One of the things I believe is most important in our writing is to write with emotional honesty. For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events. So far it’s missing in Frankie’s story which means I think about it a lot. For me the emotional connection between my life and my character’s life makes the difference between a book with voice and just a bunch of words on the page.
I read a recent interview with Deborah Wiles that she did for The Institute of Children’s Literature. In it she said, “When I say I start with a voice, I think I’m also saying that I start with a feeling. And that’s how it works for me that I get my life into stories. It’s a voice, yes, but it’s really a feeling that I want to make manifest, if that makes any sense. I don’t even understand it myself all that well. I just know that when something is bothering me, or making me particularly joyful, it can find a voice in story.”
That resonates with me, most especially with Frankie. I know he is in pain and I know he hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t know the details but I know that he doesn’t believe his life can be anything different than what it is right now and that somehow it is my job to help him think differently. I try to use my dreams as a way to help me with my writing. I often give myself a sleep suggestion to let my subconscious work while I rest. Of late it has been the same suggestion: “tell me more about Frankie and his story.” Most mornings I wake up and remember very few dreams but sometimes they are vivid like one I had just the other night.
In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a bit a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up. And I have NO idea what was in the box.
No, this is not a Star Wars connection. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and am not a big fan. And here’s the thing, I don’t know my own father. I’ve never met my dad or anyone in his family. In my 47 years I’ve only seen the few wedding pictures of him from when he was a gawky 18-year-old in a white suite. He was gone before I was born and I have heard little about him. What little I did hear wasn’t good. In fact, it was so bad that back in elementary school when someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I automatically said no, so conditioned was I to hiding the truth.
So it is odd and maybe a bit scary to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift, perhaps even what I need. And it is sad to think I don’t know what is in the box.
For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events.
This is something I only realized a few years ago, and started being able to do consciously, though I think I’ve always done it unconsciously.
Sometimes it’s easy–like the adventurer who’s desperate to have her adventures; I know that feeling. Sometimes it’s harder–like the character who didn’t believe she deserved to live at all, and forced me to dig deep, deep down until I realized that I understood her fear of not being good enough better than even was comfortable, even if I didn’t have the same responses.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t done this for the current story, and need to. A useful reminder!
Interesting, isn’t it, how much of our writing we do right, albeit unconsciously?
I’d be in so much trouble without my subconscious. It knows so much more than I do!
this sounds like method acting….or method writing. Finding the emotion within yourself first, and working off of that. Kind of what that little boy was doing with his art, though i’ve never heard of this before. Method writing works for so many people though. It brings out the truth in you, and so in your writing.
About my writing….I’m losing to the voice. My poems are getting older and not becoming the pb I want them to be. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get it down to that or not. Right now, my motivation for the character is becoming the story and I can see it more as a mg. Still fighting with this, as I’d prefer 15 poems not lots and lots. But we’ll see. Sometimes you just can’t win against yourself.
I avoid this way of writing for many years and it showed in my writing. Hugging the Rock was the first book that really broke through to the truth. I think I have spent so many years hiding from things, from people, from feelings, that it was hard to tap into the needed emotion. And of course I had to be in a safe place in my own life before I could stretch like this with my writing.
As for your writing, you can’t force your story into a pb if it is meant to be a mg anymore than I can force mine to be in verse if is meant to be in prose. Perhaps you only needed the poems to get you started?
What an amazing dream. And I’d bet anything you’re about to find out what was in that box.
I sure do hope so!
Did you ever think . . .
that what was in the box doesn’t matter? Maybe what the man in your dream gave you is a way in to Frankie’s pain and loss — by dredging up your own. Inside the box might be everything you ever wanted to know about the person who handed it to you, or something really, really icky, or something really, really sentimental and wonderful. But you’re stuck with the not knowing the same way that Frankie’s stuck with his difficult life and pain.
I probably shouldn’t practice armchair psychology. I’m sure not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But when I read your post it all connected for me, so I’m sharing the connection in case it helps. (Feel free to delete this either way.)
Re: Did you ever think . . .
Yes, I think you’re right and it is the reason I always try to connect something of my own life (emotionally) to the character in my book. It is the not knowing that is driving Frankie and the not knowing that haunted me for years (still does when I let it.)
It seems that every story I write is somehow about my father or lack of. I worry that each story won’t be different enough and yet I know that I am likely destined to keep chewing on the same issue for many years until I can make my own peace with not knowing.
How about practicing some armchair medical doctoring? I’ve got this ache in my arm . . . 😉
So did you try the sleep suggestion? Did it work?
Mine isn’t helping lately so I must be blocking things for some reason. I keep asking what I am supposed be writing and end up not remembering any dreams at all.