Skip to content

GIVING OUR CHARACTERS SUBSTANCE & DIMENSION

“Honest writing cannot be separated from the person who wrote it.”
Carl Jung

We writers create the best characters when we know ourselves—the depth of ourselves—and tap into that depth when we write, using all our senses.

Writers often have trouble creating believable, unusual characters.

o Instead, we make them cookie-cutter, stereotypical people–and bore our readers.

o Even though we might conduct extensive research, we resist the elements that end in helping us
develop multi-faceted exciting characters.

o Research by itself won’t fix the problem. Why?

o Because the most important element for creating characters with emotional and psychological
depth—wishes, feelings, passion, depth and vision—resides within me, the writer.

o For me to write meaningfully, I must connect my inner world with the outer world of my
creation.

It takes more than just structure to make our writing and our characters come to life.

o Before our characters can stand out from all others we must tap into our inner self, while we
create that character.

o We must be present inside our characters, and in our writing, or our story will not be
successful, for it will lack depth.

o Our readers must hear our voice as the narrator—not some detached fact teller.

o We must create different characters that express all the various voices we have within
ourselves.

o WE, the writer, make the difference between a lackluster character portrayed over and over, and
a character with a fresh, unique voice.

HOW DO WE DO THIS?

o We must make ourselves vulnerable.

o If we are not willing to do this, we cheat our character out of a real-life personality.

o We must take risks.

o We must explore our inner selves.

o We must delve into the parts of ourselves that are the most vulnerable—our own life
experiences, particularly those painful or delightful parts of our childhood.

o When we approach that most vulnerable part of ourselves we must not stop—we must not blink.

o Instead, we write right through that part of our history, thereby giving life to our
characters.

o The search into self can’t be accomplished by our ego.

o We need to confront feelings and desires long hidden from our conscious thoughts.

o When we try to create a character without doing so—our characters become cookie cutter.

o For instance, many people feel a lack of spontaneity in their lives, so we look around at
others, jealous perhaps, or even feel ashamed at our own repressions.

o So, then, when we write, we try to capture that trait in our characters, but rather than being
able to release our characters to spontaneity, we end up creating characters that only imitate
what we are trying to create—much like we do.

When we learn to be honest with ourselves—warts and moles and all, we:

Unlock our own sensory recall and transform our experiences, feelings, high, lows, pain, and joys, into unique, powerful, believable, original characters who are capable of touching the hearts of our readers.

Easy to say—not always easy to do.

Falling in Love all Over Again

One taste and Sassy will be your favorite pickle.

The best we can figure, the Scots-Irish Dickey clan moved to Orange, Texas in 1917. The lot of them loaded up and moved to the area from Thorndale, in Milam County. The women and children took the train while the men loaded their belongings on wagons and trekked across the state. Dickey’s have lived here ever since.

A couple years after high school, I climbed in my own “covered wagon,” a two-toned black and white Chevy, and headed to Fort Worth, Texas, off on my own adventure.

Since then, I’ve lived in a number of towns across Texas and halfway back, with a six year stint on the island of Trinidad, West Indies.

When I contemplated a setting for my Sidra Smart mystery series, I considered all of these locations and more, but none of them fit. Frustrated, I played with the idea of setting the series in Orange, but promptly dismissed it. After all, I argued, Orange was just home. An ordinary town set smack in the middle of mosquito-infested swampland, a town full of ordinary people doing ordinary things.

But once spurred by the idea, I felt like our old plodding horse “Molly.” Once you turned her towards home, it was Katy-bar-the-door. For the more I researched, the more I discovered the mystical and mysterious elements resident in this area.

Combine the colorful Cajun/Creole culture and superstitions with the proud, stubborn, hard-working Scots-Irish, the solid, dependable farmers and ranchers with the late-coming northern executives, here to establish and maintain the oil industry.

Add the area’s ghosts, like that of a police chief gunned down by, of all people, the pastor of First Baptist Church, the victims of vigilante lynching strung up on the gibbet limb of “The Hanging Tree,” the innocent slaves who didn’t survive storage in shacks out at Deweyville, and even earlier still, the spirits left behind by the cannibalistic Atakapa Indians.

For texture, listen to the down-home southeast Texas accent, where verb tense is simple and seldom conjugated, where whole sentences get reduced to one or two words. (Y’ont-to? instead of Do you want to? or Would you like to…?)

