Writing Your Truth

I was recently watching a television show about how to tell when someone is telling a lie. Somewhere during the hour the host stated that most people lie about themselves or exaggerate the truth when talking with others. He even went on to say that many people lie to themselves about themselves.

I believe lying is actually a form of self-preservation. Lying is a way to protect ourselves from shame, guilt or harm. We say that we’re O.K., because the truth may be that we are falling apart and that is too much to bear. We convince ourselves that he is not cheating, the alternative being we will lose him; and we can’t phantom such a thing.

To be open and honest about who we really are, our motives for doing things—even the good things that we do–may put us in a light that is unfavorable or even downright painful.  The truth can be uncomfortable but it can also be liberating and beautiful because falsity and all of the upkeep that comes with it can be exhausting and depressing and we will eventually find ourselves living an unfulfilled life.

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Writing demands the same level of authenticity as life does. You will connect with your reader when you can bare the souls of your character. The thing about reading well- written fiction is that if you indeed see your truth within the characters of a book that revelation is personal—it is powerful, unnerving and wonderful. It is the reason readers are drawn to such writers as Amy Tan and Terry Mcmillan. That connection helps us to know that we are not alone and that our experiences are not isolated. And even though you are reading fictional characters you are still reading the soul of a real, live, being—the writer.

The more authentic you are in your writing, the more you will draw in the reader. Suddenly, he or she forgets that it is fiction because it feels more like he or she is peeking into the personal, private world of someone else’s life.  Authentic writing means you do away with stereotypes, and go deeper than superficial motives. For example, our way of thinking, the spouse we choose, the way we raise our children are not haphazard actions done on a whim. They are in many ways subconscious decisions based on the way we’ve been raised, our life experiences, beliefs, fears and expectations. Strive to reveal these attributes when you write. You will find your writing is more robust, exciting and that your characters come alive.

Write and silence the voices within

Write and silence the voices within

The only way to get it finished is to start it…

fire inside me

Thinking is not writing.

L'amour_Louis

How to pace your story

No one has ever accused me of being too patient or of moving too slow on a decision. By my very nature I like short, sweet explanations and components that actually move.

My mother was the opposite. She lingered at the grocery store, took time to speak to everyone at church. She ate slowly, methodically and never allowed anyone to put her into a hurried state. As a teen I would ask permission to attend a basketball game or show and she always had to think about it. Think about it? Really? To say that we bumped heads is to put it mildly. Perhaps my biggest frustration was that she did not make my hurriedness her problem. Her pace was proper for her lifestyle and suited every decision she made. It would take me years to appreciate this virtue. And indeed it is a virtue that can be priceless when writing fiction.

When I first began to write fiction I felt compelled to get it all out there at once. I was concerned that my reader would get bored with the story if I took too long to get there. I was fearful that if they didn’t have enough story within the first few chapters they would yawn, close my book, promise to get back to it later, but would never do so.

 

Now, there was some validity to my concern. But my problem (which I now realize) was that I did not know the difference between dragging a story and creating suspense. Suspense by the very meaning of the word is to leave the reader in a state of uncertainty and our curious nature compels us to seek answers. And when it comes to fiction, the only way to get those answers is to continue reading. My problem was how to get them to continue on with the book and not give away all to goods only to be bored later. Here is what I found:

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Make the reader care about your character

 

Let’s face it—if the reader doesn’t care about the characters it won’t matter what they do. They could get hit by a bus and the reader couldn’t be less interested. But we care about things, people for one of the following reasons:

 

  • Wethink that we know them; it’s why you peek through the blinds when the cops show up at your neighbor’s house
  • We have some connection with them; friends and associates with whom we share the same interest
  • They are interesting; they may be over the top beautiful, smart or gifted. They may be completely narcissist or evil or high strung or funny.
  • They have something we wish we had

So I had to take time to develop my characters to make them compelling, interesting, keeping in mind the reasons above. I had to make the reader feel that there would be payoff if they just continued to read.

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Create foreboding

Movies create foreboding all the time—that feeling that something is about to happen. They do so with music—when all know the something-bad-is-going-to-happen chords. They do so with lighting and close-ups. In writing we do it a number of ways. And here are a few:

  • Build a semblance of peace or tranquility and because it is a story we realize it is a set-up for something to disrupt this perfect peace.
  • Write short sentences to create a sense of urgency.
  • Use questions. She knew she’d closed the door and locked it—or had she?

