Sunday, February 15, 2009


I've come to realize that writing takes a certain level of truth; truth in a situation or with a character, etc. We can't hold back, be timid toward or afraid of what might happen, for any number of reasons.

An example is that I've held back before, concerned about what future readers might think of me as a person if they read something I wrote a certain way as a writer. But that's not always true to the writing, is it?

We owe it to our readers to fill our work with honest moments; moments they can relate to, sink their teeth into.

I strive to meet the truth of the human condition, and explore in an honest way the emotions we go through.

What is honesty for you, in your writing?


Amy said...

Much of the truthfulness in my writing comes from my family and childhood. So I fear being too honest and hurting my parents, especially. Anne Lamott says, "Write as though your parents are dead." Great advice, but tough to follow.

Joanne said...

On one level, honesty might come from research, giving authenticity to places, experiences, situations rooted in fact. I like writing in this way, and reading authentic stories as well. On a more personal level, honesty comes with writing what you feel, what you know, rather than for the market. There's a boldness to the writing, that moves the story forward without apology.

Janna Leadbetter said...

Amy, I know just what you mean. What if we expose an experience or personality and it offends? An awareness I have, too.

Joanne, yes! I love your clarification of the two kinds of honesty, and your phrase about moving forward "without apology" is PERFECT.

Barb Davis said...

I try to write from my heart and keep it as real as possible. On days when I'm really down, it's difficult to find the words.

I like Amy and Joanne's answers.

JLC said...

Wow. I've never thought about people connecting my writing with me. I always seem to take the approach of using an "alter ego". I like to write the things I'd like to do, but couldn't. (This might be a reason why so many actors like to play the part of the villain.) Writing gives me a chance to be rebellious, only without the consequences.

Melissa Amateis said...

Oh, being completely honest is hard. Sometimes my characters want to cuss - really bad words. But I won't let them. Is that being honest or being true to your value system? Because let's face it - what we write will be read by lots of people (hopefully).

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I write from personal experiences and the only way to tell the story is honestly, though I try to take into consideration, for the reader and market, how I express that in words.

Jen said...

For me, honesty in writing means that the situations, characters, and action all interact in ways that they actually would behave if the circumstances and people invovlved were real. Even when they do things I wouldn't, or say things that might offend people. Because there are people out there that hold beliefs that offend me greatly or do things I consider to be awful. But they're true to the character.

I draw lines wherever I can without compromising the work, but mostly, I let the story be what it is.

WendyCinNYC said...

I tend to write what I fear and blow it up into dramatic proportions. So, in a way I'm writing honestly, but not from direct experience. Does that make sense?

Janna Leadbetter said...

Barbara - Oh, I think we all have those down days.

Turk - That's a great way to look at it: rebelling with no consequences. I've noticed I kind of live vicariously through my MCs.

Melissa - This is something I've thought of often, because I believe there's a delicate line between the two. And that's, I guess, kind of what I'm getting at with this post. Should the characters and actions found within my work be in line with my own personal belief system and values? At what point is it considered individual to the person I am aside from my writing?

Donna - I think that's a huge part of it right there, writing from personal experience. That grounds our honesty in something we consider tangible, that others will feel the same or similar about.

Jen - "without compromising the work" That's very good. Something we all consider differently, but important to each work.

Wendy - I think it does, absolutely. That's the no reservation or trepidation part of honesty.

Rafael said...

Honesty and risk taking go hand in hand. You are exposing yourself (figuratively of course) in your writing. Might as well embrace it. I learned so much about myself in the past year by the way I write and what I write about. It has made all the difference in the world.

So embrace your shadow self and let it come through to land on the page.

Talking of the shadow self, here is a link to a worthwhile resource for writers (the link is to a specific article, but the site is a great resource all around):

Michele | aka Raw Juice Girl said...

I try to always write from my heart. I could share more, but then sometimes I wonder if I share too much... ;-)

Hope you're doing well, Janna. Life is busy, eh?


Janna Leadbetter said...

Rafael - Great advice! I've been on a learning path, too, and it's been great.

Michele - Yes, busy for sure! Glad to see you, and hope you're well. :)

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, Joanne.

Honesty. You can feel it and it's a very powerful emotion and self-satisfaction within yourself. It's also courage.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Interesting discussion.

It IS hard to write with complete honesty for the reason you and others expressed...but as Hemingway said, "Write one true sentence..." If you also write in the inspirational/Christian realm (which is what my first book is), then it's trickier expanding to other genres.

