Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are you afraid?

Yesterday was a crazy day. I have a Cocker Spaniel, Bella. She started getting sick two nights ago and refused to come inside. So, yesterday I noticed she wasn't able to walk so well. I called her Vet and had an appt set for 1:20. By noon she had crawled under our storage shed in the backyard and refused to come out.

I am petrified of snakes and pretty much anything that creeps and crawls, but I knew I needed to get her out of there. I stood by the shed for thirty minutes, gaining the courage. The shed sits about a foot above the ground and she was at least six feet in so, yeah, for me to get her I would have to crawl on my stomach and pull her out. At this point I'm crying because she has vomited a few times and is screaming in pain. My daughter, Rylie, is outside with me, begging me to help Beya (that's what she calls her). So I'm looking at my crying daughter and looking at my crying dog and decided to toughen up. I crawled under the shed, pushed aside the thick, disgusting leaves, and pulled her out. She didn’t move, barely breathed. I carried her to my car and raced to the Vet.

She passed through the night due to kidney failure. I am sad, but I am also very proud of myself. She was in tremendous pain and thanks to the Vet visit she was able to die in peace.

But this experience made me think about writing and how often we avoid delving into tough matters or subjects that personally bother us. Why? Why do we avoid hyper emotional topics? Instead we often write about OTHER people's troubles. For example, my parents are divorced. When I read a YA where the parents are divorced, I can instantly tell whether the author has actually experienced divorce. The writing will feel raw with emotion. And there are a zillion examples like this.

So here is our test: Think of something life changing in your life and the emotions you felt. Have your MC go through the same or similar experience and read the scene. I bet it takes you back. I bet the writing is pure and deep and beautiful. Because that's what true emotion does, it makes our characters relatable.

Our readers should feel our writing, not just read it.



  1. I'm so sorry to hear about Bella! I was away from home when our family dog died a couple of years ago (also kidney failure), and I'm tearing up just thinking about it. You definitely did the right thing, and I'm sure Bella could sense you were trying to help her.

    This is a great test. Not to go all cliche on you, but I think this is perfect example of how powerful 'writing what you know' can be. That's not to say you can't make up things, or visit ideas and places you've never been, but when you are deeply connected to something, that passion and experience translates to the page.

    I've definitely dealt with avoiding issues because they bothered me, but I've also avoided delving deeper into issues because I'm afraid that other people won't want to read about them. Like, they aren't mainstream or interesting enough or whatever. But this test is good to keep in mind! I want my book and my characters to feel real, and to do that, I think you should embrace the fear and stay true to yourself, your feelings, and experiences. Then the reader has no choice but to be sucked in :-)

  2. I'm sorry for your loss. Losing a pet is very hard and you overcame a fear and were there when Beya needed you the most. Being able to relate this experience to making your writing richer is a wonderful lesson to us all. Thanks for helping us to see that.

  3. So sorry about your dog! That must have been so tough. What a wonderful post, though. I totally agree with you about delving into the touchier subjects. I am to the point now where I don't want to put my characters through things because I wouldn't wish certain experiences on anyone. But, reading about those experiences, and how the character deals with them, is what makes writing feel more real.

    What a rough month you've had! I hope you have some relaxation time coming up soon! You deserve it.

  4. Also, guess what my verification word was? "Angst" haha

  5. Thanks everyone. :) It has been a tough month, though, whenever I feel my life is tough I think back to a production worker at my office. She once told me (not out of pity but honesty)that she had to choose between paying her power bill or buying her daughter a Christmas present. She wanted my advice on what I would do. I will never forget that conversation b/c no matter what my circumstance, someone else has it worse...

  6. Sorry to hear about your Bella. But you were very brave! And I think you are right about raw and true emotions. I love reading something that I know is coming from the writer's open heart. It's hard to explain, but I think you can tell by the level of emotion that words evoke that it's coming from an authentic place and/or past.

  7. Hmm. I think I might need to make this a weekly exercise-- write something from my past that was/is emotionally charged. I think just getting used to writing such things, even for my-eyes-only, will help me incorporate such writing into my novels. Thanks, Melissa, and I'm so sorry about your poor Bella.

  8. Karen -- Yes, I agree. I love raw emotion in fiction.

    Vonna -- Thanks re: Bella and I am so glad you found the post useful.