Monday, January 5, 2009

Three Cheers for ROUTINE

Whew! For the first day in many days, my life has returned to a routine. The last of my far-flung children and grandchildren caught a flight out this morning at 5 a.m., and I'm back at my desk, catching up on the holiday's accumulation of work. (Although, I have a feeling I'll still be stepping on the toy pieces left behind by my grandkids for months to come!)

This year's holiday season didn't fit the "norm" (do they ever?). We didn't even decorate our Christmas tree until December 26th. And we didn't exchange gifts until New Year's Day, but when twelve of us Downes gathered in our home to celebrate the holidays, it still felt like Christmas, regardless of what date appeared on the calendar. Over the extended holiday weekend, we watched old family videos of our years in Korea, engaged in a battle of the sexes in our annual Cranium competition (as always, the females won!), played in the snow, ate lots and lots of good food, made lots of messses, and generally enjoyed each other's company.

But a mother can only take so much chaos. As much as I love my family, it is nice to see a return to normalcy.

Don't get me wrong. There's still plenty of action going on around here. I'm not sitting around and twiddling my thumbs. But life has resumed its familiar chaos.

I've read conflicting arguments by writing experts as to whether or not a story's action should keep up a frantic pace throughout the book. Donald Maass recommends never letting up on the action, while others advise letting the reader take a breather from the high intensity every now and then. My personal preference is for stories to keep the action going--don't ever let up on the gas. However, that doesn't mean the characters can't return to a place of routine in the story.

Sometimes a glimpse into the character's routine, life prior to the heat of the story's battle, can give the reader insight into the character that we might not know otherwise. Skillfully used, a return to normalcy and routine for your character can replace the need for backstory and still reveal a character's nature, issues, and growth areas.

Who knows, my life may slow down to a point that I can take down the Christmas decorations before Easter rolls around! Here's to a healthy and happy 2009 for all you Edit Cafe readers and Barbour authors!


Mary Connealy said...

I do love routine.

I got to spend a day in the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City on my Christmas vacation, very fun, interesting stuff that will make a difference in my books, I think.

Example........I saw an engraved invitation to a hanging. All tidy and professionally printed with lines to fill in for day and time.

How weird is that??? :)

Anyway, it was all interesting. I'm currently fascinated by long horn cattle.

Karen said...

I'm with you and Mary, Susan. Good to be back in routine. Our Christmas started way before Thanksgiving with babysitting our grands 5 and 2 for eight days, then having their parents for another 10 days with the rest of our kids and grandkids (count 13 people) joining us over the long weekend for turkey and Christmas celebrations. I love 'em but I was really wiped out by the time they left. However, my wonderful husband had us "skip" Christmas at home and cruise the Caribbean so I am rested and back at the keyboard. Yay!

Erica Vetsch said...

I am all about the routine. Even when my days are crazy busy, if it's crazy busy I'm used to and can plan out, I'm good.

Now that end of year bookkeeping has calmed down, I can get back to the homeschooling and writing. Yay!

CatMom said...

Thanks for this post, the pictures of those children! (are all of those your Grandchildren?!).~ I truly learned the importance of routine as I taught school for 21 students seemed to thrive on it. Sometimes a slight deviation from our normal schedule seemed to be upsetting for my little ones (although they often adjust better than adults-LOL!). Happy 2009 to you, Patti Jo :)

Susan said...

Hey, Mary, you were in my old stompin' grounds in OKC over the holidays. Here's a bit of trivia...I attended the grand opening of the original "Cowboy Hall of Fame," which is now called the National Cowboy Museum. I was HONESTLY just a child!

Karen, I'm envious of your holiday cruise. One of these days!

Erica, I'm enjoying a delightful day at my Barbour office in Uhrichsville...savoring the routine.

Blessings, all.

Susan said...

Hey, Patti Jo,

Yes, the kiddos pictured are my 4 grandkids. The sofa shot shows 17-mo-old Corbin kissing little Malakai on the cheek while Kaden holds him and his sister, Kinsley, gives an adoring pat. We managed to get them to sit still all of about 30 seconds to snap the pic.

Kinsley and her cousin Corbin are taking a sled ride on our dusting of snow. They even managed to gather enough snow for a snowman--a big deal for the Texas wing of the family.

Janet Spaeth said...

Interesting comment about the pacing. I just finished reading a collection of 3 mystery novellas. I'd only read one of the authors before (and I've read all her mystery novels), but interestingly, hers was my least favorite, and partially because her pacing wasn't as tight as the other two writers. Her main character would pause and do normal workaday things, and my mind kept trying to relate them to the mystery at hand--which never happened. It made for a less satisfying mystery, although not a horrible one.

So I'm with you (and Maass)--let's keep propelling the reader forward, but even in the quieter scenes, something should be being advanced. I think that's especially true of mysteries.

As far as routine, there's no such thing in my life. Sigh. But it's something I dream of. One day, maybe?

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I'm with you and Janet on pacing--I like the action to roll. If I'm skimming, that means nothing is happening! I prefer stories that move with fun action. I started Mary's Calico Canyon yesterday and LAUGHED OUT LOUD from the first page. Ok, so fun is good,too.

Your grandkids are sooo cute. I do remember those days when mine were small, but I haven't reached your stage yet.

This Christmas break my house was filled full with teens and early
20s--and they EAT. And are LOUD. And they make me laugh. It was fun to see the boys who either lived with us (or nearly did) come back now that they're on their own feet.

I can't imagine it if they bring wives and kids. I think I'll need more groceries!!

Beth Loughner said...


I'm like you. I like normalcy in my life, but not my books. Too boring. I had one reader write that my "Bay Island" was too stressful for her because the pace didn't let up. Most readers, including myself, love constant movement.

And like you, it seems like our Christmas festivities really stretched out this year. It started with volunteering at Ohio Village as a 1850s character for their Dicken's of a Christmas and won't officially end until our college daughter's final-fling-of a-party-before-heading-back-to-college party tomorrow night. Then maybe we can return back to normalacy. :-)