For spice, add a crawfish boil and fresh seafood gumbo or some of the best southern cooking this side of paradise.

For flavor, add the mysterious Adams Bayou meandering through town past the Survivor Tree, a Pond Cypress dated at 1,200 years old—older than Christopher Columbus, Shakespeare, and even Galileo. Then add the exotic Blue Elbow Swamp flowing between Texas and Louisiana. The result?

A perfect setting for a mystery series.

Mix all this together and you have a town with a friendliness and a concern for others, the sense of belonging to a place with a unique history not found in other small towns, the determination to keep on keeping on, despite depressions, wars, hurricanes and industrial flux. In every book of the Sidra Smart series, there are examples of people who take their neighboring seriously and are concerned for others’ welfare. No wonder I fell in love with my hometown all over again.

Once called, “pretty as a fairy tale” river port city, today, a new opportunity awaits the greater Orange area. The tight, controlled grip of the past has lessened its hold. Orange stands on the edge of a bright new future.

Fall in love with Orange all over again. Seek out its fascinating history and you will learn its mystery. It awaits your discovery. So do my Sidra Smart mystery books available under my name on Amazon.com

http://www.sylviadickeysmith.com

And Then My Mother Said to Me…

Writing prompts are such a powerful way to get at the gut of something. I came across this prompt I wrote in 2005. I had totally forgotten about it until I found it on an old memory stick. The prompt given my writing group was: “And then my mother said to me…. (In case you aren’t familiar with writing prompts, you take what’s given you and write without lifting you fingers off the keyboard until the timer goes off. Might try it something. Powerful.)

Writing Prompt—Persist & Publish, February 17, 2005
Sylvia Dickey Smith

And then my mother said to me, you would be so pretty if you’d just lose some weight, wear your hair off your face, cut it short like mine. She pulls and tugs until there is almost nothing of me left. Until I pull away and force up an emotion-blocker screen so that my disappointment to her is not so great, does not matter, ceases to wring out my heart like a wet rag, like the nights I cried myself to sleep, wishing someone would come to my bedside and tell me they love me, my mother or my father, but they never came. Instead my mom said “well if you feel like crying just cry, marry a good man who has a good job and takes care of you, who comes home and stays with you and doesn’t go running around with other men or women, one who cherishes you and who trusts in God, a man who never changes, who stays the same, year after year after year after year until I outgrew him and left him an infant in a cradle while I went out back and grew into Jackie and the beanstalk.

WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Conflict, action, resolution, emotion, and showing (versus telling) are the well-known critical elements to writing fiction. Emotion can be the trickiest part of life. It can also be the trickiest part of writing fiction. When a writer does it well the payoff is a reader identifies with the character, becomes the character and feels what the character feels…

For example:
“Throughout the day, she struggled with whether to confront Hal. If she did, she’d be forced to do something about it. She knew the tall, red-headed, greener pastures kind of guy she married would never be content for long, regardless of where he went or who he married. She knew that, and married him anyway, and she a stiff young woman who tied any passion or emotion into the corner of a handkerchief and beat it into submission with a baseball bat.”
Were you were able to get inside the character’s head and feel what she felt? Did it give you a glimpse of her feelings and insecurities?

• If the character’s emotions are not there, neither is the character.
• If the character isn’t there, the reader isn’t there.

Hint: Neither is the author in a way that satisfies.

Good fiction requires strong emotion, but how does a writer deal with such a tricky element?
A great technique is what author Nancy Holzner calls writing with an emotional filter. When done correctly, it fully engages the reader inside the character’s mind and world.
For example: Rather than writing neutral descriptions, the author colors the description according to the character’s state of mind. This helps to increase identification with the character and brings the reader more fully into what John Gardner calls the “fictional dream.”
Emotional filters show how a character feels, thinks, judges, & interprets—instead of telling the reader.

