Writing from One Heart to Another
October 5, 2014
A FEW DAYS AGO, we published a blog by Mimi Barbour, and she made a point that I can’t forget.
Mimi is one of the really good writers in today’s fiction marketplace, and she wrote:
When you’re working on your manuscripts, do you dread scraping your insides raw to produce the reality of honest-to-goodness tragedies? I’m talking about those sad times that people suffer through in real life. The very ones, as authors, we must create in our stories.
Let’s face it, the times when you feel as if your heart won’t make it through the next few minutes, and you just want to give up, it’s hard enough to live through – never mind write about. But to be a good novelist and reproduce a story about real people, it’s essential. Otherwise, our characters will end up like paper dolls, flat and boring. Sure we can dress them up pretty and move them around the pages, but if they don’t have real emotions, then the conflicts we subject them to won’t come alive for our readers.
Her words forced me to think about we really want to do as writers.
Oh, I know the accepted basic themes:
Life and death.
Love and death.
Loss and love.
Struggle and failure.
Struggle and triumpth.
And I know what my partner Stephen Woodfin always says about writing novels. The good ones begin when a stranger comes to town.
But what is the essence of good writing.
What is the basis of good storytelling?
We try to make it difficult and complicated.
But it’s really quite simple.
We write best when we’re telling a story from one heart to another.
That’s all it is.
She’s lost and nobody can find her.
She’s in love and he isn’t.
Someone’s dead and someone else is on the run.
He’s innocent but the judge says otherwise.
He’s in danger, and nobody knows.
A life is filled with fear.
A life has hit a dead end.
A life hangs in the balance.
Our life or someone else’s life.
It doesn’t matter.
Unless the story touches the writer’s heart, it can’t touch another.
Unless the writer cries, no one else will shed a tear.
Unless the writer is in love with love, no one else will feel the joy or the pain.
Unless the writer is frightened, no one else is scared to death.
Unless the writer feels compassion, the story falls flat.
Unless the writer is devastated by the tragedy, it’s just a cold statistic in the obituary column.
A novel can have many twists and turns.
A novel can head off in one direction, then turn sharply and head off into another direction.
A novel can have as many stops as starts.
But a novel, in order to touch someone, must go in a straight line.
It must travel from the writer’s heart to the heart beating inside the reader.
There are no shortcuts.
There is no other way.