Stop, Look, and Listen

stop sign


Did your parents say this to you before you crossed the street on your own for the very first time? My Dad would jokingly tell me to also watch out for trailer trucks and trains. We didn’t live near any train tracks, but he wanted to stress the importance of paying attention. My husband reminds my daughter and myself that whenever shopping alone, we must notice our surroundings to avoid a bad situation. Unless of course you are a courageous, cane wielding Ninja—which sadly, I am not (but maybe I might write about one).

Today you rarely see anyone walking without conversing on their phone, texting, or listening to an MP3 player. As a result, you have to be even more cognizant of what is going on around you. Not just so you won’t fall off the curb and scuff those adorable shoes you just bought on sale, but also when you are with other people.

Every now and again do you get an email/text from someone and say, “Huh? What do they mean by that?” Emails/texts can be very confusing, especially with all the initialisms (like OMG). You can’t see the other person’s facial expression or hear the tone in their voice. Did they mean that remark as a joke even if it wasn’t followed by LOL? Now, I am the first to admit that most of the time I am not smart enough to own my smart phone. And yes, I still type my texts in full sentences most of the time. But I am sure I am not the only one who ever misunderstood the intention of a text/email.

One or two more emails/texts usually clarifies the intent. But when we are with someone, do we really notice if our friend or family member is twirling the ends of her hair or biting her lower lip because she is nervous about something. What is that they do to get our attention to what they are really trying to convey? When my daughter was a toddler I worked from home. I was constantly tempted to always be “on the job”. There were times that I had to make business calls. Of course, she would decide that was when she needed me most and came up with quite a clever way to get my attention. Perhaps you have heard of this method-she would call ‘Mommy!’ over and over and over again.

When I ended my call, sat down with her, and listened to her ‘story of the day’; her face lit up! Then she went about her business and didn’t really need me again –until I made my next call.

There are times now when I am in the middle of writing or checking my email that I am half listening to what she is telling me. She resorts to what still works to get my attention. Yup, an oldie but a goody- “Mom, Mom, M-O-O-O-O-M!” That is usually enough to make me stop and really be present with her. I can also watch her reactions to my responses and gauge if she really understands what I am saying. Or if she is just telling me what she thinks I want to hear. The one exception to this rule is that I can always tell when she is rolling her eyes at me whether she is facing me or not. She really hates that.

When I am writing I know that the reader will have no idea what the character is feeling unless I show them. My main character, Yuriko, in my manuscript The Last Cherry Blossom, balled her hands into fists and tapped the sides of her legs whenever she was anxious. Her best friend would place a lock of hair behind her ear when feeling the same emotion. As I work on my characters I make a spreadsheet (with the ancient tools of pen and paper). I have columns in which I list( I love my lists) assorted facial expressions or body language I have observed real people using in various circumstances. I then decide which one would work best for whom I am writing about. That way I can keep track of each character’s emotional cues so that I am consistent throughout the story. (While working on my many, many revisions, my agent recommended the book The Emotion Thesaurus, A Writer’s Guide To Character Expressions by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It is a great resource!)

If I do not put the effort into creating a character that is realistic then the reader will not want to put the effort into reading the next page. Just as when I am with someone, I need to invest my attention to what they are saying or reacting to at the moment. I would want them to do the same for me. Most of the time I think I do okay, at least I hope I am. I find that happens in my prayer life as well.  Sometimes I feel like I am just going through the motions and not getting as much out of it as I should.  I am so grateful that God can always make time to notice me and what is going on in my life. Even if I still need a reminder every now and again.

This weekend I will be attending the SCBWI Carolinas, To Tell A Tale conference. I am definitely looking forward to soaking up as much as my  ol’ brain can handle. I am big into taking notes (but you know that already). However, I also need to stop myself so that I look at the presenter and really listen to their great advice so I may truly enjoy and participate.

Have you ever received a message that had you asking, “Huh?”

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