There's a boy, five years old. His head is shaven, his clothes unkempt. A scar or two creases his skin here or there. His words are mean, and he's often in trouble. He doesn't know how to treat a friend, or maybe even define one. He lives in a home with a mother who offers no rules. No structure, no direction, perhaps no love.
Your heart breaks for this little boy we'll call Dallas. You're sensitive to his story, whatever it may be.
And then you hear the story, at least part of it, from the lips of your innocent, unassuming daughter. She's in his kindergarten class.
"His daddy died. Do you know what happened?"
You feel your warm core begin to wither.
"His daddy was sleeping. Dallas wanted to wake him up, but he wasn't breathing. He wouldn't wake up. And the cops and firemen came to help, but he died."
Suddenly it all makes sense. And your heart is broken.
To read such a story in a book would make us feel a gamut of things. Sadness, distress, worry, because we know things like that really happen, but also relief, because we know what we're reading is fictional, conjured by the author's imagination.
As writers we hope to touch readers so; to affect them with our words, so they feel all those raw emotions. And it's stories like the one above, the things we feel about it, whether it's something in our own lives or something we've heard about second-hand, that we draw from. It's things like this that build our human experience, our store of reactions and thoughts and feelings that make our writing so full and real.
It's part of what makes a good writer.
What else makes a good writer?