I’ve just returned from teaching at a wonderful writing
conference located in the redwoods of Northern California. There, for six days
I taught classes, read manuscripts and met with writers about their work. One
bit of advice I gave again and again was to learn to write deeper and truer.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few things which stood out
as I coached writers of both fiction and nonfiction:
Uncover Readers’ Unmet Needs
Whether it’s fiction or a how-to book, most of us writers
tend to propose books based on our own needs. This is great, but if we hope to
attract a wide readership, it’s important to do our homework and find out if a
deeper, more fundamental need hides behind our proposed topic.
For example, if I’m proposing a non-fiction book on how to have more faith, I might only see the issue from my own life experience. A great starting point, but what about the way others see the same problem? As I was drafting my upcoming release Prayers for Parents of Prodigals (Harvest House, January 2020), I wrote prayers not only out of my own parental longings but also from the perspective of the prodigals themselves, as well as other scenarios with parents.
I wanted my book to
resonate with as many readers as possible. Every writer must investigate her
own biases and ways of seeing and be sure it’s as inclusive as possible to
bring in readers who might not reflect our own situation.
Seek out Truth
Seeking out truth might be a way to see a problem more
inclusively, but it may also be a problem related to general wordiness,
over-description, stilted dialogue or flawed structure. When I tell students to
find the truth of the situation, they usually start searching for abstract
concepts. Locating the Universal Truth of any story is a great way to resonate
with readers, but there’s more to it than simply stating that truth.
Use your self-editing skills to revise areas which might be
universally true but which suffer from a lack of clarity or fail to reach the
reader’s emotions in a meaningful way. Many writers pepper their stories with
explosions, fires or equally dramatic events but then don’t follow through with
the emotions the characters need to bridge the gap between story and reader.
Work on your scene-writing skills, dialogue, narration and
description. Try to find the truth—what this character would REALLY say, how
that character would react to that explosion. That’s where the reader will want
Crack it Open
I used to tell memoir students to dig deeper for emotions by
“cracking it open.” This means that the surface emotions come easily, but the
deeper, truer emotions like to hide. We must dig deep (and often, painfully) to
expose those true emotions.
When we draft our work, we first hit the surface emotions.
It normally takes me several rewrites to get to the deep emotions my reader
wants to connect with. It’s OK—you must start somewhere—but don’t stay there.
Go beyond “a tear slipped down her cheek” and find the aching hollow center of your character’s reactions. One way to do this is by adopting Deep POV. Deep POV removes all the qualifiers and filter words such as, “She realized,” observed, saw, felt, knew and others, and moves the camera in closer by allowing readers to “be” the character. For an in-depth study of Deep POV, go here.
The gold standard for writing deep emotions is to allow
yourself to feel your feelings completely. In our society, we hide behind masks
and say we’re fine when we aren’t. At least in your writing, learn to pull off
your mask and let readers see and experience the raw, unfiltered emotion that can
resonate with their own longings. Writing deep will put your writing above the
fray when it comes to reader experience.