Life Ambience

Glowing-Street-Light--59343I found a great word today:

Ambedo: ‘A kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—which leads to a dawning awareness of the haunting fragility of life.’

Then, looking it up, I discovered the real meaning of ambedo is to gnaw or nibble.


But the fanciful meaning engaged my mental gears.

Repetitions of sensory encounters can leave impressions that last years. We forget about them and suddenly there they are again, comfortable or frightful. I won’t dwell on the latter, but I am reminded of certain things.

When one is young, house noises can be large and scary. But we soon forget they are there and we grow up, move away, and come home only for visits, perhaps.

We lie in our old bed, the house is quiet, we hear the thunk the fridge makes when it turns off and on. There’s a lamppost outside that throws light through the crack in the blinds and creates the warm glowing reflection on the portrait of the grandparents on the wall. Someone left the bathroom fan on, which hums softly, with the faintest of squeaks every 8th rotation. And we fall asleep easily with the sensation of being swaddled by the familiarity and security of the subconscious memories.

The day my husband proposed to me he was wearing his leather jacket. Smells are high impact sensory triggers. Each spring and fall when he pulled out his leather jacket and wore it, guess what memories, thoughts and feelings went through my head? Just a smell, and I was pulled out of place and time to somewhere else.peonies21I finally have some mature peonies growing in my garden, and what do I feel when I cup one of those puffy big blooms in my hands? I am 7 years old again, in my Oma’s garden, and she is creating in me an awareness of the beauty and variety of flowers and birds that I’d never realized before. Flowers were no longer just flowers. They were cosmos, and marigolds, and delphiniums–oh my! And I draw a deep breath of the sweet fragrance of my peony and remember the wonder of those days.

And what is it with rain? We don’t get too much around here, so maybe that’s why I can still enjoy it. But something I have not yet figured out is why I get the urge, in a hot summer storm or downpour, to dash out barefoot and dance in it? Is it something about being washed clean, (as if I never take a shower? 🙂 ) More likely, I just want to be a part of the wildness, the energetic charged ions in the air. Free from all restraints. And I remember learning the beauty of a thunderstorm from my mother, watching from our covered porch every flash in the sky.shutterstock_111999368

Sights without attached memories can influence and absorb us. Why do we like to skip stones on a still lake, watching the ripples? Or walk through woods with sounds and smells so different to what most of us know in the cities? Why do we like our chosen coffee or tea? Is it the taste, our morning ritual, or the ambience they wrap our souls in?

It’s cause and effect.

Take note all my writer readers–sensory perceptions and their influences on your characters and story can help with fleshing it all out and creating mood.

Ambedo” does exist, although not by that name. What are some of your “ambedo” moments?


Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Event Reminder–Tonight

Reminder–Book Launch of Gabriele Goldstone’s Broken Stone–TONIGHT @ McNally’s, Wpg.


The Anita’s are proud to announce the launch of Gabe’s latest book, Broken Stone.

Please join us in The Atrium of McNally Robinson Booksellers’ at 7:00pm on November 26th, 2015 for the long awaited launch of Broken Stone.

Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Up Your Antagonist’s Ante

Everybody loves to hate the bad guy—but aren’t you ever curious about what makes him tick? Shining a light on the root cause of your antagonist’s bad behaviour or cracking his armour with a sliver of good can actually make him more compelling. Unless you have a specific reason to inflict a non-human adversary on your protagonist or create over-the-top comic book villain malevolence, your story will be more powerful if you make your antagonist relatable.

