I was strolling through the archives and came across this wonderful post from former blogger, Newberry Honor winner Audrey Couloumbis. Audrey is the real deal brilliant and I love pretty much everything she does. I especially liked this post full of nuggets of wisdom for writers, so am re-posting it here. I hope you get lots from it. Please leave a comment at the bottom. - Mira
Children can't keep many of their flaws and failures to themselves, given the wide audience of attentive adults and interested peers in their lives. Rarely are they able to mount a reasonable defense for misbehavior, misguided responses, or simply not thinking about the consequences of their actions.
Generally, their mistakes tell us something about our similar weaknesses; if not our misbehavior, then our unguarded responses and poorly thought-out reactions.
Often, that's why they're in such big trouble. We're embarrassed.
Fear. Humiliation. Insecurity. Vulnerability. Inability. Shame. Guilt.
We all have several moments we can remember,
feeling any, and probably all, of these emotions. We have an experience that makes us afterward more guarded, even secretive.
If asked about a particular event, we reveal only the most trivial bits of information, the parts that make us less the engineer of the train that pulled us along this disastrous track, more the hapless caboose, and hope that will also make the whole thing far less interesting.
The most inspiring novels I’ve read lately have, at the root of their characters’ stories, negative experiences and emotions as the key learning experience. To write these stories requires a kind
of courage; first, as we face the blank page and
our store of memories, then, as we share the hard parts. Whether physical or emotional; genetic or circumstantial, bad experiences have shaped us
all, perhaps more firmly than individual good experiences.
But when we write, we’re doing just the opposite, we’re trying to make what might otherwise read as a generic event more personal, more relevant to the life of the character we write about. That’s how we hope to validate the experience of our young reader (and the older one), who might otherwise live in self-imposed isolation.
We want to take the story to a place where our character finds they have inner strength and some control in their lives (mostly, that's where we want to go). But to do that, we have to find a way to say, “Me too, I’ve felt that way too. And you and I aren’t the only ones.”
Why choose to write about a negative experience? Why not find a positive that teaches the same lesson?
It takes a seriously introspective person to learn something from a positive, and introspection is something few of us take time for as we twitter our next significant update on being stuck in traffic or having a cold.
And, I'm sure you know this as well as I do, no one reads Cinderella to find out how good the stepsisters were to her. No. We want to read about how she picked herself up from the ashes and carried on. With help from her fairy godmother, okay, but still. Up and onward, baby.
So that's where much of our writing energy goes, to pumping up the plot, event by dastardly event. And the reader loves it. But to give those character's some heart, to make those events more meaningful and the whole of it thought-provoking, we have to give the story something of ourselves.
To put a little of your own real experience into your intergalactic warrior's life, let her remember a key moment with her (your) mother.
Decide what lesson in compassion your bear hunter needs to learn, think of some of your own cringe-worthy errors in judgment, and figure them into the story.
To understand how your character feels in a moment you've never experienced (and you're glad of it), think of your most unshared fear, and undercover of the story, share it.
And then, ease the pressure.
My daughter once said to me, "Mom, I don't want to find anything funny in this," but I still think it helps to lighten a difficult moment when we can.
Audrey Couloumbis is headed out to the garden to fight the good fight another day, wearing mud-encrusted boots and pyrethrin-laced clothing, trailed by two bunny-chasing poodles. I wish you an excellent writing day (which I had last night.)
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