Write From the Soul

I recently began helping a friend write a screenplay based on her life. She had gone through some pretty horrific things in her childhood and was now ready to get it out there. Put it on paper. She’d hoped that it would not only be cathartic but an inspiration to all those who’d endure similar situations.

I was proud to be a part of the project. I knew that it would not be easy for her; it would drudge up faded memories and force her to go places in her mind that she’d tried to forget for the past 15 years. But it was necessary.

We decided that to protect certain identities we would write it as a fictional tale leaving, of course, the truest elements intact. Plus, we wanted to take some creative liberties with some of the characters. I was fine with it. Once we got started I asked probing questions. When ghostwriting you really have to do this. I was not there so you needed to get a real feel for the story. It was important to extract not only facts, but the spirit of the story. As author, E.L. Doctorow said: “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” This is important. It is always important.

As the questions became more specific she would often break down in tears. This continued on for weeks. Her sleep was disturbed, the memories became like healed wounds being ripped open. At one point I wondered if she was really ready to do this.

You hear often, write from the soul. It sounds poetic and courageous. And indeed it is. It is also difficult and grueling. It is painful and tedious. It may badly hurt before it feels good. And that is OK. Let it pour, let it flow. When you are done your truth will be a refreshing spring to some reader with whom you share a like experience. The only difference is you were able to articulate it in a way that the reader could not. Truthfully, isn’t that the case with a gut-wrenching work? It could be a singing artist, writer, painter, or rapper. They are able to say what we can’t. This is what connects artists with their audience.

Write from the soul. Put it on paper without stopping to evaluate whether you have said too much. Simply write. You can edit later. Don’t worry about whether you will offend or embarrass. You can always change names, events, etc. Writing, especially fiction writing in its purest form transfers the reader from where they are to where the story takes place—you forget that there is a writer and can only see what has been written.
Today, when you take pen to paper, do it without fear. Do it without reservation.


Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

I love having conversations with people who have lived exciting lives; they’ve leapt from waterfalls with an 80-foot drop, fought Texas Longhorns and lived in the Sahara. Ok, I don’t personally know any of those kinds of people. But I do know those who, are in unconventional living situations, overcame fierce personal battles and are living their dreams. It is always interesting to talk with them.

funny bullfighting


But honestly what I love more are those conversations with ordinary people, on ordinary subjects. You know, they are unpretentious, unassuming souls living their lives in simple fashion. It is from these people that I’ve learned the subtleties, the idiosyncrasies that make people who they are. For the most part it has been these folks who have taken precedence in my work. Their mannerisms are not calculated or contrived; they are simply being themselves. If you can capture the essence of this group in your writing you can create clear, vivid pictures of any character you develop. In these people lay the core of who we all are—even those waterfall jumping, bull-fighting folk.

Compare it to an artist who draws a straight illustration (like the kind a developing artist would create) and contrast it to one who shadows and shades to catch the nuances of attitude and demeanor. It is this capturing of character that is crucial our work. It means that we allow people to… be and to express themselves as we watch, listen and take note. It allows us to move away from the cookie-cutter characters based on some T.V. show or some cliché. If you want to know what a dumb blonde is really like, watch one. Listen to what they say. You may find yourself observing a dumb brunette or someone who isn’t dumb at all, but just perceived as such. O.K., you’re writing about Laura’s rapper boyfriend Ty. Well, insist on meeting one (or someone like him). You might discover that when he opens his mouth and speaks that he is not the empty-headed, one-dimensional thug you originally thought him to be but is indeed quite intelligent, maybe even a Yale graduate? Capture the rapid blinking of the eyes when someone is nervous, the way she continuously clicks her nails together or picks at a pimple on her face.


Jay's self image 2

Capture the totality of the characters. Write about their scent–too much perfume, the scent of perspiration mingled with fading cologne. Write about how she never gives a full toothy smile as she is hiding some disfigured or bad teeth. Talk about her thinning hair and how she keeps it in a bun but hints of her scalp peek through the thin strands like the moon light through thread-bare curtains.

Am I the only one who looks at people and find myself writing a full-fledge description of their appearance and mannerisms (It’s fun and a little annoying when you can turn it off.)?  Remember unless you are writing about aliens or vampires your characters are real people. And even vampires are real people—sort of.

jays self image1

Do a personalized sketch of your protagonist. What makes him tick? Why is he always angry? Is it because his mother was verbally abusive? Is this why his anger is mostly geared towards women? Tell us about his mother. What was she like? Was she slow moving? Were her words spat sarcastically? Was she condescending? Describe the specifics that make her stand out—or not, for that matter. Show us the relationship between mother and son. Describe how his palms would become sweaty when she entered the room and how he could never raise his eyes to her. Build your character block by block. It doesn’t have to be described in one long expository paragraph (please don’t) Take your time. Interweave it into the story. Have fun with it. And most of all make us believe it!

Little Darlings & Why They Must Die…for REAL

Kristen Lamb reminds us not to fall in love with the sound of our own voice. Great advice.

Should Others Read our Work Before Publication?

One of the first poems I wrote was in fourth grade. Our church was having some kind of youth event and I stood proudly in front of the grinning crowd and belted out my own work. I got a standing ovation and an overwhelming feeling that heaven was smiling and the angels were rejoicing confirming my greatness. No one analyzed my prose and asked was the use of the word ‘sun’ metaphoric for something? They didn’t scoff because there wasn’t any rhythmic variation. It was a great poem…well it was good…O.K., it was a poem and I was nine. Most of the crowd had known me since I was a pup and they were there to give me what I needed—pure encouragement.

Yet even as we get older we want the people to read our work who will get it, but most importantly we want them to love it and tell us we’re smart and gifted and we would be crazy to do anything else with our life besides write.

As much as our ego loves to be stroked and tickled there comes a point when, we seek a more discerning eye before submitting it to the Wizard…uh…editor. So the question is, should we fiercely write trusting only our instincts that this is the masterpiece which we are after or should we seek out others to take a look?

Some say nope. Don’t do it; others will taint your inspiration and cause you to second guess the greatest work since Moby Dick. Others say you absolutely must, otherwise how will you know for sure that it is the greatest work…ever?

Well, I agree with the latter. It is good to allow what Stephen King calls the Ideal Readers a go at your work. Now I’m not suggesting that your mother or Auntie Em do it, pinching your cheeks and smiling over the rim of their bifocals telling you that everything you write is perfect and this is no different. Your Ideal Readers will not need to point out every grammar faux pas or tell you that there are too many spaces between ‘he’ and ‘said’. If they do catch them, great. But they should read just as Steve suggests (yep, first name basis), as the one most likely to peruse through your section of the local bookstore seeking that one book to delve into. They should read for pleasure, flow of story, sections that sound off and to ensure it hits the mark as a romance or mystery or whatever your genre might be. I’m talking about the IR who will read with a critical eye, pointing out the two-page description of the meadow that you just absolutely could not part with. Your IR will tell you that the name Jerome just doesn’t fit the tall, Italian hero. They’ll be honest, forthright and kind.

Face it, you’ve spent months inside of the story and even after walking away from it and allowing it to settle you’re going to miss things. You, like most everyone, love the sound your own voice. You need an objective look on things from someone who hasn’t lived and breathed it for the past six months.

Let them at it! Once it’s published don’t forget to send a copy to Momma and Auntie Em.