Never mind the ‘short paragraph’, I could write an entire book.
So, what would I tell her?
The question got me thinking, and reflecting back to the beginning of my writing journey. And I asked myself what is the one thing I know now that I’d have liked to know back then. One thing to have made my journey more expedient, more fruitful. My writing more meaningful.
Ideas bombarded me from left, right and center.
Yet another book I could write.
So many things I’ve learned through trial and error, through more experienced writers sharing their expertise and knowledge; words of wisdom around finding like-minded writers, joining writing groups, forming critique circles; learning and practicing craft, and in those spare moments in between, reading to continually fill the well of creativity.
Then there’s the actual sitting down and writing part.
I wish I’d realized the importance of voice. From those first few moments when I began to write, I thought my story – and the tone of my story – should sound like other successful authors. After all, the way they wrote was what made them successful, right?
So, instead of writing in a way that was natural and reflective of me, I tempered my tone and tried to write like someone else. Tried to sound like someone else.
Not only did my stories sound stilted and unnatural, but they lacked the edge and special something that would make them unique – the voice that would make them stand out and scream ‘Michelle Somers wrote this’ to anyone who read them.
Through a gradual progression, and five complete novels, I slowly found my voice, and I’m happy to say, I love it! Imagine how different those five – unpublished, unpublishable – stories would have been had I written and, dare I say, embraced my voice back when I first started writing?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
There are other lessons I wish I’d known – the ‘show don’t tell’ doctrine, how to thread in backstory, how to layer characters and give them depth, how to construct GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) and make those very same characters 3-dimensional and believable.
But above all these tips that I would have found exceptionally useful back in the beginning, there is one that stands out in my mind, one that I’ve found a lot of authors tend to overlook or forget to do…
Write from within your characters.
Okay, I can see you squinting and shooting me a wary ‘what is she on about?’ sideways stare. What do you mean ‘write from within your characters’? you ask.
It’s simply this: when you write a scene, put yourself in the place of your characters. Don their skin, their mind, their thoughts, their experiences.
Walk the journey that is their story in their shoes.
If your character is trekking through blistering heat, their body dusty and sweat-slicked, their brand new, unbroken-in hiking boots rubbing their heels raw, step right inside and write from within their experience. And write from within yours.
In a situation just like theirs, what would you think? Feel? Say? Do?
Write as if their experience is your experience. If they hate trekking, fear it even, ask why? Maybe it’s because the last time they slipped into their hiking boots their best friend died after falling into a crevice. Feel what they would feel. Find a parallel in your life.
Then ask more questions. Why are they out there now? Why would they put themselves through that trauma? That pain? Maybe it’s because their child is lost and they must find them before they meet the same fate as their friend?
Now feel those emotions.
Find more parallels. When did you last feel scared? Stressed? Panicked even?
What thoughts battered through your mind at the time? What visceral reactions racked your body?
Write from a place of experience and understanding. Write from your character’s point of view but draw from your own life to give the writing depth.
If your character laughs, think of the last time you laughed.
If they cry, think about the last time you cried.
For my debut, Lethal in Love, my central character lost someone they loved. Someone who meant the world to them. Those moments when they felt that loss were some of the most challenging I’ve had to write. There was one scene in particular, just moments after the death. I have to admit, I struggled over this scene. I wrote draft after draft, until finally one made me cry.
I drew from experience. I remembered the day my father died. Remembered the shock, the pain, the utter and unbearable loss, and then I wrote.
Writing can be a painful business. It can dredge up memories and emotions that we’d rather leave buried deep beneath the surface of normalcy. But those memories, those emotions, are what makes a great writer. They allow us to write from a place of understanding, a place of empathy, a place so deep inside our characters, the line between us and them blurs.
They become real. Three-dimensional. They take us to a place where fact and fiction collide. And they make us feel with every fiber of our being.
So, what advice would I give to a budding writer above all other advice?
Write from within your characters.
Make your characters feel. Make them hurt, laugh and love.
Make them grab the attention and heart of the reader and never let go.
Until then, have a fabulous month, and MAY THE FORTH BE WITH YOU 😊
Michelle lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making. And a cheeky, furry feline called Emerald. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. Her second book, Murder Most Unusual was released February this year.