, I love humor too. So why are we stripping away our characters' identities and making them suffer?

      Janet

      Delete
  29. HI CONNIE!!!! Fabulous post and oh my, was the foster care story impactful. I have WIP who is a foster care child and you just helped push me further into her character. Great points all the way around!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Connie, what a great post!! You really made me think about my characters in a different way. I'll definitely be thinking about stripping my characters in the future. I'll be bookmarking your post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know what's funny?
      Last week, I was brainstorming a new story. I had the heroine's backstory, but not his. I kept fumbling around w/different scenarios trying to figure his conflict.
      Ding. Ding. Ding.
      I had to remind myself to attack is identity. Then the answer came to me.

      Delete
    2. I'm so glad you stated it that way, Connie! I really do think that'll help with brainstorming and planning.

      Delete
  31. First of all, Connie, those mugs are unbelievably cute.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Almost makes me wish I liked coffee.

      Delete
  32. Love the mugs! May I put my name in the drawing? Just kidding. You made them? You're so creative!

    Also love this post. I adore digging into my characters's internal conflicts. Your post has given me a new way to dig a bit deeper. Excellent food for thought!

    OH NO! Your WIP concerns one of the most tragic occurrences that can befall a person, IMHO! We had an horrific case here in ATL and I couldn't read the news releases in the paper. It ranks up there with worst nightmare! Actually, good for you to tackle such a tough subject...one that makes me want to cry.

    You silly woman. Why don't you like photos of yourself? You're beautiful!!!

    Hugs and love!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Connie, you made the mugs?! Awesome!

      Agree with Debby - you are beautiful!

      Delete
    2. Debby and Josee, I wished I was that talented. I created it by uploading the pic to the photograph site at Walmart. I had so much fun. You can do journals and even teddy bears. I wanted to everything, but the mugs were my favorite.

      And Debby I agree about those cases being the worst nightmare. A drunk driver KNOWS he taking a chance. A person who leaves a child because they want to go into a bar for drink KNOWS they're taking a chance. But FORGETTING a child? This biggest question is how? How can someone do that?
      Researching that subject is very difficult and emotional.

      Delete
    3. Debby, I kept thinking of the case here in Atlanta, too. And can't imagine writing a character out of that scenario! Of course, in the case here, it was intentional, so would be going into the realm of suspense novels.

      Delete
    4. What a novel idea! Love the mugs! :)

      Delete
  33. And second, my real point, this is fascinating. Just fascinating honestly, such a fresh and USEFUL way to talk about our characters struggles and conflicts.
    Eye opening for me.
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mary!!!
      I'm sorry to say it'll never rank up there with "shoot someone", but it gives us options.

      Delete
  34. Such an interesting, thought-provoking post, Connie! You've helped me realize that the reason some of my characters come across stronger is because of this very thing -- losing part of their identity. When they lose part of their identity, they're forced to grow or stagnate (live in the past). The characters who stagnate are the ones that bore me and I give up on :-)

    Life has constantly changed my identity LOL The "me" at the core is much the same, but things I once considered high priority have been proven not to be -- and I've been surprised at the things that now have top priority. Those, too, will change with time, I'm sure.

    Where oh where did you get those mugs?? Please put me in the drawing.

    Thanks again for a terrific post filled with fresh ideas, Connie!

    Nancy C

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    Replies
    1. Hello Nancy!

      That's so cool you are already doing this. Yep, the characters who learn and grow are the ones we admire. I guess occasionally you could toss in a secondary character who is stagnate.

      Your name is in hat!

      Delete
  35. First of all, put my name in the mug! That's a keeper!

    Second, thank you, Connie, for the great post. I hadn't looked at my characters' internal struggles from this perspective before. Your timing is perfect as I'm struggling with a character who is coming to grips with his new identity...very though provoking, like others have mentioned.

    Great to see you here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It's good to be here, Jan.
      I hope this helps you with your character coming to grips.

      And your name is in the hat.

      Delete
  36. Connie, I LOVED this post! Internal conflict can be tricky for me. But the way you shared about stripping away identity is KEY. This is a keeper for me.

    And the exercise with the five pieces of paper and foster care? That's eye-opening.

    And those mugs . . . LOVE those. Please, please put me in the drawing for one. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeanne, that exercise really did help us prepare. Well, sorta. Before then I kept thinking how we could help these kids. What we could give them. It never occurred to me what they were giving up. Perspective. Yes, very eye-opening.

