One of the themes I weave through a story I’m writing is communication. I bring out the theme in the way people talk or don’t talk, and the way they hide from or connect with others.
Digger is a character in the story and I use her often to give the reader backstory. She has a physical injury that impairs her speech, and people who meet her think she has a mental deficiency. Digger chooses to keep to herself, and she uses the false impression to make sure people stay out of her world.
Having access to her thoughts, the reader learns just how much Digger has to give, if only she would.
I came upon a site that helps writers develop their stories, and it shared a writing exercise: “Ask your character a question.” So, I asked Digger to tell me how she felt about the way her family communicates with each other.
There was a time when our gatherings together were special. Almost sacred. Breakfast, talk about what’s to come. Dinner, talk about what you’re planning to fix. And the holidays? Nothing better.
You didn’t do all the talking. You shared. You had your time. You gave us some precious bits about what you’re tending to. The big people and the children, both. Oh, the laughing. And, sometimes, tears. Everybody was alive, like music, like a fire. All that crackling goodness.
Even me. I’d talk up back then. It took a while for my words, and they would be patient and try to understand. But I made it through what I had to say, and they’d holler and pat me on the back. I’d rest in that love for another day.
Those were wonderful times, but it has been a while since.
Listen. Francine is my cousin and I love her. But she’s carrying on with that pretend smile. She does not fool me a minute.
Com-mun-i-cate. That’s how she says it, like it breaks her to have to remind us.
She has her little rules, where before it was just a God-breathed sort of thing. Natural. Francine is so busy trying to force us to com-mun-i-cate that she’s forgotten what it means.
Like laughing with the kids and sharing their tunes. Like spilling and forgiving. Like using your eyes for looks of love, not tearing down.
When Jerome left us, it’s like her soul went with him. She loved that man like the end of the world, and when he left — well. He’s dead. A terrible, terrible accident. Francine, she became like an empty box. We keep trying to fill her up, but she wants other things. She’s tired of us, I fear. All the years she put into her family don’t mean nothing now. She has her singing times, and that’s giving her what she needs.
She’s pretty, too. A beauty. But she might as well look like me with what’s going on inside herself. Just an ugly, empty box. And trying to fill herself up with what? Whistles and tips from drunks in a bar.
My Lord. I wish I could com-mun-i-cate to her how much she’s hurting her kids. Do this, don’t do that, say this, don’t say that. Hush, I’m rehearsing. Go away, I’m tired. Aunt Winnie will fix your hair. Go to bed. See you tomorrow. I’ll be home late.
She might as well be cutting out their hearts, the way she says those words.
Lena. Her eyes are saggy and she’s only thirteen. It’s a shame. You know, I never had that chance. No babies, no man, no friends. If I had a baby girl to hold, give her a true word, tell her she’s pretty, I’d do it so warmly, so well, and so often, you’d know I was in love with that sweet thing.
That’s how to communicate. There’s too many people around here not saying what they mean, and not meaning what they say. A big fine mess is what it is.
I hope Francine gets back to her old self soon before her children lose their way. “Suffer not the little children,” you know. That’s what the Bible says.
I apologize if I’m saying too many strong words against my cousin. We’re talking about family here! But, for her defense, I must say that the girl can sing. You might want to go on down there to hear her. She has a gift! Everybody says so. You’ll leave feeling like you heard from God. Like an angel telling you it’s gonna be all right. ∞
I really enjoyed this writing exercise. It helped me get to know my character better, and it gave me new ideas for the story. Digger needs to practice what she preaches! Want to read more posts about characters from this story? Click here and here.