This is a guest post by Sanford Begley. You can find his other work at the Otherwhere Gazette where he primarily writes wit and wisdom with a fannish tinge. Around here, he’s probably better known as Cedar’s First Reader, for reasons that shall become clear in the post. And I’m very happy he wrote this, I am up to my neck in a series of essays for the final exam of my Criminal Law class. See you all in the comments!
I write nonfiction and opinion pieces. Those things should be written from the head. Fiction should be written from the heart. This isn’t to say that the heart doesn’t inform nonfiction, nor that you shouldn’t use your head writing fiction. Just that the emphasis is different. It is sort of like the difference between debating someone and wooing them. In debate you often use emotion to sway people, but to win you usually need facts, figures, and logic. In courtship you win her by wooing her heart, not by showing her that you are on track to make at least middle management by 35. Not that showing yourself as successful hurts any.
I can write lyrical nearly poetic scenes such as:
Today it is gloomy here in Ohio. The sky an opalescent gray extending all the way to the ground. There is a mist in the air, too fine to be called rain and hanging so well that an umbrella is useless. The temperature is so warm that no one could stand to wear rain gear. The students at the university are dealing with it by ignoring it, shorts and t shirts are the order of the day. Altogether it brings my emotions to a certain spot where I want to scream. “WET T-SHIRT DAY”
This does not mean that I can write fiction, it means I can use descriptive language and humor. Important for fiction writers but only a start. To write good fiction you must touch something inside yourself and inside your reader. You must be able to make him feel: good, bad something. If he doesn’t get an emotional charge out of your writing you have failed.
Sarah Hoyt has been known to say that to write well you must open a vein and bleed upon the page. This is what captures the hearts and minds of your potential readers. I think she has the essence of it. I get this because I have seen it.
As many of you know I am engaged to an author, Cedar Sanderson. As her fiance I have been privileged to watch her create some wonderful work from her mind and heart. I am going to use her work to illustrate some of my points today. This is not because I am pushing her books, though if this results in new sales and fans I would be pleased. It is because I have been able to watch her so closely. I know quite a few authors, to some degree or another. I know her deeply, thoroughly, intimately…Get your minds out of the gutter, I was talking about as an author. No, it doesn’t matter that my mind went there first. Behave yourselves!
We will start with an unusual example of putting her heart into her work, One Eyed Dragon A simple story of a tattoo artist with a very unusual customer in some variant of ancient Japan. The customer is protectress of the local village. The artist newly arrived and with a past, hinted at, but not detailed. At the time Cedar wrote this she was immersed in a course on Oriental art and history. Her love of the art and period spilled out onto the page . The story was a shock to her to write because it fit in with nothing she was doing. Her fascination with her studies made it happen.
Another example of putting emotion into a story is more personal for her. Her story Memories Of The Abyss deals with the emotional struggles of her first marriage. This is the only story she has publicly stated that she wrote it by bleeding onto the page. Her pain both the remembered and the lingering pain of any failed marriage come through completely. She speaks eloquently though obliquely of her struggles and this comes through clearly. Someone who has never been in an abusive relationship can get a taste of it vicariously. Spilling heart’s blood like this can also help with catharsis for the writer.
Vulcan’s Kittens was a different type of putting her heart into it. Originally written in letters to her daughter at camp a mother’s dreams of a good life for her daughter seep onto the pages and into the hearts of the reader. Oddly enough, this Ya story has a lot of senior citizen male fans. Simply because that innocent love shines through. All love, after all, isn’t between a man and a woman.
The love in her writing That I am most familiar with is the love written into her fantasy trilogy Pixie For Hire Which consists of Pixie Noir, Trickster Noir, and Dragon Noir. Pixie started as a short to make me laugh. Somehow talking about it expanded it into a trilogy…so far. I was a little down so she wrote about the tiny guy with the great big gun. As the books coalesced a lot of her love began to show. While I am not Lom and he isn’t based on me there were parts of our lives that got written into it.The reluctance of an older man who felt he was a terrible catch was taken from the early period of our relationship, Certainly the hesitations as the romance moved along were reflections of real life. In Trickster Noir a major plot point was the recovery of Lom from a near fatal experience. It rings true to men who have experienced it. That is because Cedar has had several men in her life who had to recover from such things. She captured the experience well enough that it can be painful to read about. Her love of books and libraries winds through the trilogy culminating in the library scenes in Dragon Noir.
I don’t know if you need to bleed into a story for it to be good. I do know that emotions liberally laced through it help. So if you want to write a story that stirs people, make sure it stirs you.