Honestly we love foreboding even if we don’t admit it—but that is only if the payoff is worth it. Build them up, up up and then let ‘em have it.

Keep the story moving

There is nothing more grating than reading a long, lofty description that seems to go…well…nowhere. Descriptions are great when they are essential and become a true element of the story. Keeping the story moving becomes easier when we keep the point of the story in mind; when we constantly remember that there is a place that we are headed. If we get stuck in a place or scene then our reader is stuck too.

Save the best for last

Even as the story is moving remember that the reader wants a payoff. We all love a surprise element as we near the end. As readers, by the time we get to the last portion of the book we think we have it figured out. It is nice to get that twist, that final OMG. If it is crafted correctly, in other words, fits into the story line it works well as an excellent last ping.

To make sure your story is paced properly I believe that beta readers are invaluable. And what are the words you want to hear? I simply could not put it down.

 

The painful art of fiction writing

The painful art of fiction writing

Somehow, many have the notion that published authors have the answers–matters not the question.  If we put pen to paper then certainly we have this wealth of knowledge swelling up inside and if we don’t get it out quickly certainly we will implode and the world will be left wanting.

 

Ernest Hemingway_sitandbleed

This is not any truer than the statement that people pursue medicine because they possess the cure to the diseases of the world. Doctors pursue medical knowledge to find cures. We write because we need answers. Writing allows us to dissect our fears and face them with focus. It is with words that we can ask the questions through our characters actions and dialogue and by presenting theme.

Fiction writing ventures to touch the taboo, the things we were told not to talk about–the disease of the human soul. It allows us to explore the reasons and ways we survive the unthinkable, how and why we thrive and live extraordinary lives despite circumstances hell-bent on destroying us.

Agatha Christie

Writing is cathartic. In writing fiction we share our experiences, transferring our pain and disappointment onto awaiting blank pages. We can do so without being condescending or preachy; we can do so without guilt or shame. We can do it without knowing the answers to all of the questions.

The truth is, writing our stories often invoke more questions than they answer and that’s OK. It is unlike non-fiction—self-help books, biographies and the like. Fiction awakens giants– towering monsters of anger, hurt, jealousy and racism, the like of which, we were content to allow their resting place. There is a connectedness of the human spirit that seeks to know why we do what we do. It is human nature to want to know why we can be such complicated, unpredictable enigmas and at the same time easy and uncomplicated.

 

Zora

If it hurts write it. Confused? Write on. As you allow your mind to reveal its secrets you will find a release; a peace will unfold, but not before you inflict upon yourself intense pain, face terrors of the soul and expose old wounds which healed awkwardly, incompletely.

But then, the healing will come. And although you may not know the answers your questions will all point vertically to a God who has all the answers. He is the creator of the soul. And even then all won’t be revealed to you—at least not in one fell swoop.  But you will begin to see light and understand that sometimes you don’t have to know the answers but only that they exist.

 

How to escape the one-dimensional character trap in fiction writing

It amazes me that in this day, we still look upon individuals and conclude a one-dimensional experience about them even if they are telling us with their actions and words everything to the contrary.

The same can apply to our stories. When writing fiction our characters represent a culture, a type, an experience.  And even though we can never represent all faces of that culture or experience we can ensure that our characters are multidimensional and that we have not short-changed them as we describe who they are.

I remember when the movie, Boyz n the Hood came out in the ‘80s I was working at a bank and a  co-worker said to me: “Oh, my god, I had no idea.” I guess she was under some delusion that I was silently suffering in a violent, impoverished environment while everyday coming into work to process expense reports for a living as a way to alleviate the pain of my miserable existence (The truth was, I was as shocked by the depictions in the movie as she).

 

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And yet I think she missed something even in that particular movie. Although there was an obvious theme of the injustices on young, African-American young men, there was so much more. Even within that subculture there were various dynamics and experiences and even within the same experience there was a different impact on each person. There is no one voice. There is no one experience. Even as two individuals gaze at the moon, each will see something different, each will reflect on his or her own connection to it. It is what makes us as humans so wonderfully amazing.

As you are telling your story I encourage you to ask the “what if”. Try looking at your story from various angles. Try to write against type. Add a new dimension to your character, perhaps one you haven’t seen or read about before. Add the “what if” element and see where it takes you. Perhaps it will be ridiculous. Or perhaps it will allow your fiction to speak to a broader audience. You may even learn something new. Remember, we are always growing, constantly discovering, forever seeking.