Jill Weatherholt

Writing Stories of Love, Faith and Happy Endings While Enjoying the Journey


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It’s Mine!

Image courtesy of  https://en.wikipedia.org

Image courtesy of
https://en.wikipedia.org

When I was in kindergarten, my favorite activity was sculpting figures with Play-Doh. I loved the smell and the way it oozed between my fingers when I squeezed it. Mrs. Honnald would place the cans on the table for us to share; this was the part I didn’t like. I wanted my own can. Of course, my parents taught me to share, but I still wanted my own. When it came to Play-Doh, the more I had; the better sculptures I could create.

Sharing doesn’t come easy to my favorite bird, the hummingbird, which frequent our feeder each year. In fact, these feisty, delicate creatures have no concept of sharing. If you want to add some excitement to your backyard, hang a hummingbird feeder or two and watch the wars begin.

The most common hummingbird in the Carolinas is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They’re also the smallest bird. A hummingbird can rotate their wings in a circle, allowing them to be the only bird that can fly backwards, up, down, sideways or stay perfectly still in space.

For such a tiny creature, these birds use more energy, and eat constantly, despite weighing only 2 to 3 grams.  If we ate as much as a hummingbird, we would have to eat around 30,000 calories a day. They must eat late into the night and be early risers in the morning because if they sleep too long, they could starve to death.

The hummingbird has the largest heart in proportion to its body. It pumps 200 beats per minute at rest and 1000 during flight. They expend a huge amount of energy on their down and upstroke, so they must stay fortified. Nectar, from certain flowers, is their primary source of food. We mix sugar and water in our feeders. The sweeter the juice, the more exciting and acrobatic the wars become.

The aggressive behavior is typically strong in early summer when the birds claim their territory and defend their nests. Hummingbirds are intensely territorial when it comes to their feeding source. They appear to be the most angry and selfish well into the fall, as they fight for their prime feeding territory, in preparation for migration. These ill-tempered birds can be amazing to witness as they battle to maintain control of the feeder.

If another bird dares a quick sip at the feeder, while one is already drinking, he’ll make his move. In a split second, he swoops out of the sky and rams him off the feeder. They’re absolutely incredible creatures. One thing I’ve learned as they return each year is, like me and my Play-Doh; these little guys don’t want to share.


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Going for Goals

trampoline_

It was the summer of 1973. The goal was to make it into The Guinness World Book of Records. Early one morning my best friend and I climbed on to her trampoline and started to jump. This was going to be the summer we broke the record for the longest time jumping on a trampoline. Four hours later, with the sun directly overhead, our mouths were dry and our legs tired, but we kept jumping.

In the eyes of two 8 year-old girls, getting into the record books was a worthy goal. As I create a protagonist, his goals must be worthy. I want the reader to relate to the goal and see it as essential to the character’s physical or emotional well-being. This is vital to the story because a character without a goal is a character without a story. Goals get the character moving and they will keep my story moving.

Recently I found a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. It was bad. I couldn’t find any concrete goals within the story. It was a series of frivolous scenes and a weak plot line. I didn’t know where the character was going, and I wrote the story.

This main character needed a goal; something he wanted to gain or something he wanted to avoid. He could want to find love, but he doesn’t want to give up his freedom. He may want to find the killer, but he has to avoid getting himself killed. Whatever the goal, it could have been triggered by a phone call, the loss of a job, a letter, or longing to find his past love. The possibilities were endless, but I didn’t do any of those things. His actions had no meaning and he was on a journey to nowhere.

Including goals will tighten my plot line and make my story more believable. The reader will continue to read because the protagonist is focused on the problem he’s trying to solve. He’s not sitting around chatting about the weather. A big part of why I believe and root for the protagonist is because of their goals. Even the most interesting and quirky character will fall flat without them.

After hours of jumping, my friend and I realized we too, were on a journey to nowhere. Our dream of breaking a record wasn’t going to happen. We were tired and thirsty. Our new goal was to get into the air conditioned house and drink some Kool-Aide. As our goal changed, our motivation was lost, but that was okay, because summer vacation is a time for fun.


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Flawed Fred

Image courtesy of  https://en.wikipedia.org

Image courtesy of
https://en.wikipedia.org

When I was in the third grade, I was obsessed with the Flintstones. Every morning before school, my mom woke me up an hour early to watch back to back episodes. I had her place my tape recorder next to the TV to voice record the episodes that came on during the school day. No picture, only sound, but that was okay because I was a Flintstones fanatic.

During every episode, I cheered for Fred, as I watched him get into impossible predicaments. I always felt a little sorry for him. His life was an uphill battle, but he persevered and usually managed to come out on top.

When I create a character, I often think about Fred and the obstacles he had to overcome. In order for my readers to sympathize with my protagonist, they must root for him to succeed. Fred wasn’t perfect. He often did things that were wrong, but that was okay because his motives were admirable. He was a hard worker who provided for his family.

A character that is handsome, kind to children, donates all of his money to charity, never drives over the speed limit or never gets upset is perfect. He has nowhere to go and no way to grow. I don’t feel sympathetic concern because he can handle anything. I’d rather save my sympathy for someone who deserves it.

While reading, it’s difficult for me to connect to a perfect character, since I’m far from perfect. A perfect character is boring to read. As a writer, I don’t want readers to get bored and I don’t want them to pity my characters or think of them as wimps. Characters that only suffer and whine are not sympathetic, they’re pathetic.

My goal is to make the reader become one with my characters. I must show their flaws to make them human. When they do something bad, the reader understands why they’re acting this way. While most episodes of the Flintstones portrayed Fred as a character full of flaws, to me he appeared human. Each episode he faced difficulties and struggles, but he always left work with a happy, “Yabba-Dabba Do!”


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Set the Pace

Image courtesy of praisephilly.com

Image courtesy of praisephilly.com

My first job in high school was a skate guard at a roller rink.  I loved to roller skate, so it was a dream job. Management gave me a whistle and I hit the rink. I was the skate police. I blew my whistle when a skater went too fast or cut someone off. If a skater was too slow, a blow of my whistle increased their pace. I got paid to skate and listen to good music. Life was good.

When a slow song played, some skaters left the floor. Others paired up for “couples only.” But as soon as a fast upbeat song blared through the speakers, the couples broke free and sped away. The music set the pace for the skaters the same way as a writer’s pacing is the tempo that determines how fast or slow a story reads.

I’ve learned there’s no rule to define the perfect pace. The books I read have taught me the most about pacing. Too slow and I get bored. I don’t have time for a leisurely stroll. I want action right away, but not throughout the entire book. I need some time to breathe and digest the story.

In order to keep my readers engaged and not skim the “boring parts”, my story must be full of conflict and tension. I use short sentences with strong punchy verbs. I avoid long and involved paragraphs full of description by resisting the urge to explain. Instead, I create a balance of action, dialogue and narration throughout the story. My characters are doing things that relate to the plot as much as possible. They’re not sitting around and talking or contemplating.

These days, I don’t need a whistle. Each scene in my story requires a different pace and it’s my job to make the proper determination. Obviously every scene won’t be a car accident, a diagnosis of a fatal illness or attack by a black bear. But even the less action-oriented scenes can be loaded with emotion. After all, I remember the first time a boy asked me to slow skate, my hands were wet with sweat and my heart skipped a couple of beats.