For example:

Say I look out my window and observe: “Two feet of snow covered the ground.” What does that say about my state of mind? Nothing.
If I write,
• “The pine trees bent under a heavy burden of snow.” or,
• “A pristine white blanket snuggled around the house,” what happens?
Correct, you start to get a sense of how I’m feeling as I look out the window, even though I didn’t write a word about feelings.
That’s running the description through an emotional filter.
Our stories have greater impact if we have our character interpret it emotionally. Involve the five senses to give your writing sensory texture, then make sure you convey your character’s emotional assessment of what she experiences.
• The emotional filter is always subjective. It presents your focal character’s view of your story world, the situation, the other characters, and the conflicts.
• When we attach his opinions to his observations and have him make judgments on everyone else’s behavior, he not only becomes a stronger character, but our reader will form a stronger emotional bond with him.
• Every once in a while, we find ourselves writing a scene through the eyes of our villain or
some other unsympathetic character.
Be sure to make his filter true to him.
Present his warped view in the living color of his hang-ups and destructive agenda. If we do this well, the reader will love reading about him because he will be so compellingly unlikeable. Read The Stud, page 126

Don’t self-edit during the creative process. If we find it difficult to include the subtleties of an emotional filter while writing our first draft, it is best if we write dialogue or action and add opinions and judgments on the second or third time through.
Invest heavily at those places where you have the most control (your own effort and emotion), and reap the benefits when the reader connects emotionally to your characters and loves your story.

Tips for Applying an Emotional Filter

1. Pay attention to verbs. For example, a verb like “walk” is pretty neutral. But the thesaurus reveals a host of synonyms, which are not only more descriptive, but which carry different emotional weights: plod, march, sidle, amble, glide, saunter, trip, and so on.

2. Think about the difference in the emotional states of a character who thinks, “He walked away from me” versus “He strolled away from me” or “He trudged away from me” or “He skipped away from me.”

3. Carefully choose descriptive details. If you are describing a person, for example, it suggests a different state of mind if the character notices full lips or ragged, bleeding fingernails.

4. Go beyond the obvious. A cemetery in the rain is going to suggest a pretty gloomy state of mind. How can we get across a similar state of mind if the funeral is being held on a sunny day? In the latter case, the contrast between the setting and the character’s emotional state of mind can strengthen the emotion.

5. During dialogue, keep the reader in touch with the character’s emotions by what the character says but also by what he or she is thinking and doing.

6. After every sentence, ask yourself, “How does my character feel about that?” Make sure the answer is clear all the way through. (A character’s emotions are likely to change as the scene progresses and the situation changes.)

Focus on a character’s worries, hopes, and fears as a way of getting at the character’s emotions.

Exercises:
Writing from the Inside OuT

Show how a character interprets or feels about what’s going on around him or her. Saturate every sentence with the character’s state of mind.

1. Find a passage in your own writing that feels flat or distant from the POV character. Rewrite the passage through the character’s emotional filter. For each sentence, ask yourself, “What does my character feel about this?” (focus on worries, fears, and hopes), then write it in a way that shows those emotions.

2. Write a new scene for your novel, giving attention to the effect of the focal character’s emotions on each sentence and the scene as a whole. Apply a strong emotional filter all the way through.
3. Write a dialogue where the characters’ emotions aren’t being expressed as fully as they could be.
4. Describe a landscape as seen by an old woman whose disgusting and detestable old husband has just died. Do not mention the husband or death.

5. Describe a lake as seen by a young man who has just committed murder. Do not mention the murder.

6. Describe a building as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, war, death, or the old man doing the seeing; then describe the same building, in the same weather and at the same time of day, as seen by a happy lover. Do not mention love or the loved one.

HAPPY WRITING!

How Not Just Setting, but Sense of Place Influences My Writing

My Sidra Smart mystery series is set in Orange, a small Southeast Texas town said to carry its own gravity. You either get out early or you don’t get out at all.

I got out early—shortly after high school—and that was many years ago.

When I started writing the first draft of Dance On His Grave, (number one in the series) my husband was adamant. Do not set the book in Orange, Texas.

You see, he isn’t from Orange. Isn’t even Texan. His hometown is in south Florida. Add to that, he traveled the world during his thirty years in the Army. So Orange holds no magic for him—gravity, either. He jokes he would only move there when he lost the will to live. He further jokes that everyone who lives in Orange and can read—all ten of them—has copies of my books. (Good thing my hometown folks know he’s kidding!)

However, when my muse stomped her foot and refused to work with me if I didn’t follow her lead, I learned real quick to do what she says. I set my books in Orange and never regretted that decision.
In case you are not familiar with that part of the world, traveling east on Interstate 10, Orange is the last get-off before crossing into Louisiana.

