The Whiter Shade Of Pale

Finding your character’s voice is a lot like finding your writer’s voice. It’s not something that can be forced.

Trusting Your Writer's Voice

While I ride the agent query coaster, I started a second book. The logical part of me thinks this is the act of a crazy person but the other 98% is losing sleep over the new project.

The new story was born while editing the first one. Having no choice while I wait out my fate— to stay sane and in my skin—I write during the spare minutes of my day. For a writer with multiple lives—domestic goddess, professional (not that kind), wife, mother, chef, fixer, poet—this sometimes means early in the morning, late at night, between professional meetings (not that kind), on the train, in the bookstore, at the library, and late evenings.

As I pen the pages and these fingers of mine tap dance across the keyboard, I am becoming acquainted with my characters, which is the most fascinating part of my writing process. The first few weeks, I shimmer like a Hollywood holograph between realities, the concrete with four walls one, and the ethereal, hovering above ground and out of reach, one.

I am in a writer’s whiter shade of pale. It’s half way between reality and where a trillion fireflies light up the dark side of the unknown. A writer’s well of words, a storage chest of possibility, an empty room that fills upon entry. It’s a place of wonder, where words flit about on the wings of doves. It’s lofty, it’s celestial, it’s a dark saloon with a long bar lined with red Naugahyde chairs, only found at the edge of nowhere where Sam Spade is tending bar. It’s where a writer hides out from the realism of her life to connect, submerge, give passage to, or simply slip into conversation with her alter ego of imaginary voices and yet to be formed characters.

I do not force my ideas or ideals on an emerging persona. I allow them to evolve on their own without too much nudging. It’s not an exact science. It’s a lot like dating, making a new friend, or taking a new lover. There are coffee dates, lunches, dinners, and sometimes, sleepovers. It takes time to become acquainted with a new lover or friend. I wish it were as easy as inserting my debit card to the ATM machine followed by twenties shooting out for purchasing character attributes  at  Characters R Us, but it’s not. It can take weeks. Money isn’t a currency the imagination understands, not really.

When a character comes to you, they can show up with a full set of Louis Vuitton luggage, or backpack, or a Safeway bag, and sometimes with nothing at all. It’s never the same from story to story or character to character, and for every writer, the process of defining is as unique as a snowflake. I start with a name and have the threadbare tapestry insight to their journey. The rest of their life comes into focus as I go along with them to their journey.

Rosa, my new shero and constant companion, has to make peace with her past, lay some ghosts to rest, confront her sisters, Ibbie, Dulce, and Cha-Cha, as well as help her best friend, Lucille, get on with her own life. None of which is clear to me tonight. All I know as I sit in the bar talking to Sam listening to Patsy Cline—Rosa’s favorite—playing on the Jukebox, is Rosa and I are both aching for something just out of reach. The longing is fierce for me as I type these words. I know this hunger all too well. There is nothing to satisfy me tonight, there are no answers, there is no peace coming with sleep, there is only this hunger and Patsy Cline. It’s going to be a long writer’s night (not that kind).

When what you are  looking for is just out of reach, what do you do?


The artwork is a  painting by Caitlin (my daughter )created for my birthday. She reminded me the words were what I wrote in her graduation card… they seemed fitting for my post, for my life, for the writer in all of us..
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I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

36 thoughts on “The Whiter Shade Of Pale

  1. I confess to being fascinated by this piece Brenda. As someone who tends to be impulsive and make quick decisions, your comments about mulling on your new protagonist were simply fascinating to me (sorry to use the word ‘fascinating’ repeatedly, but that’s the word washing over me in waves! I read this piece several times and your process just blew me away, I truly learned a great deal from it. Thank you so much for your wonderful guidance to a junior writer.

    • Elizabeth – the beauty of blogging and sharing is we all learn from one another. From you I learn more about verse. It’s a special way of pay forward.

  2. Brenda, I love reading your posts because they are pieces of art in themselves. You can create a character so fully and pull me into a story in just a few words. That says a lot about you.

    I give you credit for being able to write with all you do. Aside from editing, I write full time. Yes, I’m a mother and that does take a good chunk of my days–the part when my daughter isn’t in preschool, but I think I get a good amount of writing time in each day and it allows me to do a lot. You manage to find time among everything else, and that’s truly remarkable.

    (I know I didn’t answer your question. I’d say, I keep reaching. Plain and simple. I don’t stop until I get what I want.)

    • Mistress Kelly~ your comment made my eyes leak. My heart bends every time I read your words. I sometimes ponder the content for blog posts. I can certainly conjure more popular topics to write about for purposes of drawing more readers but the writer in me is easily seduced to write what is more interesting to me. Bad? As I sit here in my lighter shade of pale I am enjoying the writing process from the other side of a finished novel. I am wise enough to know each one is different but there is a badge a person earns once they write an entire book. Who knows what is coming for my Stella? In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the bliss of a trillion fireflies lighting my way through the next novel.

