Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing

Does my novel pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

I just learned about the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test, as Bechdel prefers to call it to credit her friend, Ms. Wallace) from Andrea Lundgren’s recent blog post. This test requires in fiction or movies that 1) two women be present and named 2) talk to one another 3) about something other than a man.

I do find it intriguing to ask this question as I write my first novel about a young American unconventional horsewoman in the early 1900s. I have created as a part of the plot that Fiona, the main character, travel to India. There she interacts on various topics with her host in Calcutta, Amita, who becomes both friend and mentor to her.

Topics they discuss vary about Christianity, Quakerism, and Hinduism to questions about the social mores expressed in public Indian erotic art. The two women broaden their dialogues to include the value of education for women to the psychological foundations of women to chart their own adventures.

I am pleased to know my novel passes with flying colors. Fiona and Amita are “stars” in this regard.

What about your fiction? Does it pass the test, too?

I bet it does. And good for you if it does!

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Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Writers are often INFJs or INFPs, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Lauren Sapala, the author of The INFJ Writer in a recent blog post, writes there is no coincidence that many writers are INFJs or INFPs, which are terms for the personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The types are a four-part combination of four spectrums of likely thoughts, actions, behaviors that generate a personality type. These types are used to better understand ourselves and others, to improve communication between different types, and to work more effectively. But the types should not be used to label or box people into narrow definitions of self or others.

There were four possible pairs of personality traits:

  • Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
  • Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

These four sets of dichotomies create sixteen personality types. A brief description of each can be found at The Myers-Briggs website.

INFJ and INFP are closely related because three of the indicators are the same INF.

Isabel Briggs-Myers, the daughter of Katherine Cook Briggs (the co-founders of the indicator index) says,

Good type development can be achieved at any age by anyone who cares to understand his or her own gifts and the appropriate use of those gifts.

Read Lauren’s insightful blog post to understand the increased likelihood that you (and I) as a writer will be an introverted (I), intuitive (N), and feeling (F) person who leans toward perceiving (P) or judging (J).

I found Lauren Sapala’s blog post useful and insightful. I also have her book. Check it out for yourself.

Lauren Sapala states,

It wasn’t until I started coaching so many other Highly Sensitive People (who are also highly creative people, empaths, and intuitives) that I realized there is a very good reason so many of us have turned to writing as a lifeline.

Posted in Craft of writing, Writing, Writing exercises

BUILDING TENSION

A WRITING EXERCISE THAT HELPS BUILD TENSION

Open your thesaurus; go to any letter in the alphabet. Pick words from that letter that prompts questions that may help you think about your characters, plot, setting, dialogue, actions, emotions, and especially tension. Then for every word, develop a question that can push you deeper into your story, hopefully building tension in your book, story, or scene.

MY EXAMPLE

I chose the letter “D,” because desire is the beginning of all tension. Your character wants something—whether it is an external goal, like the inheritance, the murderer, or a lover; or an internal motivation, such as confidence, freedom, acceptance, or maybe to be understood by someone. Desire can be dampened, dangerous, delayed, or denied. (Yeah, I’m leaning heavy on alliteration, but just in this one blog.)

See, I’m just playing around with words. Being playful is the heart of the creative process. Also, you can think of it as a working exercise in which you can use random words that will take you to unexpected, and yet productive, powerful places in our writing.

Here are the ones I pulled and the questions I drafted for each. The queries provide me tips, hints, and techniques that in turn give me ways to access new ideas for my novel.

Dilemma:  What kinds of problems can I generate for my protagonist, Fiona?

Discord:  Where can I create relationship issues between characters that make the story more complex and intriguing?

Draw (either stalemate or attraction): How can I bring in mistakes or misunderstandings that generate a stalemate? How can I illustrate the first attraction between characters and then continually enhance that attraction over time?

Denial = What element(s) in Fiona’s life can I deny her to thwart her primary desire, to gain acceptance from others when she’s unconventional?

Dream:  How do I articulate Fiona’s dream or desire through action and dialogue?

Disaster:  What natural disaster is logical and reasonable based on the setting and environment to add depth, complexity, and tension to the story?