Mystical swamps, bayous and the Sabine and Neches Rivers meander through a part of the state that sleeps under the threat of hurricanes. Where mosquitoes seem as big as dragonflies. Where crawfish boils and Cajun music entice and entertain.

Setting is not just important to my writing. It is the backbone of the work. It encapsulates both my characters and my plot. When I fail to capture the flavor of that setting my writing seems bland, watered down—an imitation of story.

If I do setting and sense of place well, I put the reader there like nothing else can. It makes the difference between telling a story and taking my reader on an exciting journey.

Some writers start with a plot or with characters in mind, and then decide on the setting. My setting comes first, and the other comes later.

The key ingredient is to be in love with the setting, whether it be a real place, or one I create in my mind, or a mixture of both. If I can’t fall in love (or hate) with my chosen setting, I go back to the drawing board.

My goal is to capture a sense of place and weave it into the setting by tapping into the senses. I judiciously lace snippets throughout the story in such a manner that the reader isn’t even aware that is what I have done. Too much too quickly and I create an info dump that ends up boring the reader—the last thing I want to do.

Setting is important, but equally so is a sense of place. It sets the stage. It confines the characters. It forces interaction.

If you struggle with how-to, try having your character reflect on their surroundings. This can fire up the character’s passions and fuel their actions. The story and the theme grow deeper and richer. And as always, practice, practice, practice.

Check out these sites: Orange, Texas Visitors Bureau

Stark Cultural Venues

THE DAY OF THE IGUANA

(This story is a re-run, but it always makes me smile.)

Nothing unusual happened today—unless you count that thing with the iguana…

There I was, sitting on my front porch, staring out at a desert full of cactus, creosote bushes, and Joshua Trees, minding my own business, mellowed out, my feet up and a cancer stick in my mouth, when the dang thing wandered on the porch. He stood staring up at me with his long skinny tongue darting back and forth like he thought I was the most delicious thing he’d seen all day.

Now, if you’ve never seen an iguana before, those suckers grow big! Not like those little pets you see in stores plopped down in big, plastic buckets. This guy must’ve been five feet long, including that yardstick tail he drug up the steps behind him. I thought I was gonna mess my britches before I could get on the other side of the screen door. But soon as I did, he gives me this pitiful little look that says he’s lost his best friend. And I swear a tear run down his scaly face.

Never one to hurt a guy’s feelings, I says to him, “Baby, it wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t so god-awful ugly. Look at that skin! You done look like you been out in the sun way too long. And those fingernails! Honey, what you really need is a manicure.”

So up I get to the bathroom, collect my little basket of clippers, and emery boards, and cuticle scissors, and march right back out on that porch. Sure enough, he’s still there, still looking sad and forlorn. I open up my basket and get to work.

I’m here to tell you, that iguana spread-eagled on that porch and lay there just as patient as if I was his mama fixing him a bowl of Ramen Noodles and tossing in three ice cubes to cool it off!

In no time, I finished my job, and put my things back in my little basket. I could a sworn the prissy critter smiled as he turned and ambled off the porch with the brightest, prettiest Jungle-Red toenails you done ever seen.

And that was my day. The day of the iguana.

The Painted Ladies

5h Book in the Sidra Smart series.

LAUNCHES NOVEMBER 1, 2018 AVAILABLE IN ONLINE BOOK STORES SHORTLY THERE AFTER.

Old houses . . . do they celebrate happy times with us? Do hurt when we hurt? Or do their have their own stories to whisper in the night, their own dark secrets to hide?

In this 5th book in the award-winning Sidra Smart mystery series, slightly psychic private investigator Sidra Smart has a young female client who has inherited not one but three mysterious Victorian houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The moment Sidra walks into the Painted Ladies, she senses something is off kilter. Is it just that the houses were commonly known as brothels in the early 1900s, in the days when the likes of Al Capone and other ne’er-do-wells spent much wanton time in the resort town?

As autumn transforms to winter, Sidra needs to protect her client, young Belle Anderson, from getting drawn too deeply into a tangled web of odd stories, spectral visitors, unsettling mysteries, and possible evil deeds committed.

As the snow falls, the two women, with their faithful sidekicks (dogs Slider and Jenkins), must try to get to the bottom of what lies beneath the facade of the beautifully painted Victorians.