  3. I always found I was unhappiest when I’d finished a book. The joy in beings writer is all about the process; being immersed in hat project, that world of characters, for months and months. The best thing you can do to keep sane, is just this, start a new project! Good luck with finding that agent!

    • Thanks kindly, Sandra. It’s early days in the process. I’m sure there will be tears and heartache along the way,but living a passion is never easy. As for the second story, first drafts are never pretty.

  4. Nice Brenda. It never fails…ideas for writing pop into my head while I’m driving with no way to jot anything down. Sometimes I can manage to scramble for a writing implement in my purse, pull my notebook out and scribble something at the stop light. But if I’m on Hwy 1, forget it. Sometimes the thought is lost forever…there could be so many things Rosa is longing for. Keep us updated on her quest.


    • Linda – you need to get one of those portable recorders so you don’t have an accident! :-) I remember, you are on the coast. Never try to write and drive on HWY 1, way to lethal.

  5. Just lovely, Brenda! My cousin wrote a book and had a storyboard right next to her to give her inspiration. Unfortunately, it was a bit fluffy and the people all had too many flashing eyes and tossed curls for my taste, but I think you have to do something more than look at the physical to meet and understand your character. It sounds to me like you are on a good path!

    • Linda, it’s always so much more that curls and blue eyes. I think the writer had to make the characters draw the reader in, hook ’em, make the reader care. There are books I adore for this very reason. I aspire to write the sort of story with characters that hang inside a reader’s heart long after the book is finished. Think about Rhett and Scarlett.. flawed but memorable. Yes?

  6. Brenda, Rosa storyline sounds wonderful already! So many colorful names! I smell spicy, Latina in the air! hee hee! And ChaCha–talk about feisty! I can’t wait to see what you’re cooking up in this new book of yours! :)

    • Bella, Rosa and her sisters are trouble. They have a past, a dead mother to bury, some baggage, some broken hearts, and hell of a lot of love. So very Latin.. at least that’s where I think I am going.

  7. Why is it when I read you, I always exhale and think a whispered yes. My characters hang out with me, too. They talk when they feel like talking and share when they’re ready. It’s my job to listen. Nothing more. I’m not in charge of them and I have no desire to convince them to do things my way.

    • Beth, I think it’s because on some level writers share a common ground. How we get to the end is different but on some level we cross ground. It’s a theory anyway.

  8. Lynne Favreau

    As noted-Brenda has a lovely way of expressing experiences that speak to us.
    Patsy Cline! My favorite cooking music.
    I too find characters in my car. I need to get a voice recorder for those times I can’t jot things down. It’s great when my girls are in the car and can take notes for me.
    Today I was riding the stationary bike, listening to my ipod and a character I’ve been having trouble with—because I hadn’t written a short story for his background (my usual approach to getting into my characters) came in on a song. I floated away reliving his memories of a tough childhood. There I found out what is driving his behavior.

    • Lynne – the funny thing about Patsy and me, not a singer I turn to. I know who she is and could sing her songs the minute she comes on but for this story, this character, I am submerged. I suspect the mind pulls in bits and pieces from a writer’s mind and they all come together at some point. Patsy was there when I stared writing and I suspect she is here for the duration or at least until I get out of the woods of the first draft. I love your story and how you approach a character. A story is a fantastic way to become acquainted with members of the cast. I am keen to master the short story. It’s a goal for the year. So far, three months into the year, I haven’t tried. :-(

  9. When what I’m looking for is out of my reach, I focus on something else or I go for a walk or both. Sometimes, clarity comes to me when I’m out for a brisk walk with my dog. And when that happens, I can’t get home fast enough. My one goal becomes getting to the computer to write it all down before I forget. At my age, I forget easily. 😉

    • I’ve heard some writer’s carry around mini recorders to make notes when the pop in their minds. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing this.. Like you I have those strange flashes of brilliance and if I don’t make a note of it there is no hope of recovering it. I am not sure forgetting is an age thing to be honest. The mind is busy place with much ado about more than nothing.

  10. jan

    excellent, I love the way you have expressed this, not being a writer myself it mystifies me to hear how it comes about for those who are. Everyone seems to be different, but of course that would be the case.

    As far as reaching things that are just about out of reach, well if I want it badly enough I will find a way to reach it.

    • Thanks kindly, Jan. I do enjoy exploring the process. It’s a folly and not always of interest to others, but the blog is where we explore and my corner of the universe. The idea of stretching beyond my reach is something I am well acquainted with. don’t we always push ourselves?

  11. That’s a really nice picture your daughter gave you. It’s great to know you’re working on your second book, Brenda. It’s something I’ve heard from other writers: keep creating. :)

    Whenever things overwhelm me, or seem out of reach, I always go to my freewriting routine. Reading helps, too. I usually calm down when my other voice (not the terrified one) speaks.

    Then, there are things which might never be within reach (I’m not referring to climbing mountains or diving into oceans, but hoping that some people will like you more or care about a particular something more or …), and I need to make myself understand that as well.

