When it comes to books and the written word, I believe many of us read because those words help us connect to or process parts of ourselves that we may not fully understand, or that we’re trying to discover. Some of us connect with the characters because we resonate with their difficulties, in other characters we understand their personality and what drives them. Other stories are full of heroes in many ways and cause us to want to grow beyond who we know ourselves to be. There are many, many reasons we resonate with characters, but ultimately my philosophy is that life is a mirror, and when the written word reflects that mirror back to us, we gravitate to it and love it. When I’m writing, my thoughts are often caught in between making the writing reflect life, while creating a world that pulls the reader in to an alternate reality.
Reflect the Truth
When writing a story, to me the most important aspect is making sure the story reflects life in a very real, very raw way. I know this is my philosophy and not one that all authors share, but those are the stories I loved growing up. There are many examples of this throughout literature. Pride and Prejudice is a classic and Jane Austen’s writing is brilliant because the characters very much reflected the society at the time. It was real, it portrayed the nuances of that particular society, and the characters themselves weren’t forced or pushed into a particular box. They grew and evolved as the story progressed, exactly like we progress in life. Every day is a new day, new experiences, new growth and development, new learning opportunities; we aren’t stagnant and neither are the stories we create.
In Where Shadows Dwell I thought a lot about how to make the story real, how to make it true to life. Ryan, Lily’s boyfriend at the beginning of the story, is emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive. Which means he’s violent, he’s unfeeling, he’s not going to have loving, kind language unless he’s trying to manipulate Lily somehow. In the book, he tries to rape her. It was a scene I grappled with while writing because it’s a tough subject, but at the same time it needed to be real. A rapist with murderous intent probably isn’t going to coddle the victim. There will be violence, there will be blood. He’s bigger and stronger than she is, and he knows how to play her. Which he does. I tried to make it real, make it mirror life in a way that almost made it uncomfortable. Life is uncomfortable. That’s part of the magic, if you’re willing to allow it in.
But those aren’t the only moments we mirror when writing. Look around at life and you’ll find tiny details that create so much character. The way your child grasps your finger as she’s falling asleep, the way your puppy seems to smile when he sees you. The jumping, excited hopping the animal does when you get home. The feeling of crawling between the sheets after a long, hard day. The experience of a tear dripping on your hand because you’ve been strong for far too long and somewhere you have to break. Those emotions and experiences are what create the depth of a story. Mirror life in such a way that the reader connects with the humanity of the characters, the plot, the situation, everything. As a reader, this is what I want. I want to feel what the characters feels, see life the way they see it and have it reflect in my own. I love a book that pulls out of me emotions long ago buried, allowing me to experience, process, and let go of them.
So I have a couple of questions. One, as an author, do you reflect life in your writing and if so, how do you do it?
As a reader, what moments have you had with a book where you felt the author connected with your life and your experiences?