Sassy Alligator Pickles

I never expected to author books and here my eighth book will be released on November 1, 2018. I also never expected to create my own label pickle. Thing is, when you listen to the universe there’s no telling what you might do. Sidra Smart came into my life and guided my words in her Sidra Smart Mystery series. As she found her voice, I found mine.

Then she told me to make Sassy Alligator Pickles and sell them along with her books. Well, dang it, how can you tell your protagonist no. Hence, I now make sweet and spicy pickles. They soon became my husband’s favorite, so I sell all those he can’t eat. They will be available for purchase at the Holiday in the Park in West Orange, Texas on November 3, along with the newest Sidra–called The Painted Ladies — or maybe The Three Sisters–soon to be decided. It takes the reader to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Come buy books if you can, and don’t forget to get a jar of pickles.

What Is Writer’s Voice & How Do I Find Mine?

It can be a struggle for a writer to find their voice, regardless of whether they are writing a novel, a short story, flash fiction or memoir. Many even ask what is Writer’s Voice? A writer’s voice is unique to each individual writer much like a voice is unique to singers. It has to do with the way a person writes, and is as natural as is our speaking voice. Readers learn to recognize the author of a book by their writing style or voice. In this workshop writers will discover their raw voice and how to use it to create unique characters.

A writer’s voice is something uniquely their own. It makes their work pop, plus readers recognize the familiarity. You would be able to identify the difference between Tolkien and Hemingway, wouldn’t you? It’s the way they write; their voice, in writing, is as natural as everyone’s speaking voice. Your voice should be authentic, even if you borrow a sense of style from your favorite author. But don’t forget, style and voice are different.

When you find that unique voice, you might not even be able to explain how it came about—let alone describe what it is. That’s the beauty of writing and discovering as you write. Sometimes the best things just happen naturally.

 

You are the only one who can write your stories. Discover how.

 

Voice is the style of an author, that element that makes her or his writing unique—different than any other. It communicates the author’s character, their attitude, their personality most powerful tool a writer has. Learn how to hear the voices that are uniquely yours alone. Learn how to discover raw voice, voices from childhood, colloquial voices, personal and private voices. Learn how to use your voice to create characters. .

Voice Definition: Voice has two meanings as it concerns creative writers:

  • Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or
  • Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.

Also Known As: Persona

Voice is something that emerges naturally as a writer develops.

Getting Started

Your audience determines what you write, what examples and details to include, what to emphasize, word choice and tone.

  • Your purpose for writing determines what you write, the point of your writing, and how you will make your point.
  • Knowing audience and purpose gives your writing focus.

What is Voice?

When I began teaching, I had no idea how to teach voice. I wasn’t even sure what it was. I asked several colleagues “How do you teach voice in writing?” I’ll summarize their answers: “Voice, you either have it or you don’t. You can’t really teach it.” Translation: “I don’t know what it is either.”

Well, here is what I teach about voice now:

  • Each writer has a distinct personality.
  • Each writer has passions, opinions, prejudices, and information.
  • Words should capture the writer’s personality.
  • Writers with strong voice capture the reader’s attention with individuality, liveliness, and energy.
  • Strong voice makes the writer’s purpose clear.
  • Strong voice helps readers experience the emotions of the writer and understand the writer’s ideas.
  • Careful word choice, punctuation, paragraphing, and style help strengthen a writer’s voice.

An exercise for finding your voice

Not sure where to start? No problem. Most of us need help understanding our voice. Here’s a short exercise that can help you — just follow these 10 steps:

  1. Describe yourself in three adjectivesExample: snarky, fun, and flirty.
  2. Ask (and answer) the question:“Is this how I talk?”
  3. Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. Example: My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.
  4. Jot down at least five books, articles, or blogs you like to read. Spend some time examining them. How are they alike? How are they different? What about how they’re written intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be. Example: Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Ernest Hemingway, and C.S. Lewis. I like these writers, because their writing is intelligent, pithy, and poignant.
  5. List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them. Example: I use some of my favorite bands’ music in my writing to teach deeper lessons.
  6. Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
  7. Free-write.Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?”
  8. Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself,“Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice.
  9. Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy what I’m writingas I’m writing it?” If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it’s at least worth asking.)
  10. Pay attention to how you’re feeling.How do you feel before publishing? Afraid? Nervous? Worried?  You’re on the right track. If you’re completely calm, then you probably aren’t being vulnerable. Try writing something dangerous, something a little more you. Fear can be good. It motivates you to make your writing matter.

