Today, a blog post for writers: getting to the emotional heart of your writing. This is one exercise in a series of exercises I’ve got planned for my talk at our Montana spring SCBWI retreat in two weeks.
Readers want stories that touch them in a deep way. They want stories that resonate long after the reading is finished. To write such a story you must be willing to push outside your comfort zone. You must be willing to write from the heart even when it hurts; you must be willing to press beyond the familiar even when you’re uncertain.
Every story is ultimately about desire. The strength of your story directly reflects the strength of your desire – your desire to work on it, to dream about it, to find the heart of it, to love it. That desire is inside you, and it’s also inside your work, and you have to translate that desire so your reader feels it.
Here’s an exercise I’ve used to understand what drives me, what desires I have and therefore what desires will rise through my work and reach readers. Try this:
- List your 3 most powerful childhood memories
- Identify the 3 emotions key to each of those memories
- List the 3 emotions that drive your protagonist in a work that’s important to you now.
- Circle the strongest emotions from these b and c lists, paying attention to patterns.
For example, two repeating emotional patterns in my life (and thus in my work) have been betrayal, and fear of death. What are yours? Can you make certain that they appear in your story? That you can tackle them even when they hurt?
That’s the secret to writing fiction that moves people. Your characters need to express what is in your heart as a human, and as an artist. You are bringing something to life. You are the Blue Fairy. Yours is the only voice that can ever express what you feel. You’re not in competition, not even with yourself. You just have to believe that you can write to the heart of your story.
You have to try to write what you think you can’t.