Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review - Write from the Heart

Many people are very private in their personal lives, and so developing details of conflict that engage the reader is difficult for them because who would ever admit that life is full of serious problems? Especially people who only show their most proper side in public. For example, would you publicly admit that you have ever had a mental melt down and gone completely nuts, yelling at your spouse or your kids, or that you may have possibly done anything sneaky or subversive or in any way unflattering or immoral? Like stealing extra napkins and hot sauce packets from Taco Bell, or acting smug and superior about something and then realizing later you were wrong, but then still refusing to admit it? Ok, maybe you would admit that you have done some of these things, but would you actually want other people to be there to witness the scene as you are experiencing what could possibly be your worst Rumpelstiltskin moment ever?

It may feel like your characters' behaviors and attitudes are a reflection on who you are as a person. This isn't really true though, because I can tell you from personal experience that characters take on a life entirely their own and do or say things that you would NEVER do! (Either that, or maybe I'm just a tad schizophrenic.)

I once edited for a woman who wanted to write a YA novel about a young girl who ended up pregnant after date rape, but she was unwilling to make her character do or say anything that would be inappropriate in any way, or make her experience anything that would have led up to the conflict that she wanted to portray in her story. This could have been done very effectively without even taking the reader into the actual date rape scene, just by developing the story that unfolded around it, but this writer had a very hard time dealing with some of the events that would have led a girl into this situation, and she would not allow herself to take her character through the necessary pain. This left a lot of unanswered questions, for example, how did her character, who was a good girl with high moral standards, put herself into a situation where this could happen? How did she end up dating that kind of boy in the first place? Did her character do anything, even something small and seemingly innocent, in a moment of weakness that may have started a chain of events that took her down this path? How did she break the news to the boy, and how did he react? How did she break the news to her parents, and how did they react? I find it ironic that writing this kind of heartbreaking prose in a sensitive way requires a certain amount emotional toughness that if done without, your writing falls flat.

I found Leslea Newman's book, Writing from the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write, on one of my regular visits to the library. In the front section there is a quote:
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. ~Muriel Rukeyser
My question is, what would happen if all of us began to tell the truth about our lives? I think that the world would figuratively 'split open.' We would have to face the truth and realities of our lives in a way that would be life changing. The writing exercises in this book are mostly geared toward women, but could really be useful to anyone who wants to write about the details of life in a heartfelt and honest way.

This book has warm up exercises, exercises for writing setting, action, character, monologue, dialogue, point of view, the "elusive plot," and poetry. In the back there are appendices that have information on publishing, additional writing resources, and recommendations for further reading. Each exercise has a short example that you can read through to see how she handled each aspect in her own writing. And each exercise is directed at making an emotional connection between your characters and your reader.

I can't help but think that this book would have been a very helpful tool to the writer I spoke of earlier, and may have helped her to progress from an unpublished hopeful to the novelist that she wanted to be. I know these will definitely help me.

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