Disappointment:  How can I express disappointment through body language in various characters?

Danger:  What dangers might my characters encounter that will force them to know themselves better?

Dire straits:   What situations could I develop within the plot that create emotional tension and make characters have to fight for what they want?

Dogged problems:  What problem(s) won’t go away; and therefore, continue to frustrate and inhibit Fiona in the pursuit of her longing?

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. — E. L. Doctorow

FIND YOUR OWN PROMPTS

Replicate the exercise, or use my example as a launching pad. Plunge in and find the questions you need to answer for your story or scene. It can aid you in writing fiction, your memoir, a story, or a difficult scene.

What kind of success or struggles did you have with this approach? I’d like to hear from you.

 

 

Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Writing

A writing exercise for insight into your memoir’s main characters, you

BACKGROUND for the EXERCISE 

“The stranger at the heart of my journey is me—transformed.” — Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler (p. 97)

Dispenza suggests in his book that the people we meet in our travels can serve as mirrors of ourselves in what we portray to the world. Or these folks, whether strangers or not during our adventures, may contain qualities that we lack and wish we had. For our memoir, this is one way to gain insight that we need to write a more textured and full-bodied story of our life. So try this.

How to conduct the EXERCISE 

Recall memorable folks from your travels. List three or four with names or descriptions, if you don’t know names. Then write characteristics of each. Examples might include; interesting, odd, cavalier, smart, engaging, irritating, or rude–whatever comes to mind. This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish we could call ours in our inner world. Now can you use these characteristics of yourself clarified as you write your next scene or story from your life and/or travels?

This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish was ours in our inner world. When you identify what these characteristics are from viewing the characters you encountered, now can you use these clarifications of yourself when you write your next scene or story.

In my memoir, At Home in the World, I encountered a pastor in Hawaii. As a seventeen-year-old girl, I saw him as intelligent, culturally insightful, and eager to share what he knew with me and other summer missionaries that were more than half his age. His tutelage grew out of his caring for others. He cultural take on the world was crafted from his Christian background.

Passage from my book, At Home In the World 

I write about him, “Dr. Shiroma, as a Japanese Christian is an enigma. As a pastor, he is over-educated. He carries his history, culture, and language with him, yet he lives in another country with a history, culture, and language that have been antithetical to his own. Christ’s love has found a way around all that and claims it all.

“… He explains what happened to the Japanese post-WWII, tracks the trials of Hawaiian statehood, and illuminates interracial marriages that created an amalgamated Hawaiian culture. I learn words I may never get to use, like miscegenation and mulatto. …

“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology with us, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. More synapses in my gray matter, more connections in my white matter. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.”

REWRITE

Because I did not have this exercise available to me when writing my memoir, I did not make the most of this encounter with Dr. Shiroma. Here is what I could have done with passage and created a more nuanced memoir. (Maybe I’ll rewrite it.)

“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.

“Time spent with Dr. Shiroma opened my eyes to the diversity of the world outside of my small Arkansas town. I felt my heart open to the history of the Japanese in America. I felt the reality of different races intermarrying not as a problem, but a way to minimize our differences. This cultural idea, contrary to traditional views, shaped my future self and view of the world. I left Hawaii with an understanding of myself as a global citizen. Not as a Christian set apart (as some would have wanted it), but a Christian committed to making the world more open and compassionate.”

See how studying a significant person on one of my travels, helped me see myself more deeply? Something I might not have been able to do without insight from the exercise.

Have you tried something similar with simlar or different outcomes? Are you willing to try this and share your results? Let us know.

 

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing, Writing Myths

Writing Myth

Myth Bluster: I cannot write worth a hoot!

This is what we often tell ourselves–what I call myth bluster or misconceptions about our writing. And sometimes others imply it by their lack of interest in our work or a comment that sounds and feels negative to us. We must believe in ourselves and our ability to improve over time. Here is what we need to be thinking instead to bust previous myth bluster.

Myth Busters: If I write, I am a writer. If I don’t write well, I can learn to write better. Work makes wishes come true.  

