If you follow me on Facebook you know I’m the Queen of Pinterest (and if you don’t, why not? Beauty pics, cat memes, inspirational quotes, odd Victorian photos — COFFEE! It’s a sea of happy in a chaotic world. LauraDrakeAuthor). When I saw this the other day, the photo caught my eye first. Then the message slammed into my writer’s soul. Yes! This!
We get so wrapped up in the structure of writing — we take classes, go to conventions. We own about a zillion craft books (or maybe that’s just me) and we’re always looking for the next tool to make writing less effort. Scrivener! Mind Mapping! The W plot! The Snowflake Method! Don’t get me wrong, all that is great. Lots of it even works.
But all of that won’t help you write a book that readers fall in love with. You have to connect with them on a deeper level to do that. They have to care. It doesn’t matter what you write — fiction, poetry, action/adventure, or even non-fiction — if you don’t grab them by the heart, they’ll put the book down.
How do you do that? Well, you don’t have to run out and buy anything. Just:
Think less, feel more.
You can’t ‘show’ anything in your writing that you’re not feeling. Readers are smart; they ferret out non-genuine in a heartbeat. That doesn’t mean you can only write about what you’ve experienced. I’ve never lost a child (thank God), but I was able to write a woman who had, in my RITA winner, The Sweet Spot, because I’ve lost someone close to me. I know what that feels like. And even if you haven’t lost a loved one, grief is a human condition, so we have empathy — especially as writers. We wouldn’t do this if we weren’t fascinated by people, right? I was writing yesterday, crying over an orphaned baby I created in my head (wow, that does sound crazy. I wouldn’t admit that outside a group of writers!).
Think less, feel more.
I do my most poignant writing when I’m not thinking. When I immerse myself in the character to the point that I AM the character; seeing, smelling, feeling what they are, with their backstory and their unique take on the world. Then I dig deeper. The brilliant Donald Maass taught me about layering emotion. He said (paraphrased):
Think about it; how often in your life have you felt pure joy? Pure sadness? Pure any emotion. My guess is, not often. Much more often, our emotions are mingled. At a funeral, you will feel sadness, but you also feel gratitude, for having known the deceased, right? On your wedding day, the happiest day of your life, I’ll wager you felt more than happiness. You were nervous. Will I trip in the aisle? He won’t shove the cake in my face, will he? Will my new brother-in-law drink too much and bring up that kiss he we shared, two years ago?
See what I mean?
Better yet, dig deeper and show an unexpected emotion. We all feel things we don’t talk about. The stuff we’re not proud of. For example, imagine a woman who served as caregiver for her mother in her ignoble, downward spiral to an awful death. The daughter was at the bedside at the very end. What would she feel? Grief, of course, loss, and sadness. But wouldn’t she also feel relieved? For her mother, but also for herself. She’s put her life on hold for six months, and now she’s free. Then what would she feel? Guilt and shame would hit, right?
Now, your reader may never have experienced anything like this, but I guarantee, if you pull out a deep, honest emotion like this and lay it on the page, your reader is going to immediately empathize with your character. You’ve grabbed them by the heart.
I love it when I get to that deep place. I close my eyes, and my fingers fly over the keyboard, trying to keep pace with my feelings.
Effortless writing. We all need more of that, right?
So that’s my writing resolution. 4 words. What could be simpler?
P.S. I said it was simple, not easy.
Getting out of your own way never is.