Write Your Heart
Once upon a time (because those words are always a good way to start anything—except a novel. If you start a novel like that, prepare for your potential agent, editor, or publisher to put it down before they even reach the end of the sentence) authors gave a bit of advice to aspiring writers. “Write what you know,” they would say.
That “once upon a time” was a very recent time, just in case any of you were wondering. People still say that, though now they throw in other things. Several times I’ve found a picture on Pinterest that suggest that you write what scares you. Write what you know, write what you fear, write this, write that—all of it can be good advice, but it isn’t always.
There is one thing that I’ve found to be steady throughout my time writing: if you don’t care, your readers won’t, either. The obvious solution to this is to make ourselves care about the book.
As to how… Well. Let’s just bang ourselves over the head with the paper often enough and maybe we’ll start caring. Oh, I know! We can chain ourselves to the table. Make our computer permanently locked as a Word Document.
Or maybe that wouldn’t work so well. Sometimes, it’s necessary to sit down and not get up until we reach our goal, or open up “Write or Die” and keep it open, and sometimes our interest will grow as we work on a story. Sometimes, we’ll just hate every single word of it and be unable to wait until it’s over. When that time comes, we’ll figure out that it’s really a very bad novel. There’s no substance and we hate what we just wrote.
Once, I had no idea what I was doing, and the novels I wrote were pretty terrible. Now, I still don’t know what I’m doing, but at least I’ve figured out a little bit, which I think gives me a significantly better chance of writing anything that’s even vaguely good. It’s summarized as the tagline of this blog.
(In summary of the summary:) Give your story your heart.
When some people say this, they’ll think I mean to work on it with all of your heart. While that’s a good thing to do, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about your passion. I’m talking about what makes you cry, laugh, scream, smile. I’m talking about what you love and hate.
I’m not saying to make all of your characters exactly who you are, and thus give them the same passions as you have. Your characters should be their own people, with their own hearts. I’m saying that you are not who you are without your heart. You can’t write a good novel without putting your heart in it. I’ve seen people who believe things, and yet carefully try and keep them out of their novels. It’s like they’re afraid to put their hearts in there, and I always come away feeling like something is missing.
Other people go with whatever is popular at the time. They shove characters into dangerous situations and then pull them out again, introducing vampires, zombies, werewolves, whatever, and expect that it will be enough. They don’t put their hearts into their novel, and their writing suffers because of it.
You can have excellent characters, perfect plot twists, even things that would keep readers reading like their life depended on it, but in the end, and empty book is empty.
Earlier today, I started to think on this. Looking back on what I’ve written, I can find my heart in my works. In Joy of Stars, it’s no surprise to find street kids. In IOTW, I find a broken, pagan culture. In a Goldstone Wood Fanfiction I’m working on for the contest, I find a girl who’s desperately looking for someone to really love her and is looking in the wrong place.
There never was a moment where I stopped and decided “Oh, yes. Let’s put street kids in Joy of Stars.” None of them were intended to bring people to a conclusion or conviction.
They’re just the things that make my heart hurt. They’re a part of me, so they become a part of my novel automatically.
This topic is a hard thing to discuss on a writing blog. There’s no bulleted list of how to do it, no “How to Put Your Heart in Your Novel in Five Easy Steps.” Very rarely is it planned for. Occasionally, a person will sit down and think through things to find their passion, their heart to put in their novel, but usually, it just creeps in without us noticing.
I think there are ways to put ourselves in that mindset, though. We can write our hearts onto the paper with our characters. We can put what we love and what hurts us into our novels on purpose. We can be honest. In truth, there is no greater thing in fiction than honestly. You’re writing about dragons and portals and otherworldly things, but you’re also writing about how God can take the ashes of a broken life and make it beautiful. You’re writing about how hard standing up for what you believe in can be. You’re writing about how there is hope. You’re writing what you believe, what you fear, and what you love.
You’re writing your heart.