The truth is it is all a matter of perspective. We can tell ourselves a different story about our ability to write, and then start making progress. So put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Start writing what is on your mind or in your heart.

I’ll be offering some writing prompts in the near future. I hope they will be useful to you.

Here is another myth buster to previous thinking or myth bluster:

Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. 

Comments from anyone?

 

Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Start your own Writing Group

START A WRITER’S GROUP

I have been a member of multiple writing groups since the early 1990s. Each one differs with advantages and disadvantages. Each time someone joins or drops out, it changes the dynamics. If you know you have thin skin, be willing to grow thick skin; or forego this until you do. It is not for the faint of heart. Knowing what you want out of a writing group helps you start one that meets your needs and desires.4men1womanblog

FIRST ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS 

  1. Do you need to learn to write first, before you start or participate in a writing group? If so, take a class or workshop, read and study the craft of writing, and/or just write.
  2. Do you want a group to edit your work only, analyze your work (plot, characters, and pacing), and/or to discuss the writing process? Are you willing to do the same?
  3. Can you find writers who offer you the same feedback for which you are looking?
  4. Do you work best in one-on-one pairs, small intimate groups of 3-4, or larger writing groups? I have found 8-12 is max for a dynamic group that allows time for all.
  5. How often do you need to meet in terms of your personal writing schedule? Can you draft enough writing to meet once a week, every other, or once a month?

MEETING APPROACH: Example #1

  1. Some groups have a leader that organizes and moderates the group time. Usually that is someone quite experienced and published. Members simply bring a copy of their manuscripts for each group member that cover 2-5 pages, perhaps a scene, or a short chapter.
  2. Everyone reads his or her own work aloud. If the writer wants to hear their work from another voice, then another member reads it.
  3. Reviewers then offer suggestions on editorial comments on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They provide what works in the piece and what does not work. They can also explain where they became confused or lost.
  4. Advantage: This particular way of running a group requires less time, by giving on-the-spot feedback comments.
  5. Disadvantage: Writing group members do not have in-depth time to review and reflect on the writing, so comments are usually limited to surface responses.
  6. Writing level: This specific approach is useful for experienced writers who do not need as much feedback and are skilled at writing and know what in a piece of work. They can offer feedback promptly.3women1guy

 MEETING APPROACH: Example #2

  1. There are groups that meet once a month or every other week to give them more time to write and more time for readers to review each other’s work before the meeting.
  2. In one case I have been part of a ‘leaderless’ meeting. We each took responsibility for different things that needed to be done.
  3. A group I belonged to years ago met once a month. Here is how it worked. For example, during the month of December each writer brings sufficient copies of their chapter to distribute to each person. During the coming weeks, we read and comment in writing on the manuscript. At the following meeting in January, we would take each manuscript and make our comments, explain why we made them and discuss issues of point of view (POV), pacing, character development, and other big picture issues. In that same month, we distribute next month’s work for review. We handed the manuscripts that we marked up to the writer for his or her revisions.
  4. Advantage: This gave us extensive feedback on a broader scale of what is happening in a novel or essay, and how to address the issues. We included edits, as well as the movement, rhythm, and pace of the story or article.
  5. Disadvantage: In this setting, we did not read our pages aloud, so we missed hearing our words, which often lets one hear awkward words or phrases, or missed words. During a month between meetings, so we could forget where we were in a story.
  6. Writing Level: This approach gives inexperienced writers and reviewers time between meetings to read, study, ponder, and decide how to reply to the writer. Inexperienced writers grow quickly into more experienced writers and reviewers.

FEEDBACK APPROACH #1: 

  1. The next example comes from my friend and mentor, Sheila Bender. You can signup for her newsletter at WritingItReal and consider membership. The 3-step feedback process proves to be productive for most any writer and reviewer.

Step #1: Identify the “Velcro” words, phrases, or sentences that stick with you in some way, that resonate in a good way. The purpose of this step is to give the writer positive feedback on what is working.

Step #2: State the feelings that the writing creates in you from mad-sad-glad to anxious-afraid-relieved. This report tells the writer whether she has achieved what she set out to achieve. It lets her compare the reaction the reader has to what she hoped to create in the reader.