    • Thanks, Claudine. It’s sitting on my desk now. I love it, of course. I actually took the plunge and wrote to an author whose writing I admire and books I adore and told her what I was doing. She said to keep writing an gave me some good advice. Reading is key. I squeeze mine in during my train journey to and from work and the weekends. It’s tough. As for your last comment I couldn’t agree more. I arrived at that conclusion last might when I had a rejection on a short story I had written. It’s a good story (says the writer) but it didn’t fit for them.. For the first time EVER I didn’t take it personal.

  12. Beautiful post, Brenda. I love your writing and am waiting to buy that book of yours:) I am so envious of how you squeeze time in your busy day to write, write, write. I am too often distracted by other things and it is something I hate about myself, because it never makes me feel good.

    Characters do come to you in strange ways. I love the layers, peeling back the facade on what they look like, wear etc. and delving deeper into their persona histories and psyches. It’s like getting to know anyone, really.

    • Melissa, It’s the hardest habit to make (kind of like exercise) and I give up a lot to write, but I that’s part of the commitment. I have a read of this post on author, Cathy Lamb’s blog, titled, ‘Blunt Advice if you want to be a writer. What she says is true. Best with your writing. When you’re truly ready for it, you’ll shut out the world for your story. And if you are not and simply enjoy writing for the sake of it, then enjoy it for the peace it brings you.

  13. June O'Hara

    Beautiful, as always. I only write non-fiction (damn!) but the process fascinates me. As does your prose. Again, beautiful.

    • June, I am in the honeymoon phase of writing and enthralled by the process. I should move on to different topics but while in the zone, must enjoy the zone perks.

  14. Wonderful post! I am starting a new project, filling up files with background information for the characters. Even though I don’t know them very well, I am itching to start writing their story.

    • Janel – it’s a wonderful feeling going through the process. I don’t follow an exact process when I write ( although I wish I did because it might save editing time on the back end…maybe)..Enjoy and thanks much for stopping by.

  15. As I enter a horrific time at my day job where I forget things like apply deodorant in the morning (better stand downwind) I am yet in that magical, wonderful place of falling in love with some new characters, their quirks, their problems.

    You describe the firefly feeling so well, I am jealous.

    • I am sorry about your busy period. I wish I had those instead of the ebb and flow all year round–although then I would want the all at once time of year. Then again, I’d like to be working for a start up and wondering if I am going to get paid. :-) Never happy, maybe I’ll be a writer instead. Hang tight, sweetie, you’ll get through the other side.

  16. *****. It’s half way between reality and where a trillion fireflies light up the dark side of the unknown. A writer’s well of words, a storage chest of possibility, an empty room that fills upon entry. It’s a place of wonder, where words flit about on the wings of doves. ***

    Brenda, You. Take. My. Breath. Away.

    Xxxx WOW.

    • Kim, you do make me smile. We share a passion you and I. We live to write, write to live, love to write, live to love. Keep you heart open and what you seek will find you when you least expect it, my sweet woman.

  17. When what I’m looking for is just out of reach, I guess I read YOU, ’cause that’s what I’m doing right now — haha! Mostly I ‘incubate’ — let my mind work it out while I go on with life. As deadlines approach, I start to force myself to write something and I’m usually pretty surprised when it all starts coming together on the page. So, um, this is Thursday night and the deadline is looming, Saturday…or maybe Sunday… We’ll see how it all turns out. Good luck to you with your incubating (or birthing) process, too!!! XO

    • Oh Linda, tingles. I suspect you do what do with that camera of yours most every day. I know what you mean about it coming together- isn’t that an amazing feeling, even if it’s at the last minute. I don’t have deadlines, except for the ones I put on myself. Thanks much for you wonderful comments. I too look to other writers for inspiration. Gook luck with your project, I’m sure you’ll make it.. don’t we always.

  18. As a newb, I learn so much from your posts! Just stellar in their worth and in their words! My week-long ski trip left little time for writing but lots of time for fresh air, exercise and sleep. I had some pretty intense dreams – don’t know what that was all about!!
    Sadly when what I am looking for is just out of reach, I tend to procrastinate. A viscious circle really, because it’s usually time itself that is just out of my reach and procrastination makes it worse. Hmm… irony.
    Great post!

    • Astra, I read once regardless if a writer has written a dozen books, each time he/she sits down to write the next one that it feels like the first. Sure there are lessons learned along the way but each story is new and presents the same challenges. As I’ve started a second book (I think I am supposed to say WIP, but it feels odd to me) that it is going so much smoother (the writing anyway) so I did learn from the first experience, still the story remains new. I lay in bed at night and think..”damn, I forgot about this. .. or she really needs to sound like this, and not that…” In this way I am still a newbie, too. Glad to share my blisters with you. I am thinking I need an island holiday. Now that you mention weird dreams. I had the strangest one last night…

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