Think of it this way: You are not your book and your book is not a memoir. Readers of prose and poetry KNOW a narrator is speaking and the plot is fiction. Of course, we all naturally infuse our writing with real life, but it is not a retelling.

Hope that rambling comment helped in some way. :)

Joy and Phil said...

Since I am writing my mother's biography, being honest had been a huge question for me from the beginning (almost 10 years ago).

She has been gone for 29 years and her life was just too extraordinary not to tell it like it was with all the good, the bad AND the ugly.

The best advice I received was, "If the truth is an integral part of the story then you must put it in." That pretty much ended my dilemma.


Heidi said...

Boy, that's a tough question. I guess I would say that it is important to be true to the character--that's where the honesty comes in. I guess I don't think of it is me who is doing or saying it but the character. That being said, I choose not to write about characters who do things I truly would not feel comfortable writing about. (so much for honesty, eh?)

Jessica Nelson said...

I like to say in character, but I'm sure certain that parts of my morality come through in my writing. For example, one of my characters believe deeply in justice, so much so that she pursues it like a predator. But I'm not that passionate about justice, not passionate enough to hunt people down.
But I do think justice is necessary and good, so amplify that a bit and I've got a major character trait to work with.
I understand what Amy is saying. A few of my manuscripts feature MIA dads and cold moms. My dads were in and out during childhood, but how my characters feel about it is not necessarily how I do. But I am concerned that my dads would read it and feel bad.

Anonymous said...

I think about honesty often while I'm blogging. I'm pretty blantantly honest, but I avoid certain topics. I don't want to hurt people with my honesty.

Writing fiction would be completely different. No taboo topics because it's "fiction".


Melanie Hooyenga said...

I've only had that concern give me pause me once or twice, but then I kept writing what was in my head. I guess I look at it that it IS fiction, so even if I share some of the beliefs I'm writing, I can just deny deny deny.

Jewel Allen said...

I know I am being honest in my writing when I am scared/exhilarated...when I feel genuine emotion.

It's a great feeling, but sometimes, when a stranger takes it lightly, I just try to shrug it off. There's more positive than negative to honest writing.

Jewel Allen said...

PS My first response was regarding blogging and essay writing. As for fiction, I find myself calling up ugly, sad, happy moments in my life as they apply to different scenes, and they only serve to make my fiction meatier, more compelling.

I love being able to relive experiences through fiction.

colbymarshall said...

Honesty in writing for me is trying to convey how people would really act in a situation, to get across that real, raw emotion. No on is perfect, so even characters I like a lot will experience a range./

Kathryn Magendie said...

And even more - when the truth is centered around another person, it's even more difficult. In TG, the father drinks too much - when my father read it, he said "why did you make me into a drunk professor? I've been sober for almost 50 years!" -- I tried to tell him it isn't him - but a fictional character...however, we both know there are truths in the character that are my father's truths....and there is where the slippery stuff is.

Janna Leadbetter said...

Kimmi ("ww") - You're right about that self-satisfaction part. :)

Angie - The part, especially, about it not being a memoir DOES give light to new perspective. Thanks!

Joy - That's great advice. And I'm very curious about your mom's life!

Heidi - I think that's part of the joy for me; putting myself in another's shoes and writing as if it were me, doing something I'd never do in real life. Even if it's just be assertive toward a rude stranger in public!

Jessica - A very real concern, since our fiction is often based on our real experiences. At least for me, since I don't write fantasy or horror, bases solely on imagination.

FringeGirl - A very good point. It is "fiction" after all.

Melanie - Love it! ;)

Jewel - I hadn't thought of it that way, but I agree: More positive would come out of fiction with that kind of honesty.

Me too, Colby. That's what's most important for me to convey accurately.

Kat - I think those around us always hope they might somehow be represented. It's the level to which they are that might be sticky.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oh, I can totally relate to this post. I never really thought about it, but a lot of myself is reflected in my character. And while I feel I'm being honest to myself (basing characters actions or reactions off something I may do myself) I may not always be being honest to my characters and in turn the readers. I think I've probably held back some or written "safe" characters because I wonder what readers might think if I did the opposite. I think I'll keep this in mind as I start my new novel, particularly because my main character is someone I don't think I could ever relate to, at least not as the story begins.

Janna Leadbetter said...

Hi, Cindy! Glad to see you. :) That might be when it's most important - when you have little in common with your character. That honesty will help her come through more authentically. Good luck!

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