      I'll toss your name in the hat...

      Delete
  37. Thank you Connie for your insightful post. I'm not a writer but I found so much "food for thought". I especially liked the foster parents class.
    Thank you and Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love your name. :)

      Glad you were able to take something away.
      Thank.

      Delete
  38. Wow, this is a really great way to look at characterization and conflict! I love it! In my current WIP, my hero is kind of a golden boy for whom things just seem to work out, who always does the right thing, is always loyal, etc., but all that gets stripped away from him around the middle of the story. And my heroine is a duke's daughter who gets kidnapped and is stripped of her identity, literally. I love thinking about their internal conflict from this viewpoint. Thanks, Connie!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melanie, you definitely have used this method well!

      Delete
  39. Oh Melanie, those are the best. Everything goes from right to wrong. It's much harder on the characters.

    Characters who literally lose their identity or pretend to be someone they're not are my favorites. So much fun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Connie, my socialite heroine switched places with a mail-order bride and pretended to know how to handle farm and household chores. Lots of opportunity for humor in that story. I can't see how we can add levity to stripped of their identity stories. Not that we should try. I remember an editor saying to make funny stories really funny, sad stories really sad and scary stories really scary.

      Janet

      Delete
    2. Never thought of it that way, Janet. That's probably why it's hard to put a lot of humor into suspense. Too much and the suspense goes away.
      I keep picturing the movie Ghost. Sad/scary one moment, the next Patrick Swayze is singing I'm Henry the 8th. They had just enough to make you like him.

      Delete
    3. Janet and Connie, I did a story with a heroine who grew up being waited on and not having to do any work, then she is stripped of her identity, pretends to be a servant, and there is a lot of funny stuff with her trying to work as a servant when she has no idea what she's doing. At least, I thought it was funny. :-)

      Delete
  40. BTW, I never could have started writing again if I hadn't been practically forced to start working on my self-esteem and confidence. I was completely incapable of doing something just for myself, or of believing that I could do something like get a book published. Of course, I still had to couch it in the idea that I was doing it to contribute to the family income. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melanie, I'm so glad you moved past that and wrote! I think we all have to work past those insecurities at different points along the way.

      Delete
    2. I'm glad you were pressured into working on your self-esteem and then wrote to help w/the family income.

      I think writing takes extra confidence. People have never understand my humor. If they don't get that, what will they think of my story? And do I really want to know what they think?
      Scary.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Missy and Connie! Connie, some people will get your humor and some will be offended. I'm convinced this is the case with every single thing we do and write. LOL! We just have to roll with it. Which is why we need healthy self-esteem. :-)

      Delete
  41. I am alllll for humor. And Connie Queen, I for one get and love your humor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Tina. There's nothing worse than spouting something you find witty to be met by a blank stare and awkward silence.

      Delete
  42. Hey Connie!! Your post is AWESOME and going into my Keeper File! I'm polishing a manuscript right now but my heroine needs more internal conflict, so this is a huge help today. :)
    What you wrote about foster children is so very true. Before my middle daughter and son-in-law had 2 foster children, I went through a training class so I could legally help care for them if needed. Oh my...such an eye-opener. Still almost get tears thinking about it. Thanks again for sharing today, and your photo is CUTE!! :)
    Hugs, Patti Jo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patti Jo, glad the post helped.

      It's awesome your daughter and son-in-law are caring for foster children. Hope it's a huge blessing to them as well as the kiddos.

      Delete
  43. Connie, I just read your bio and realized you have 8 kids!!!!! Wow. You go, girl! And I wanted to say, I love your picture and can't imagine why you wouldn't like pictures of yourself. Get some professional shots done and love your photos! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I need to go get some professional pics made. I may just do that.

      Delete
  44. What a great post! I had never heard of Narrative Identity, but I can see how this could be a big help in our writing. Of course, one of those mugs would help a lot, too! Throw my name in the hat, please.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your name is in that hat, Jan.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  45. Thanks for a great post, Connie. This is a lot to think about as I write.

    Please enter me in the drawing for the mug. It is so cute.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sandy.
      Your name's in there!