Step #3: Inform the writer what questions you have after you have read the scene or chapter. Tell him what left you wanting to know more. Share your curiosity about unanswered questions with him. This allows the writer to know if he needs to flesh out the scene more or if he has overwritten it and needs to pare it down.

2. Advantage: This example provides objective feedback that keeps comments less personal and more focused on the writing.

3. Disadvantage: It requires reviewers to think deeply about the story, which may require more time and effort.

4. Level of reviewer: Anyone reading a scene or chapter is able to offer their opinions on these 3 items. It empowers inexperienced reviewers that they have significant input into another’s writing.3guysblog

FEEDBACK APPROACH: Example #2

This example is taken from a workshop instructor, Karlene Koen. I took her course, That Damned Novel, through the Writers’ League of Texas summer retreat in 2014. Her process is similar to but slightly different from Sheila Bender’s approach. Answer the following three questions to provide feedback to a writer about his or her work:

  1. What did you like about the scene or story? (I would add, what did you not like about it and why? That’s the key, “why.”)
  2. What do you still want to know?
  3. Where did you get lost?

Answering these 3 questions has similar advantages and disadvantages to Bender’s approach and requires little experience as a reviewer. There many other versions and adaptations of writing groups, but this overview can get you started.

I can sum up my advice after twenty-five years of working in different types of writing support groups. Some have worked for a while, others have lasted years. But when one is still not viable, it is better to end the group than carry on in misery. If you are the only one unhappy, leave respectfully and gratefully for what it has given you. 

  1. You can mix and match the meeting and feedback approaches.
  2. Comments and recommendations always should be about helping each other grow as a writer.Constructive criticism is the goal.
  3. Writer, remind yourself often: Don’t take it personally.
  4. Reviewer, remind yourself often: Don’t make it personal.
  5. Feedback is about your writing, not you. It may feel personal in that someone is trying to help you specifically related to your writing.
  6. For the writer to defend or explain his or her work, wastes time and is not the point. It is best for the writer to listen and take notes. As creator of the work, a writer is free to disagree and can choose to use or not use comments offered. Own your work.
  7. Everyone in the group should be actively writing. Equity in giving and receiving feedback is crucial to the sustained health of the group.
  8. Groups often need a leader to organize and moderate the meeting. I have been part of a successful leaderless group, in which all members took responsibility for the meeting. You must decide on the right person for the leader.
  9. Help your fellow writers when they read your work.
    • Always double-space your work so others can edit between the lines.
    • Number the pages, so the group can reference page and paragraph when discussing it.
    • Put your name on the submission – it should be obvious why.

Now, what has been your experience with writing groups? What has worked? What has  not worked for you? Please share your experience with us.  

 

Posted in Travel, Travel Writing, Writing

Memoir – On Sale for the Holidays

Reduced Price 

My coming-of-age, travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, is on sale.

For black Friday and through the holiday season, I have reduced the price for the paperback from $16.99 to $9.99.

During the gift-buying season, I have reduced the price of the Kindle version from $4.99 to $2.99.

Signed Copies at Kerrville Market Days, December 3

me-sellingsigning-booksPick up a signed copy for yourself or a friend for $10. You can find me at Kerrville Market Days, December 3, 2016, at the Ag Barn on the Kerr County Fairgrounds. I’ll be signing and selling them from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.

Consider buying a copy of the book in print or Kindle version

  • For a girlfriend
  • For a young mother raising self-reliant kids, especially girls
  • For a young woman, coming-of-age herself
  • For an older woman who has been an adventurer and will enjoy the adventures of a kindred spirit

My Biggest Fans

Although the story is about a young woman’s travels alone and with others, some of my biggest fans have been men from my high school graduating class. So don’t forget to buy it for the men in your life as well.

Paperback for $9.99

Kindle version for $2.99

Thanks for buying my book. I sure hope you or your loved one enjoys reading it.

Posted in journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing, Writing Workshops

Travel Journal Writing at Schreiner University

Travel Journal Writing 

global-program-logoCommunity  members joined Schreiner University students in celebrating International Education Week, November 14-18 and participated in the Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing workshop. Sonja Lind, Ph.D. and the program director of The Changing Global Society initiative sponsored the workshop.

