Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On Writing: Make Us Feel It

I was looking through some of my notes on writing recently, and I came across this bit that I jotted down during a talk given by a former traditional pub editor at a writers meeting in Austin, TX, last year. She had left the company to write full-time, so she had the unique perspective of being both a writer and an editor.

She told us how while she was going through the editing process on one of her books (which was published by a different house than the one she was working for at the time), she had written about a rather emotional experience she had gone through when she was very young, and she had her main character go through that same experience. When her editor came back to her with notes, she was told that that particular part didn't work in the story as a whole. So, they did some brainstorming and she went back to rewrite the portion.

By the time she was finished, the experience that her book's character went through was nothing like what she had experienced in real life. However, she said that the rewritten part made the story stronger, and while the experiences weren't the same, she said the emotion behind what she had written was, and that's the part that mattered and made the story memorable.

J.K. Rowling told a similar story on her website, I think, before it underwent some changes. Or in an interview. I can't remember exactly where I had read this, but when her mother died, she was understandably heartbroken. When she had Harry find the Mirror of Erised, she imprinted her own longing for her deceased mother into his longing for his deceased parents. And that's why it was easy for us, the readers, to feel that longing with him--because it was really hers.

Sometimes, as writers, I think we forget that important piece of good storytelling when we're plugging away at our manuscripts. It really is very easy to get wrapped up in the telling of events and world building and mechanics and whatnot that we forget that readers are as human as we are, and they have the capacity to feel the same things we feel. That's why we can't forget certain books or movies or songs sometimes, because they did something more than just entertain us; they really connected with us on a much deeper level.

(Image courtesy of...whoever "PA" is.)