      Delete
  46. Connie, So much information in that post, and I love the way you thread your story about the process for becoming foster parents along with Leah's story about her being a caregiver and being true to her identity even at the end of her life. I think that's the delicate balance in writing, getting the emotion from everyday life into the elements. Your post taught me something and almost made me cry! Great job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Tanya.

      You're so right about the balance in writing. Sometimes I know what to do, but getting it across to my characters is a different story.
      No crying aloud!

      Delete
  47. Connie, thank you for these ideas. My WIP hero faces that questioning of his narrative identity. I hadn't thought about his dilemma that way, but your post makes his situation much clearer.

    Your experience with the five slips of paper makes for very thoughtful consideration.

    Thank you so much for your post! Quite interesting...and I love anything which makes character development easier!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it made your hero's situation clearer.
      I hope it makes it easier for you.

      Thanks!!!

      Delete
  48. Interesting post. In the fourth book in the series I am working on all my characters are going to seriously have some identity crises as betrayal, heartbreak, and abandonment run amok (even if they aren't actually purposefully doing these things to each other). This is certainly something that I should keep in mind as I write that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All those problems for your characters are terrific Nicki! You know, I don't think I've ever used betrayal. I did use that one next time. Very powerful.

      Delete
  49. Connie, you have written a post that obviously resonates with us as readers, writers and people. Well done! If I don't get back here again, let me say...AMAZING JOB TODAY. Let's do it again. However, as a parting gift, I brought iced coffee from Dunkin' because it's ONE HUNDRED DEGREES here in Phoenix today. ARRRGH!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me today Tina and the Seekers! I had a blast. 100 degrees in May is crazy.

      Delete
  50. Connie - I just had a conversation with my brother about your post and it sparked a brainstorming session that produced an exciting story idea for a novel. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fantastic, Jan. That's like the best compliment ever!

      Delete
  51. I know you said not amnesia, but in my WIP, my protagonist gets his very personality stripped away from him in an extreme, artificially given case of amnesia and he, who had always had a strong conviction of right and wrong, suddenly doesn't feel much reason to choose right over wrong... It's sort of an Adam and Eve retelling.

    You're a braver author than I. Just reading your WIP makes me want to curl up in cry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Boo, one of my first novels (unpublished, and under the bed) was called Amnesia of the Soul and the story question was, "Would a Christian with amnesia remember that she was a Chrisitan if she was in a decidedly unChristian environment?"

      The story idea was solid. My execution of it needed a lot of work. :)

      Delete
    2. Boo, I wasn't saying doesn't use amnesia in stripping someone's identity. I just didn't want people to read the title and think that our topic was amnesia. I can see how I didn't make that clear.
      Amnesia stories are popular. By definition the character loses their identity. I've never see it done where they lose their conviction.

      Very interesting!

      Delete
    3. Pam, that's a good question. So did your character sense she was a Christian, or did she give in to her environment?

      Delete
    4. That sounds like an interesting story, Paul. I used to read Left Behind, the kids version until the book where they killed off my favorite character and had one of the other kids amnesiatic and going to the antichrist's youth program (sorry for any spoilers). I couldn't figure out how the authors were going to fix it and it was just too much for me. But obviously it never left me and here I am doing it myself!

      And as for the conviction, sometimes in my weird wonderings, I like to think of how much our personality plays in our convictions. Some virtues come easier and also some sins- while others are easier to fight off. But to lose all that? To lose all the walls you built up against sins- especially the sin of just not caring anymore that makes the others topple down?... I think about weird things a lot.

      Delete
  52. Hi Connie:

    How nice it is to have you as a guest blogger today. I always look for you comments as you make so much sense -- I so often agree with you! Your idea today is one of the best I've encountered any where. The foster child test is a classic. Simple, easy to understand, universally applicable, powerful, something you only have to hear once to get, and almost self-evident on first hearing.

    You know, I'm working on a character who does not have these parts of him taken away, he discards them himself by 'reinventing' himself every eight years. He's been an MD, a DDs, and a lawyer. He likes going to school, being a top student, and getting degrees. The heroine calls me a "Peter Pan" who does not want to grow up and says she can't marry him because she does not know who he'll be in the future.

    Please put me in the drawing for a mug. It's not often we have a prize that can also be used to hold the name slips!

    Vince

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well thank you very much, Vince. That means a lot. I always enjoy your wisdom.