My husband, Lynn Jones and I volunteer at Schreiner University, our local liberal arts university. We encourage and prepare students to expand their learning through travel and study abroad by taking this workshop.su-workshop-3

Experienced travelers from the community and university students explored journal writing topics, techniques, and tools. They participated in two writing exercises and discussion about how to prepare, anticipate, and rehearse before travel.

This prep increases the chances that one will travel more intentionally and more purposefully and as a result, enrich one’s experiences.

The preparation before travel and the reflection after a journey create learning that is deeper, more enduring, and much more transferable in the future.

College students cannot ask for much more out of an experience that is to prepare them for participation in a global world, which is one of the foundational directions of Schreiner University today.

Journal Writing Tips:

  1. Read Globejotting before you take the next trip. (See the bookGlobejotting. cover to your right.)
  2. Take a small journal that will fit in your pocket, purse, or bag. Keep it in a Ziploc bag if needed to protect it from rain, sand, or spills.
  3. Ask a child you meet while riding on public transportation to draw in your journal for you. You can accomplish this, even if you do not share the same language.

What  journal writing tips do you recommend? 

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing, Writing Workshops

Travel Writing Workshop October 22, 2016 in Texas Hill Country

TRAVEL TOUCHSTONES

Intentional Travel through Creative Journal Writing

Have you considered spinning memories into stories, essays or memoirs?

Have you captured a trip in journal entries & been disappointed by the results?

Have you traveled as tourist, pilgrim, adventurer, learner, intentional sojourner?

Have you yearned for adventures, but not known how to make them happen?

This workshop will build writing skills and insight into intentional travel!

(Bring paper and pen. No travel experience or writing experience required.)

WORKSHOP DETAILS  rhonda-with-kuwalla-bear

Workshop Leader, RHONDA WILEY-JONES

Registration Fee: $65 (refreshments and materials included)

Saturday, October 22, 9-noon, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX

To register send a check by October 15 to Rhonda Wiley-Jones, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX 78028. (LIMITED to 14)

WORKSHOP TAKE-AWAYS

  1. Share adventures or misadventures with others in a fun atmosphere.
  2. Reflect how to travel more purposefully, independently, and intentionally.
  3. Practice journal exercises (not to critique but to share if you want) to develop insight & clarity.
  4. Consider types of travel (pilgrims are not tourists) to match with journal writing supplies.
  5. Develop observation skills; build writing skills using the senses; and mix fiction with fact.
  6. Select journaling methods to match your travel circumstances and/or writing style.
  7. Stimulate imagination with tips, ideas, and suggestions shared.
  8. Make new friends and get to know old ones in new ways.

WHAT PREVIOUS PARTICIPANTS HAVE SAID

  • Nicely presented
  • Good interaction workshop-teachingagain
  • Useful handouts
  • Thank you, Rhonda. I’m a fan!!
  • Many useable/practical ideas and suggestions
  • Great class—plenty of time for questions & sharing
  • I was surprised to learn so much in your workshop
  • It never occurred to me I might write & sell articles

 WORKSHOP FACILITATOR 

BookCoverImageThumbPrint

Rhonda Wiley-Jones, M.Ed., author of her travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, is world traveler, journal writer, blogger, fiction writer. She’s conducted this workshop with audiences, such as the 2016 bi-annual Story Circle Network national conference, 2015 Schreiner University’s Global Programs, and the 2013 Schreiner University’s Innovative Learning Program.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Craft of writing, Travel Writing, Writing

Drafting a Scene for my Novel

STEPPING A CHARACTER 

As writers we are always looking for ways to write faster, more focused, and more detailed. I recently attended a workshop where I learned the craft of stepping a character from Nancy Masters. This prepares me to write a scene for the novel I’m writing set in India, which gives me focus and details, and in turns helps me write faster. Let me share in this post my process of stepping a character, then drafting the scene.

Next week I will share the suggestions I receive from my writing group and revisions I make as a result of their recommendations.

