Our Stories

by Julie, drinking gingerale and eating saltines in Somerville. T’is the season.

I recently became a certified life coach. Now, when I started to take the classes I thought that since I’ve been a teacher for years, worked in many capacities, mentored and run workshops, I knew everything there was to know. The classes would just be a piece of paper.

Boy, was I wrong.

For those of you who don’t know what life coaching is, think of it this way. It’s about setting goals and moving forward. There are times when it includes dealing with issues that are keeping you stuck, but it is not the same as therapy. Often therapists and coaches will work together, but the process is very different.

Which brings me to the topic of stories. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately.

Each of us on this blog is a storyteller. We revel in creating worlds, developing characters and creating plots that both delight and confound our readers.

But what about the stories we tell ourselves? The stories that we believe without challenging them? In the coaching trade we call these limiting beliefs. They can include “I’m fat”, or “I can’t sing” or “I could never write a book”. Think about this for yourself. What have you always believed and never questioned about yourself? What would change if you changed that story?

That shift can be powerful. When I work with folks, or do the work on myself, I enjoy seeing the change that shifts can bring.

I’ve also been thinking about my characters. What are their beliefs? Which of those beliefs are limiting? Does a strong sleuth, like Lilly Jayne, push past her limiting beliefs in the name of justice? Or has she worked them out already? Is that what makes her so aware of the human condition?

Is a character who is more aware of their foibles more interesting than a character who has them but moves through life unaware? As I’m working on book #4, I’m thinking a lot about that. What are the stories the characters have told themselves? How can other people figure that out? For me, this is adding another layer of complexity to what is already a fairly complex story.

Readers, do you like characters who are self-aware, or characters who are who they are and clueless about their impact?

26 Thoughts

  1. I like characters in transition. Ones who are self-aware enough that they are able to have empathy and know that it isn’t all about them thus able to share the stage with other characters, but who are still growing and learning about themselves.

    As a life coach, Julia, would you agree that everyone is a work in progress? Or is there a finish line?

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    1. I definitely think everyone is a work in progress as long as they are willing to change. For me, I suspect my finish line will be my final breath. I’m too curious otherwise.

      I like characters who are a work in progress as well. But who learn and change.

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  2. Interesting questions, Julie. Limiting beliefs – something to check into.

    And how great you can bring the coaching work and skills into your writing! I hope the ginger ale and saltines don’t mean you’re sick – except that’s what I eat with stomach ailments. Feel better soon.

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    1. Thanks Edith. I have that stomach bug that seems to be ailing a lot of folks this year.

      I’ve found that thinking about my limiting beliefs has been eye opening. Not always easy, but an interesting journey.

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  3. Personally, I think the most interesting characters are some where in the middle.To be self assured, but yet always looking to to change without being all about “me” is what I think we all hope to achieve and want in the characters we love to read about.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  4. Enjoyed this post, Julie! As long as a character is moving forward with his/her life, I’m excited to read the story. Self-aware or not. It’s actually fun to see a person take a leap without knowing why, as that reinforces my hunch that all of us have the instinct to propel ourselves to a better place in our lives. Can you tell there are thousands of Snow Geese quacking above my roof as they make their to the snow-covered cornfields for a meal before continuing their journey north? No goose therapists required! –kate, writing as C. T. Collier, The Penningtons Investigate

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    1. Kate, I love the image of folks propelling! So true. Those leaps make a character’s arc so interesting, and long as they are somewhat believable.

      Best of luck with the snow geese. That noise–not my favorite.

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  5. I agree with others. I like characters who are in the middle. Self-aware, but always looking to grown and improve (and sometimes need someone else to help them find those growth opportunities).

    As for myself, I wish I hadn’t convinced myself I was bad at math all those years ago. Not that I wanted a math-based career, but the classes I could have taken and things I could have learned if I hadn’t said, “Oh, I’m so bad at math, I could never do that.”

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    1. Mary/Liz, that’s exactly the sort of story that I’m talking about. At somepoint someone told you you weren’t good at math, and you never questioned it. So many of these stories are conditioned into us. My “I wish I had questioned it” is not thinking I could sing.

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  6. I read a lot of books and my favorites are ones where the main character is strong…one who maybe does not know what is going to happen next, but is ready to dig down and get things done. However, sometimes I read a book where the main character is in transition from one phase of her life to another and I like that, too. Relatability in the characters is important, do I like them…would we be friends…do I care about them? And, I know if I like a character early on in the book. Wish I could pin down exactly why that is, but I know it when I read it. Would I like characters who are working with a life coach? Having just read the non-fiction book by Clint Harp entitled Handcrafted in which he did have a life coach…I enjoyed that aspect of the book. So, a fictional character in need of some help figuring out direction would be OK.

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    1. Judy, maybe I should bring a life coach into the next book! I like what you said about the sleuth needed to be reliable. As mystery readers, we do expect our narrator, or our central protagonist, to be reliable. I do read books with unreliable narrators, but as a series I’m not sure it would work.

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  7. Food for thought, Julie.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but in relationship to a close family member, who seems to have completely rewritten the story of her own life, leaving behind all the negative bits. Which negates a great deal of the stories of those who lived around her at the time. This situation is challenging me, in many ways, not all of them positive. I think we do have a huge capacity to change our own stories.

    Congratulations on becoming a life coach, I think you’ll be a good one. When the occupation was in its infancy, in the ’70s, my mentor hired one for me. Other than the goal-setting, all I can remember of her advice was “carry a nice pen”.

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    1. Oh Karen, “carry a nice pen”. Interesting advice.

      Regarding your family member, it always amazes me that everyone can have such different memories of the same period of time. My sisters and I are always having conversations about our shared childhood that end up with one of us saying “where were you?”. I do think rewriting is a bit different, and I can imagine how challenging it is. Why they are compelled to rewrite is an interesting question, but that goes into other territories.

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  8. Feel better, Julie! I think characters in a book are on a spectrum of self-awareness, just like the people in our real lives. I have to say as a reader, I love characters who have no self-awareness because books that feature them are usually tour de forces (can that be plural?) of showing not telling.

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  9. Iā€™m at that point where I am aware of my issues but too lazy to confront them. It would be the perfect opportunity for some character growth if I were a character in a book.

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  10. Like many others here, I like my characters to be in the process of growing and becoming aware of what they can be and accomplish in life. Any character who says of herself, I don’t (can’t) do such and such is going to be boring and has no chance of being a successful series character. (By the way, I feel the same way about real people.) Clearly, that doesn’t not include you!

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