Your antagonist should be every bit as well developed as your protagonist. Start BEFORE he hits the pages of your novel by exploring his backstory. Write in first person so that you can slide right into your antagonist’s skin and get to know how he views the world. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Woundedness often lies below the surface of bad behaviour. What happened to your antagonist to make him an adversary? Compelling incidents spark empathy in readers. Even a small sliver of compassion toward the story antagonist can inspire conflict between rooting for the good guy and wanting the bad guy to find his way—and that increases story tension. At the very least, letting readers know how your antagonist was wounded helps them to understand why he behaves the way he does. Consciously or unconsciously, readers always ask WHY.
  2. A truly convicted antagonist is a hero in his own eyes. A conviction that what he is doing is right empowers him to go to any lengths to gangster-539993get it. Consider religious fervour, for example, so deeply grounded in conviction that it becomes powerful and, if misguided, dangerous. In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the police inspector—Javert—holds an unwavering belief in the system of law that sends him on the ruthless pursuit of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who has transformed his life and helped many others.
  3. Give your antagonist a fatal flaw—the one characteristic that can bring him down. For example, everyone has something they are afraid of and does their best to avoid. What terrifies your antagonist? Let your protagonist use this fear against him.
  4. Don’t forget to add some good traits. Perhaps the antagonist is a passionate advocate for animals, or in love with one of your main character’s friends. A delightful sense of humour or incomparable charm increase an antagonist’s complexity, compounding the struggle the protagonist faces. In the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Severus Snape is fascinatingly complicated, cold and sarcastic, but those qualities hide deep anguish and an undying love and loyalty toward Harry’s mother.
  5. Intelligent antagonists keep readers on the edge of their seats just waiting to discover how he will get around the protagonist’s advances.
  6. Sometimes the antagonist isn’t really a bad guy, but someone who wants or needs something so badly for a higher purpose that he’s willing to do anything to get it—even bad stuff. For example, if your main character needs to win the race in order to support his new born daughter and the antagonist needs to win the race to pay for his mother’s medical bills, both characters have compelling reasons to be first to the finish line.
  7. Even when the primary antagonist is non-human antagonist—like a particular setting, the weather, a ferocious beast or supernatural forces—the impact of that antagonist can be increased if you offer a parallel threat through a human character. For example, social injustice is personified in The Hunger Games through the character of President Snow. In The Help, Hilly Holbrook gives flesh and blood to racial bigotry.

Once you’ve figured out how to up your antagonist’s ante, ensure he exerts a powerful presence over your manuscript by adding notes about his or her POV to your outline or draft. If you don’t let yourself lose sight of his impact on your story, your readers won’t be able to put him out of mind either.

Deborah is the author of three books for young people and a wide array of non-fiction articles. She serves as the editorial director for Rebelight Publishing Inc. and the director of news services for Mennonite Church Canada.

My How Picture Books Have Changed

He’s from Winnipeg and he’s receiving an international award for his life time of work researching, critiquing, writing about, and creating children’s literature.

distinguished lecture and reception perry nodelmanOn November 12, I attended a distinguished lecture by Perry Nodelman a University of Winnipeg Professor Emeritus.  Perry was being recognized by the university because he is the 2015 recipient of the Brothers Grimm Award presented by The International Institute for Children’s Literature. You can learn more about Perry’s long list of accomplishments in the field of children’s literature here.

IMG_2039Perry’s lecture last week traced the history of children’s picture books in a very personal way as Perry compared his own experiences with picture books as a child in the 1940s, with those of his children and grandchildren.  

words about picturesIn 1998 Perry wrote a text about children’s picture books called Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books.  It has never been out of print during the ensuing twenty seven years, a rarity for a university text. In his lecture Perry talked about how he might expand the ideas in Words About Pictures to address new developments in the world of children’s books if he was writing his text today. 

perry nodelmanPerry said he would need to write about the current popularity of comics and graphic novels.  He would have to address the growing demand for more diversity in picture books so that children of different cultures, races, income levels and family arrangements would have their lives reflected in picture books. He would include books from other countries and he would examine picture book apps and e-books. 

It was clear from the former colleagues of Perry’s who introduced him and thanked him at the University of Winnipeg reception in his honor that he is indeed a ‘giant’ in the world of children’s literature and most worthy of the award he will receive in Osaka, Japan later this month. His lecture gave me some interesting things to consider as I continue my own journey in the writing of children’s books. 

Other posts…….

Writing Dividends

The Writing Life

Launching Not One Book But Three

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.
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