THE PROCESS OF STEPPING A CHARACTER 

  • Three things the reader see when approaching the scene, in this case the street: an open-air merchant, storefronts, animals
  • Three things the main character is wearing: hat, boots, and kerchief
  • Three things she is carrying: her brother Will’s compass, a pouch of rupees, and a hat
  • Three things she sees in route
  1. People = pilgrim pulling on silver hookah, pauper with leather amulet pouch, priest teaching scripture, merchants (tobacco, sweetmeats, and horse traders)
  2. Languages on store fronts = Hindustani, Hindi, Urdu
  3. Styles of smoking = hookah, snuff gourds, snuff pouches
  • Three things she says or comments on: I’m obviously a foreigner; a variety of smoking instruments; and different languages
  • Three smells experienced the streets: manure, sweat, rotten food, aroma from bong
  • A secret Fiona (main character) holds: wishes she were with her brother Will: and a secret Pastor John (secondary character) holds: hopes Fiona will consider being his wife before she leaves India

SCENE

Pastor John led the way out Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of Ramita’s garden flowers. John opened the gate for her to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. When they spent time alone, John reminded her with his chivalry that he was courting her.

Usually awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. An innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering above the shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but with a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”

“You have a keen eye.” He points to a small sweetmeats shop front and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages, not to mention all the distinct dialects spoken in India. Urdu is the language of Islam.”

Fiona tried the word on her tongue to see how it felt, “Ur-du. Right? That sounds silly.”

He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because that lettering is Hindi. I learned in language school before getting to the city, that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.

“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”

“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”

“Over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels in Urdu. Then about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels in Hindi. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of these, much like we have the “o-y” and the “o-i” sounds for joy and voice. The written script is different in the two tongues. But if you speak one, you understand the other when spoken.”

“Those things don’t make sense to me. They seem…”

“Incongruent?”

“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”

“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”
Thtumblr_map8rtyFut1rqydf2ey stepped prudently around a Brahmin cow lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them at the top of the ghat, man-built stone steps from the upper street level down to the river on their left. The wide passageway with a stairway led to the Ganges or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all rivers in India.  Women washed clothes, locals and pilgrims bathed before prayer time, as always.

“I am so tall and so white; I feel such a foreigner, like a salad at a bake sale.”

Pardesi, Hindi for foreigner. Actually, there is no such thing as an Indian race here.”

Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”

“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans; all the while making a variety of skin tones.

“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.

“I suppose the tropical sun deepens the skin tone, as well.”

Fiona relaxed as she learned more about the infinite mixtures of people. Then she encountered an aroma that she had not smelled before. She asked, “What is that different scent from the other usual ones? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”

He pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes and only an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man, eyes closed, sucked on a tube from the instrument.Old_man_smoking_hookah,_near_Jaipur,_Rajasthan,_India[1]

John said, “That’s called a hookah or a smoking machine used for opium.”

Fiona still confounded said, “Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”

“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests and healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state. He seems to be meditating. In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a pain-killer, medicine uses it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”

“And this man here? Why do you think he is using it?”

“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God. I would say there is only one way to God. Through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.” He chuckled and then sobered.

Fiona fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it. The compass had been Will’s favorite gift ever from Uncle Louis. When he lay dying he left it with her to help her find her way in the world. He knew she might need it in India.

The compass reminded her how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It was not the same without him. His death left her vulnerable to the sailors aboard ship, alone to negotiate quarantine and the sale, as well as the changed arrangements in India. Not only had her circumstances change, so had Pastor John’s, due to his wife’s recent death. Instead of staying with the pastor’s family, she boarded with Ramita, which had turned a benefit. The compass provided the only certainty she had about anything right. North was always north – the compass said so.

YOUR TAKE ON THIS SCENE?

Though I did not use all the items I listed in the stepping the character process, you can see it gave me plenty of ideas to work into a scene. The scene in turn provides interesting details of time and place; as well as, cultural and historical information. It builds the rapport between the two characters through dialogue and actions they take toward each other. Practice this process to see if it is as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Let us know how it works for you. We can all learn from and with each other.