      Your Peter Pan hero is a very interesting character. I'm not certain I haven't had some kinfolk who almost did the same thing. Just kept going to college and getting degrees in different fields.

      Your name is tossed in the mug!

      Delete
  53. Hi Connie: I enjoyed your Post very much. I will be meditating on several aspects you brought forth. I learned of you and the Group Seekerville from a Tweet listed on The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Conference Tweet site. Take care. Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome to Seekerville, Mary!
      We're glad to have you. This is a fun group that offers a lot of helpful information.
      Thanks for visiting.

      Delete
  54. Mary! Welcome! Great to have you here. Pull up a chair and have a cinnamon roll.

    ReplyDelete
  55. CONNIE, thank you for the interesting post!

    Please enter me in the drawing.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Hi Connie Queen, So sorry I missed stopping by today. Was out all day but looks like you had a great day. Thanks so much for joining us and sharing such wonderful insights. What fun looking mugs also. Did you make those? Thanks again for joining us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good morning Sandra.

      I did. At Walmart. I don't drink coffee but I could still myself sitting down w/a mug while I check out Seekerville.

      Delete
  57. I can't believe I missed yesterday!!!! CONNIE!!!! I feel so bad about that, I was swept away by work and people hating the British monarchy!!! (long story...) and I forgot to come over here and pester you!

    Because this is a stellar post. I love the foster care parent exercise, and I'm going to use something like that in my 2018 series.... you jogged my memory! Bless you!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We missed you too Ruthy.

      The classes do well putting everything into perspective. Looking forward to reading that series.

      Delete
    2. Clearly you had a gazillion comments and talks yesterday without me, Julie or Sandra!!!

      GO YOU!!!!

      I can't believe I didn't get over here.

      Shame on Ruthy!!!

      Delete
  58. Hey, Connie, forgive my tardiness, but I was out of town yesterday for a funeral and off the computer all day and night.

    But I'm glad I came by today to catch up on your excellent blog because you actually caught me at a time when I am questioning the motivation of my characters, so THANK YOU!!

    The following statement you made hit me between the eyes:

    "So, when creating my character’s internal conflict, I always ask if it overthrows or strips them of their identity. If not, I dig deeper."

    Okay ... WHEN I get back to writing (since I've had a lot of traveling lately eating into my writing time ... I plan to implement your statement above, so God bless you!!

    Hugs,
    Julie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely understand, Julie.
      Never too late.

      Have a great day and get caught up so you can get back to writing!!!

      Delete
    2. In other words: "Give your characters an existential identity crisis".

      Delete
  59. Okay, a late comer to the party here.

    Great post. I think everyone goes through this type of thing in some area at some point in their life. That's what makes it so vital to story.

    In my WIP, my character goes through a crisis that challenges his view of what makes a life worth living. He is defined by his job, but when he fails, he is challenged in his belief. So it's kinda a job and faith conflict.


    Thanks for a great post and giveaway! I love the mug.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amber, that's a great plotline. And very believable.

      Delete
  60. I'm really late jumping in on this one, but I love this post. It's absolutely genius.

    I also love those mugs. Hope it's not too late to be put into the hat!

    ReplyDelete
  61. And, here I am, the latest of all!

    Great post, Connie, lots of thought provoking content that I will refer to again and again.

    I can relate to the identity loss...a fire in 2012 took everything, but hubby and I. I didn't blame anyone or thing, just a fluke of nature. Our mountain lost 14 homes and twenty outbuildings that horrible day. We did rebuild, but in a different state, and yes, I lost all passion for things I'd loved before. Writing has saved me somewhat, besides my faith. There are still days where I'll speak of something and then remember it's not in my possession anymore. I've gotten through it, but will never get over it.

    "The only people who think there's a time limit for grief, have never lost a piece of their heart. Take all the time you need."

    A credo I stand by.

    Blessings,

    Marcia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, devastating, Marcia. I like your credo.

      Delete
  62. Oh, I'm so sorry about your fire. We've had four floods and lost a lot, but never everything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Boo. We even took the time to drive to our neighbor's house to get their cat...he was already 15. They didn't lose their home and the cat lived three years longer...there's a balance in there somewhere, and they were grateful.

      Marcia

      Delete
    2. Boo, I think a flood would be worse...you get to see the ruined mementos you have to throw away. Fires don't give you a choice.

      Marcia

      Delete