Thursday, November 13, 2008

Only In a Book?

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?

15 comments:

Sachin Malhotra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janna Qualman said...

^ Spammity spam. :(

Angie Ledbetter said...

I think sensitive, intuitive and empathetic writers get the job done well because they have the ability to put themselves firmly and seemlessly into their characters' shoes.

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, that's so sad. Of course the writer side of me says there's a great story. I try to immerse myself into my character and see things from their perspective.

Joanne said...

We do draw from our well of human experience, but then I think the good writer is invisible. She draws the reader into lives on the page without the reader seeing her hand behind the story, crafting, shaping. The good writer has the characters do this work for her.

thedomesticfringe said...

A teacher once told me that the best writing is done from what we've experienced. Since I don't write, except comments and blogs, I can only say that it seems to make sense to me.

Janna Qualman said...

Well said, Angie.

Melanie - It is so sad. I cry any time I think of it. And my daughter brings him up every day after school.

Joanne - That's a great point; that the writer should be "invisible." I believe I completely agree.

Fringegirl - I think you should try your hand at writing more than blog posts. You'd be great!

Turkey Lurkey said...

I think bringing characters to life is essential. A writer wants the reader to care about the character. Good post.

I am sorry about your daughter's friend. My thoughts are with them.

Janna Qualman said...

Thanks, Turk! And you made me realize I should say... though my daughter didn't know for sure, I'm fairly certain the death wasn't too recently. I'd wager to say it was within the last year or so.

Melissa Marsh said...

That poor little guy. My heart just breaks to hear his story.

I think that drawing on our own experiences and funneling them into our stories is one way good writers work. By remembering our own emotions, we can hopefully translate them onto the page and help others experience them, too.

rightonmom said...

Incredibly touching, and beautifully written. Made me want to go and hug my son.
To add the all the other wonderful comments, showing vulnerability, or the character's 'human-ness.' Even if it's the antagonist, if its done well, I could feel sorry for them!

Rachel Burton said...

Oh wow. I didn't realize it was a true story until I read the comments. How heartbreaking for that little guy.

In the same vein, bringing to life characters the reader immediately recognizes and empathizes with - even if it's the villain - is such a key thing for a wonderful story.

Janna Qualman said...

Melissa - I breaks my heart, too, whereas my daughter gets upset with how mean he is in class. I'm trying to use it as a lesson to be kind to everyone - why she should try that much harder to be his friend. Oh.. makes me so teary. Difficult lesson for five-year-olds.

rightonmom - Thank you! I'm so glad you came back. :)

Rachel - Yeah, I didn't really come right out and say that; a couple picked up on it, though. :) And I agree. It's making characters relatable - with all those feelings and such - that makes a reader drawn to them.

Angela Coffman said...

Janna,
How sad, but I'm impressed with your writing style. I'd read a novel of yours any day.

I found your blog through Kelly Marshall's.

Janna Qualman said...

Angela, thank you so much! And I'm really glad you've stopped by. Hope you and the family are all well. :)