Sharon encouraged us to dig deep as writers. It amazes me how frequently my “fight or flight” instinct kicks in on behalf of my characters.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better (I hope) at recognizing those moments and steering into traffic instead of swerving to the curb. Here are three reasons and three techniques for digging deep in your writing.
1) Speak to your reader. Reason one for digging deep as a writer is so that you can reach out to your reader and say what they need to hear. You can’t do that if you skim the surface, write tip-of-the-brain plots and scenes. It’s the difference between a chat around the water cooler, and a conversation that runs deep into the night.
2) Stop lying to yourself. Last year, I wrote a blog post about how reading fiction brings us closer to our true experience as human beings. “Fiction is the story of you living a different life in order to be able to see yourself in a new way and make sense out of the life you are living.
You’re hiding it.
And it’s making you crazy.
Fiction says, “Welcome home.’”
A writer will never truly become a writer until she can face her humanity full on and tell the truth without trying to justify it.
3) The more personal the pain, the more universal it is. That stuff you’re ashamed of? So are we. We all have those charred marbles rolling around in our souls, those broken off pieces, long dead yet still so powerfully able to bend us low. Those questions you have—more like doubts, really—yeah, we’ve all got them. The skilled writer takes the reader by the hand, walks her into the pain, and teaches how to stare it down. And don’t you want to be that kind of writer?
Here are three techniques for digging deep.
1) Listen to the scene. You’re writing and things are flowing, then BANG, you hit a wall. The words dry up and you’re scrambling to push through to the end of the scene. Most often the reason your creative tap turned off is because you fudged a deep truth, a difficult reality in order to preserve your emotional distance from the scene. Go back and pin point where you hedged or skimmed when you knew the right thing to do was tell a stark truth. Likely, it will take the scene in a different direction (maybe even the story) then you intended, but your intentions don’t matter. The story matters.
2) Read your work aloud. There are a million good reasons for doing this frequently: you spot typos, missing words, misspellings. You also will hear places where you’re lying to yourself. Say the words aloud and if they are true, you’ll hear that truth ringing clear. Fudged, shallow words? You’ll hear that too.
3) Kill off the bad nouns. “Terror”, “horror”, “hysteria”—kill them all. I’ve read sentences like, “Her heart filled with dread.” Um. Gee. That’s too bad. Maybe she should look at getting that fixed. Now, before you jump on the “here’s how to show and not tell” bandwagon, let me stop you there. People’s hearts filling with dread is never the point. It’s too late by then. What’s important are the few seconds just before her heart filled with dread. What was going on then? What clues were in the room that let her in on the fact that dread was knocking on the door? Write that. No pat phrases, no emotional shorthand.
Here’s your Novel Matters Assignment, should you choose to accept it: Write/read through your WIP—as much as you dare—and follow these three techniques. I follow them and its made a huge difference in my storytelling. Share your additional ideas/experiences in the comments section!