Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Commitment to Life

In my ever growing stack of books on my nightstand, I have a precious volume of WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, by Donald Mass. Among all the wonderful advise that just seeps from this book, the one that I have been thinking about a lot these days is about how "to catch the mood of our times." In other words, he talks about how to give our story a dosis of reality so that the reader, whoever our intended audience may be, can identify with our characters so much, the characters' stakes become the readers' stakes. Isn't this a wonderful concept? In what ways does the outcome of a story affect our lives so much?

In his book, Donal Mass estates that "to write about life, you must live it." Also that "writing the breakout novel demands a commitment to life... take your stakes from life, and they will resonate like a temple gong."

In the different writers' workshops I've attended through the years, I've often heard similar advice: have other interests besides writing, take a dance/drawing/Zumba/skydiving class, have fun with friends, take yourself on an artist date, read outside of the genre you usually read/write, enjoy nature.

There's a scene in the Little Women movie, that perfectly illustrates this concept. Following her dream of becoming a an author, Jo has written a book she's super anxious for Mr Bhaer to read. The next day she wants to hear his opinion, probably imagining his lavish praise of the book she worked so hard on. If Mr Bhaer has an attribute, that attribute is honesty. He says that he didn't feel the book came from her heart. He goes on to say, "write about life, write from your heart."

In the movie, Jo applies his advice (after some heartfelt tears, of course) and writes the story she was always meant to write. 

It doesn't mean we should all write memoirs about our lives, that there's no room for fantasy or science fiction. There wouldn't be Harry Potter, Narnia, or Avatar! Instead, it means that to make our stories come alive, we, the storyteller, the wordsmith, must know that it is that feels like life. Draw from our experiences and infuse the essence of emotions in our words.

What books have you read in which the stakes have been so high and real that you saw yourself in the story? What books resonate with you so much they feel like "real life"even though they are fiction?

1 comment:

Julie Daines said...

I think that's the same advice Gilbert gives Anne Shirley regarding her writing--after the baking powder fiasco.

We have to have some experiences in our lives from which to draw the emotions our characters need to feel real.