Confession. I have not yet read The Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure it’s a lovely book. Everyone I know is talking about it. And I haven’t read it for the same reason that I’ve never made it all the way through A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook. My chest constricts just thinking about it. Tears well up in my eyes and I start wandering the room for chocolate. I’m not a fan of sappy.
I know, I know. So many good books I’ve missed out on because I don’t like to face that raw emotion.
Then there’s my temper. I teach teenagers. I’m paid not to lose my temper. And with that, I’ve learned to let things roll off my shoulders. It takes a lot to make me mad these days, which makes it really hard to write a dramatic scene in a novel.
Yet, I’m working on a scene where I need to vamp it up. And I’m stuck. I guess I’m going to have to grab some tissues and force myself to read a few of those sappy books.
Joe Bunting, founder of The Write Practice, wrote this article on writing about raw emotion. His first thought was to draw inspiration from music. That, I can do. I can actually listen to songs that evoke that sort of emotion as I write. I’ve never been a playlist writer, but I know that writers are. Bunting suggests using repetition and restraint to convey the emotion. I like the thoughts, but I felt like the article could have given a few more examples. So I Googled on.
Nevermind that when I searched (when should a character let emotion go) and found Elsa, or (when should a character break down) and found Twilight.
But finally, I came across this little gem: Character Rants and Breakdowns–Let ’em Rip by Beth Hill. I realized how much of the problem is me–holding back my own emotions, so I hold back the emotions of my characters. Writing and reading is an escape. Catharsis is acceptable on the written page, and it will lead readers to compassion for my characters.
This reminds me of Romans 12:15, one of my favorite verses on compassion.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
It’s exactly what readers want to do. Now, to push my sleeves up and make them feel that scene.
First, a quick shout out to my readers. I appreciate each and every one of you and thank you for playing a small role in my quest to be published. Cavernous is still going strong.
I wish I could remember who told me this. It might have been my good friend Kimberly Grenfell, a.k.a. Devon Winterson.
It’s the small details that make the story.
Lately, I’m finding that more and more to be true. But a lot of times, we miss out on the small details because the big picture in a story is so exciting/overwhelming/larger than life.
The above picture is a favorite from years ago, one of my first documentations of my daughter’s uncanny ability to destroy a room within a matter of minutes. If you examine closely, you can see that her destruction follows a specific path from my kitchen through my living room to the front hall. It might be easy to retrace that path and come up with the story of all the things she’d done along the way.
If memory serves me right, I was folding the laundry right beside her and came out to this mess. It took about ten minutes, tops. I walked out, gaped, snapped the picture, and shook my head at the chaos.
My in-laws joke with us sometimes. They say, “Y’all blame everything on little Dana.” And it’s true–if there’s a mess in my house, she’s the first one I’m going to turn to. But just for kicks, I zoomed into the picture to see if I could figure out what she was thinking when she made the mess.
I saw: My son Matt’s shoes, his little cardboard/aluminum foil “creation,” paper plates, the foam letters he loved to play with–maybe, just maybe she wasn’t the only culprit. The details tell a completely different story than first glance. And I think that’s true in novel writing, too. I always start a chapter with brainstorming and freewriting, which generally leads me to a skeleton scene that consists mostly of dialogue. What I’ve learned is that the fill-in details I choose to add can completely change the tone or intensity of a scene. They can make a likeable character suddenly heinous or a villain seem tolerable.
I’ve been focusing on ways I can make my writing more believable and character emotions more compelling. In my quest, I stumbled on this blog post from Author Magazine from the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association: Believable Fiction.
I love this quote:
Our lives are not led in the physical—that is, we are not pinballs bouncing from event to event. We are not a collection of limbs and organs generating a series of thoughts, but rather a series of thoughts compelling a collection of limbs and organs. What readers always seek in fiction is what it feels like to be alive, not what it looks like to be alive, because the feeling is in the end the only reality we ever know, because the feeling reality, which exists within the invisible self, is all we have that is ours and ours alone.
I wonder if my brainstorming might be more effective as a series of thoughts compelling our characters rather than characters generating thoughts. In other words, the thoughts come first, including a decision about the emotions I want to convey. Then, the actions to show that emotion–slamming things for anger, dropping things for shock. Next, the objects from the setting–the papers that are shoved off a desk, the priceless artifact that’s dropped. Finally, the character attached, who is the kind of character that would behave in such a way. Hmm… Guess I’ll experiment and let you know.
A friend asked a few days ago what drives me to write Christian young adult fiction and not mainstream. Though I’ve touched on this topic in another post, one thing I didn’t mention is my deep concern that many people claiming to be Christians are not reading their Bibles anymore. They’ll say, “Oh, I saw that in a blog post,” or “I read about it in a book.”