Why do you need a writing voice?

Finding your voice is the key to getting dedicated followers and fans and that it’s the only sustainable way to write. If you’re not being yourself, you’ll eventually burn out.

Once you’ve found your voice, make sure you continue to develop it. It’s a discipline, one that can’t be overlooked if you’re going to have the impact you desire and that your words deserve.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of noise out there in the world. If you’re going to get heard, you can’t just raise your voice. You’ve got to set yourself apart, showing you have something special to say, and that you have a unique way of saying it.

What does your writing voice sound like? Have you found it yet, or are you still searching? If so, keep going. One day you will find it and be surprised that you knew it all along.

 

 

 

 

 

**This article is a result of my own experience and of others whose names have been lost over time. For that, I apologize.

 

 

Writing With Purpose

WRITING WITH PURPOSE

by Sylvia Dickey Smith

“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

When we write, our purpose is not to get to a certain place in the book (or poem or article). It’s to enjoy each step along the way.

Annie Dillard says, “One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it all, play it all, right away, every time… give it, give it all, give it now.”

  1. CIRCLE THE QUESTIONS:

There are countless ways into our writing. These ways usually involve innumerable questions.

How do I start?

Where?

Who are the characters,

What shall I name them?

What’s my plot going to be.

These are fantastic questions—Why? Because they create cracks. Fabulous cracks—the beauty of our story is often in the cracks created by those questions, not in the questions themselves.

I want to invite you to circle those cracks made by your questions.

The answers often change, but we keep circling the questions. How do we do that? By writing. By examining the different sides of the questions, the angles, the cracks.

Tim O’Brien says, “Fiction’s purpose is not to explain the mystery, but to expand it.” (1946, Austin, MN) The Things They Carried:

A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a groundbreaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling

Lots of people write from answers. We’ve discovered some truth and want to share it. Tolstoy, C.S. Lewis for example. They take us by the hand and walk us through a process to learn the truth they learned. That’s not bad. Often those are important truths…but…

I challenge you—and me—to read and write, not books that lead, but books who don’t lead, but allow me to join them on the search, who utter unanswerable questions, who expand the mystery.

Authors like Annie Dillard, Elie Wiesel, (Night) Henri Nouwen (Life of the Beloved)

  1. FACE THE GHOSTS

Ghosts are fleeting, subtle entities, which make them more terrifying.

Sticky haunts

Vague images of disturbing ideas.

When a ghost shows up, we usually run away. Click on the TV, pour another drink while trying to convince ourselves we didn’t see it.

Writers can’t afford to avoid them. We choose to be haunted.

Break into a haunted house. Eyes wide.

Walk through a cemetery late at night.

Call out to spirits and phantoms.

THEN, when we discover a specter, don’t run…..write.

Grab the details….fast…knowing how quickly they spook.

We give it life, sinew, we give—er…lend it our skin.

We ask its name and wait for it to whisper why it exists.

Do not ignore the lessons of the Ghosts….

  1. FIND THE HEART

“It’s funny. No matter how hard you try, you can’t close your heart forever. And the minute you open it up, you never know what’s going to come in. But when it does, you just have to go for it! Because if you don’t, there’s not point in being here.”
― Kirstie Alley

Sometimes it takes us a while to learn what our book is REALLY about. We think we know—maybe we think we are writing a book on…say… ….class distinction or environmental crimes—but then, in the process, we find, or sometimes our closest readers reveal to us—that the hot center is the relationship between two characters. Once you find it—the hot heart of your piece—tend it.

How do you tend it? Feed the fire! What? Details, secrets, characters, props to exacerbate the dramatic situation.

Sometimes the best way to increase the heat is to feed the fie with details, secrets, characters.

The fuel you add can be a memory, a person, or an environmental element. It can be traumatic.

A drunk sitting in a bar in a drunken stupor, persistent mosquito buzzing around his head, hot, humid ringing phone. Often the heart of your story is hidden under the fire, that you keep piling kindling on top of, while it smolders.

Writing with Purpose is not an easy trail to follow. Take time to circle the cracks within the questions of your work, delight in the discovery of purpose. Face the ghosts that show up, give them air-time, follow their trail, and Find the Heart of your story—and exploit it.

Skip to toolbar