First off, I would like to thank Holly Schindler and the other folks at Smack Dab in the Middle for hosting me on the first stop of my Narine of Noe blog tour.
If you aren’t familiar with my blog, I enjoy using real life events, lessons, stories, etc as jumping off points for writing exercises. Life, as we all know it, can be stranger than fiction. But more than that, if, as a writer, I examine closely what it means to be human, where the messiness of being alive and functioning happens, it helps me to develop “believable” characters and situations, even while writing fantasy in a world where there are no humans!
Due to recent events in my life I have been thinking a lot about both perspective and intention.
My husband is a conflict resolution specialist. He once said, “The source of conflict is any time something that we care about is affected in some way. A consistent contributing factor to conflict is a misattribution of intent.”
If we look at the world (and the people in it) as a place that intends to do us harm, and the people around us as people looking to be cruel and hurtful, then we will often perceive their actions as cruel and hurtful no matter what they do or say. In my house we call this “looking for evidence.” And if we are really stuck in our story, even when someone tries to share their true intentions, we often don’t believe them. The evidence speaks for itself, right?
(NOTE: this is not to trivialize nor ignore situations in which people DO live in places where they are literally physically at risk.)
As a writer, this idea of misattribution of intent is useful for plot and character development. I know that I personally hate it when my intentions are questioned or misinterpreted. How can I prove what my intentions were? All the other person has is my word and when someone doesn’t trust my intent, it’s a difficult space from which to untangle a conflict.
As a reader, I find that I greatly sympathize with characters whose intentions are misunderstood. Especially when the intentions are good-hearted and sincere. For example, your character could give a heart-felt gift to someone that they interpret as rubbing something in their face, teasing them, etc. and the cycle of hurt begins.
Another use of this idea in storytelling is to place an innocent into a dangerous situation (or humorous one, for that matter) in which they believe everyone’s intentions are good when they are actually not.
In Narine of Noe, I take both of these ideas to the extreme. Narine is fairly innocent. She has no reason not to trust the intentions of those around her, in particular her best friend and the wise World Sages. However, the energetic balance of the world shifts and, save for Narine and a few others who were protected, no one trusts anyone’s intentions any longer. The miscommunication and accusations grow until there are disastrous results. Most heart-breaking is that her own best friend now sees her intentions as selfish, vindictive, scheming – and no matter what Narine says, she cannot convince her otherwise.
So, here’s a fun writing exercise. Take a scene you have already written and play with both the intentions of each character AND the misinterpretation of those intentions. Through a certain lens, have a character see the world as completely against her and each statement or action as proof. Can love look like cruelty? Can generosity appear as mocking? Can an innocent question appear as accusation or blame? What kind of tension and conflict can you create using misunderstanding of intention?
And if you don’t have a scene try out this timed writing exercise:
1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes. Using the start line below, write without stopping and without editing. If you get stuck, just write about being stuck (gosh, I’m stuck, my mind feels like a piece of cheese…) OR just keep writing the start line over with a different response each time.
Start line: My characters had such good intentions when he/she . . .
2) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes. Using one of the start lines below, write without stopping and without editing.
Start line: My character was completely misunderstood when she . . .
3) Set your timer for 7-10 minutes. Using one of the start lines below, write without stopping and without editing.
Start line: Feeling misunderstood, my character builds a wall around herself that looks like . . .
Happy writing and Happy New Year!
Anyone interested in writing a review for any of Books 1-3 can contact Danika at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free ebook copy of the omnibus edition. Just mention you saw the offer on this site.
Danika Dinsmore is an award-winning author, performance artist, and educator. Over the past 25 years she has developed content for the page, stage, screen, and web. Danika currently works and plays in speculative fiction with an emphasis on juvenile & young adult literature. Inspired by her children’s fantasy adventure series FAERIE TALES FROM THE WHITE FOREST, she developed her interactive Imaginary Worlds Tours, performing and teaching world-building & creative writing at schools, conferences, and festivals across North America.
She writes about the creative life and posts exercises on her blog: danikadinsmore.com and shoots her mouth off on Twitter @danika_dinsmore
Also, Danika is hosting a giveaway of a print copy of Narine of Noe! Just fill out the form below; giveaway ends January 21.