Keli Gwyn
Facing Our Fears

What are you afraid of? Spiders? Heights? Losing your job?

One of my biggies is snakes. Particularly large, poisonous ones.

I set off on a walk one recent afternoon and soon found myself immersed in the beauty of the glorious fall day. My mind whirled with blog post ideas. A sense of peace filled me.

When I crested a gentle rise, two men on mountain bikes were parked, one next to a fence the other on the shoulder opposite, engrossed in conversation. There was plenty of room for me to pass between them, so I forged ahead with a determined stride.

Upon reaching the cyclists, the bushy-bearded man nearest me said, “Are you going to walk right by the snake?”

“What snake?” I asked.

He glanced at the left side of the trail, and my gaze followed.

There was a snake all right. A five-foot-long rattlesnake took up half of the trail. With the bikers parked on each side of it, the only way for me to get past that snake was to walk beside the diamond-backed reptile, one that was very much alive.

In the past I would’ve screamed, run, or both. I’ve grown more courageous in recent years, though. I saw that the snake was presently immobile, its head pointed away from me. I remembered my husband telling me snakes move more slowly when the weather cools. I realized I could pass by it and finish my walk or give in to my fear and turn around.

With a boldness I didn’t know I possessed, I strode right by that rattler. It didn’t move, but the heads of those men did as they followed my progress. I caught a glimpse of the bearded man’s face as he gaped in disbelief.

He wasn’t the only one shocked. I’d surprised myself. Thoughts raced through my mind. I just walked within two feet of a live rattlesnake. It could have bit me. It didn’t. I’m OK. Wow! I’m as brave as my heroine who faced one of the poisonous creatures.

My feeling of victory stayed with me throughout the next two miles.

And then I remembered that I had to pass that way again.

As I approached the portion of the trail where I’d encountered the snake, I had to force myself not to slow my steps. This time I knew what I might find, and fear slithered into my over-active mind.

No one was around, so I talked to myself. You did it before; you can do it again. Courage is simply facing our fears and doing it anyway.”

I remembered something my husband has often said to me. “Eighty percent of what we fear never happens.”

The Lord’s words to Joshua came to mind. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid.”

I marched up that hill, and guess what I saw?

Nothing.

The snake was gone.

I completed my walk, feeling a sense of accomplishment. That’s not to say I’m OK with rattlesnakes now, but I realized I can allow my fears to keep me from getting where I want to go, or I can face them as I did that day and achieve my goals.

• • •

What fears and phobias do you have? How do you choose to deal with them?

Can you recall a time when you faced a fear head-on and felt a feeling of mastery?

(rattlesnake image from istockphoto)
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Keli Gwyn
5 Steps for Completing Character Arcs

I’ve become one of those people. The ones you see when you’re driving down the road who are walking with determined strides and annoying smiles on their faces, reminding you that your exercise regimen could use some attention. The very people who used to instill guilt each time I saw one of them briskly covering ground while I sat on my backside.

On 11/1/11 I received my osteoporosis diagnosis. The next day I implemented my plan to regain bone health through regular exercise.

I’m happy to report that I’ve exercised at least 30 minutes a day for two weeks running. Not only that, but I’m actually having fun. I was seen walking along the trail yesterday wearing a grin, and I bounded into Curves for my circuit training the day before.

I’m proof it’s possible for a person to undergo significant change. Before the diagnosis I durn near despised exercise, but look at me now.

As I walked, I got to thinking about my main characters. Like me, they can be resistant to change. My job is to force them out of their comfort zones, help them face their fears, and take them to new places in life where they are ultimately stronger and happier.

To help my main characters complete their character arcs, I send each of them on a journey involving five steps.

1. An interruption in life as they know it. This is what some call the “inciting incident.” Something happens that forces a character to deal with a situation, shaking things up.

2. The realization that they can cling to the status quo and remain in their comfort zones or plot new courses and gain the promise of achieving something more valuable.

3. They reach a point where they realize their ways of approaching life is no longer working and they have no choice but to adopt new ways of dealing with the situation.

4. A futile attempt when things look the worst of going back to old ways of coping, only to discover that those methods no longer work because their situations and, more important, they have changed dramatically.

5. Ultimate acceptance of a new way of dealing with the world around them, resulting in the completion of their character arcs. They are different people with new traits and deeper levels of maturity, which have shaped them into stronger people as a result of the hardships they’ve endured and challenges they’ve overcome.

I raced through the first three steps in this process. Upon receiving the diagnosis, I quickly accepted the need to change, the short-term goal being improving my bone health and the long-term goal being avoidance of a life-threatening hip fracture later in life.

I’ve had two weeks of success, but I’ve lived long enough to know my determination will be tested. I’ll wake up one morning and find it’s raining when I’m scheduled to take a walk. The temptation will be there to skip a day of exercise.

What I’m counting on is that I will reach a place when I feel the desire to workout or walk even on days when it would be easier not to. At that point I’ll know my character arc is complete because I’ve undergone lasting change.

 • • •

What steps do you put your characters through as their character arcs are completed?

How do you deal with the need to make significant changes in your own life?

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Keli Gwyn
Copyediting with Keli: Excited about Exclamation Points!

I’m excited to be talking about exclamation points!

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39mTggYOACQ&w=420&h=315]

I make generous use of them in emails and blog comments, especially when a friend has received good news. I had to learn that they’re to be used sparingly in my stories, though.

Someone likened exclamation points to cayenne pepper. A little can add zing to a pot of chili, but too much can spoil the batch.

What helps me is to remember that an exclamation point is generally used to punctuate an exclamation, which—according to my trusty dictionary—is “a sudden cry or remark, especially expressing surprise, anger, or pain.”

I try to remember that everything in a sentence of dialogue preceded by an exclamation point is being shouted.

Here are some examples of exclamations where an exclamation point is warranted . . .

A frazzled mother reprimanding a toddler pulling the dog’s tail for the umpteenth time: “Stop that this minute!”

An obstinate two-year old refusing to do what his mother wants: “No!”

A woman who just stuck a needle in her finger: “Ow!”

Me when I opened the email saying my Dream Agent wanted to discuss the possibility of representation: “Oh my gosh!”

When I judge unpublished contest entries, I often see an abundance of exclamation points. This can be a tip-off that the work is from a newer writer.

By limiting the number of exclamation points in my stories, I can show the emotion through the words I use rather than relying on exclamation points to tell the reader how surprised a character is.

When we use exclamation points sparingly and only for short, shouted exclamations we can avoid making our writing too spicy.

• • •

When it comes to exclamation points, do your pour them in your stories or sprinkle?

• • •

To see all my Copyediting with Keli videos, visit Keli Gwyn’s YouTube channel.

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Keli Gwyn
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