For me, there’s only one Book, THE Book, that serves as the source of my faith. Blog posts and commentary are only manmade opinions, just as this one is. And if I’m to have a platform, that’s it. Read your Bible. More than that, write its words on your heart–Memorize Scripture. Anything I write now, or in the future, will have that message somewhere within its pages.
I drew inspiration for my work-in-progress, Cavernous, from several different sources. One was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which to me, is one of the scariest concepts–the banning of books.
In Cavernous, several US states have seceded to form their own country, the Alliance of American States. Adrian Lamb, the leader of this new nation, has printed his own Bibles, keeping only the Scripture that suits him. And sadly, many of the so-called Christians in the Alliance have not read the Bible enough to even detect that parts are missing.
Just like firefighter Montag in Fahrenheit 451, who becomes the “back-up copy” of the book of Ecclesiastes, my protagonist, Callie, carries Scripture in her heart. Thus, she’s able to resist Alliance brainwashing, since she knows what pieces are left out.
This morning, I read from Deuteronomy 11.
13 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ 16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.
18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.–Quote from NKJV, accessed from BibleGateway.com
Verses 18 and 19 could well be my mission statement. Lay up God’s words in your heart and soul, keep them in front of your eyes, teach them to your children, speaking of them continually, write them where people can see them.
Through the Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes program, my husband, children, and I have participated in an event called “Centurion of Scripture.” The goal is to memorize 100 Bible verses in a year. It seems a daunting task until you push up your sleeves and start learning verses, but after that, it’s actually pretty easy. Think about what a better life we’d all have if everyone wrote the words of God on their heart.
I was critiquing a writing piece a few weeks ago and the person had an action-packed chase sequence. It wasn’t terrible, but the sequence happened over a three day span and the characters didn’t make any stops to eat or sleep.
Which was… UNBELIEVABLE. Let me tell you, if someone was after me and I had to run, my almost forty-year-old body is in trouble. I can make it about a quarter of a mile before I’m panting like a dog on a hot summer day. I’mresourceful–I might be able to trip my stalker and knock them into a mailbox or something, or grab a large brick from someone’s flowerbed and aim where the sun don’t shine. No way a story written about me could justify a character going through a three day chase scene like that.
The point is, it’s important to think about the reality of a character physically being able to handle the challenges we put them in.
I remember reading about the jump Tris made in Veronica Roth’s Divergent (which I loved), and being a little disappointed in the impact description.
I hit something hard. It gives way beneath me and cradles my body. The impact knocks the wind out of me, and I wheeze, struggling to breath again. My arms and legs sting.
The physics teacher in me felt like there might be some rope burn from the net, maybe a few bloody scrapes. Maybe she’d wobble her first few steps or something? I mean, I know that “hottie” Four frees her from the net, but then she goes on the tour, and there’s no physical remnants of her dauntless acts.
So, the other day I had a conversation with my sis-in-law about an upcoming trip we’d like to take with the kids–an eight mile hike. She advised me to prep for the trip, cautioning that it would be difficult for an average person to just jump in on a hike like that without any training.
Makes me think about the characters in my story–a teenage girl, on the run, hiking four or five miles off-trail. I’ve added all these setting details, but I’ve basically just taken them from point A to point B. They rest, they sleep, but I’ve forgotten to add those touches of realism–aching feet, blisters, sheer exhaustion–that would keep my character from seeming larger than life.
So many tiny little details to think about when writing a story.
Going back now to reread the whole thing and look for places to add sore elbows and feet 🙂
So… a few weeks ago, I was named Area Coordinator for the Eastern Kentucky branch of ACFW. Whoo hoo! Other than the only other Christian writer I know of in the area is the girl who teaches across the hall from me. Lots of work to do!
Today was an amazing day. A friend and I joined three writers at a quaint little bookstore/bakery to find out a little more about what needs to happen in an ACFW chapter. I can’t stress enough what a difference this organization has made in my life. The free classes, the contests, the encouragement–like anything else, you get what you give, but I’ve received some fantastic feedback and feel closer than ever to my goal of someday publishing.
One thing that stands out to me from the day–
As we got to know each other, we laughed and told stories. One of the ladies kept exclaiming, “That sounds like a great first line!”
I think about first lines all the time, stress over them, in fact. But this woman, within a span of about 30 minutes, had already turned our simple conversation into several great ideas. So, a new challenge for myself and anyone who reads this. Every day for the next week, just listen to everyone around you. Pay attention to their quips and greetings, and find as many great first lines as you can.