by Laurel Blount
Writers are weird.
Oh, don’t look at me like that. We all know it. Of course, we’re weird in the best possible way. Our uber creative minds are crammed with vivid imaginings, half-baked plots, and all too often, a nail-biting anxiety about reviews and sales. We argue out loud with people we invented, we dash dripping out of our showers to jot down scene notes, and some of you (cough-cough suspense writers cough-cough) have a Google history that could get you placed on watch lists. (If you want to have nightmares, go on a hike with a suspense author. They see body-hiding potential everywhere.)
So it stands to reason that sometimes the people who understand us best are other writers.
Recently, I went to Florida on a Christian writers’ retreat with fourteen fellow authors. We stayed in gorgeous condos overlooking the bay, and we ate scrumptious food. And that was all very nice. But you know what the most wonderful thing was?
The talks, hands down.
Because we writers “get” each other. We understand the blessings and the pitfalls of this unique profession in a way outsiders (or civilians as Lenora Worth affectionately calls them)--even the ones who love us dearly--can’t.
Let me tell you, the conversations rolled at this retreat, and each one was a feast of comradery and wisdom. We discussed heart-breaking revisions, pressure-inducing deadlines, frustrations, joys, successes and failures.
No matter what you brought up, somebody in the group would say, “Oh, yeah. That’s happened to me, too! Let me tell you what I did…”
C.S. Lewis believed this is the point where the richest friendships are born--in that moment when we feel connected to someone else through a shared experience or opinion. When someone exclaims, “You, too? Really? I thought I was the only one!”
Understanding this is so important for authors. First of all, because, like I said, as writers we need the unique connections we can form with our fellow creatives. I came home from that retreat feeling energized and refreshed, armed with new friendships that I’m truly thankful for.
Secondly, we need to understand this concept because we can leverage it in our writing to forge strong emotional connections between our characters and our readers. Let me tell you how that works for me:
In every story, I try to forge several emotional points of connection between my main characters and my reader, preferably beginning at the very start of the book. I like to begin with some tiny, shared experience that will resonate in my reader’s heart. I want her to think, Oh, yes! I know just how that feels. Been there, done that!
I think this is a powerful tool, and it seems to work well. I get a lot of reviews that say, “I felt like the characters were my friends!” “I was drawn in right from the start.” Those comments always make me smile--that’s exactly the reaction I want!
So, how to choose a situation to create this connection? Easy--just pick a small, everyday experience that meshes well with both your plot and your character’s situation and personality.
For example, in my very first Love Inspired book, A Family for the Farmer, I started off with my heroine waiting in an attorney’s office with her young twins. The lawyer’s running late, and her twins are cranky and hungry. One of the kids asks for a hamburger, and the other one reminds her--loudly--that there’s never any money for hamburgers because they’re broke. Our heroine cringes and shoots an embarrassed glance at the lawyer’s sleek secretary.
So what are the points of connection here? Being forced to wait on someone who’s late, while wrangling hangry children. Being short on cash. Feeling ashamed when a child blurts out something personal--and not too flattering. Can you identify? I sure can--and I think most of our readers can, too.
Here’s another example. My new Love Inspired, Her Mountain Refuge opens with the heroine in a very different--but also highly relatable--predicament. Take a look:
Charlotte Tremaine froze midway through buttoning the forty-two tiny buttons scattered up the back of her client’s one-of-a-kind wedding gown. Her heart dropped right past her seven-months-and-counting baby bump and hit the overpriced shoes her mother-in-law had insisted she buy for Dylan’s funeral.
She gave the gaping fabric a hopeful tug.
Not a chance.
Charlotte’s heart started to pound. This was not good.
Pippa Sheridan was a gold-plated pain, but her dress was a triumph, if Charlotte did say so herself. It was a sleek dream of heavy satin and handmade French lace, vintage in its choice of material and refreshingly trendy in its cut and drape.
It was also way, way too small.
Now, maybe we’re not wedding dress designers like Charlotte Tremaine, but who among us hasn’t had an uh-oh moment like that? A sickening moment when our heart sinks, and we realize we’re in big, big trouble?
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? And that fellow feeling gives us a strong point of connection with Charlotte. Our hearts go out to her--and we want to know what will happen next.
I believe this works because deep down, we all hunger to feel like we’re really not so weird after all. Other people have their uh-oh moments, too. And when we have a you, too? experience with someone, we feel a special compassion for their struggles.
When I went to the writers’ retreat, I was reminded that I wasn’t so weird, after all--at least not among other authors. The more we shared the common struggles of writing--and life--the more connected, accepted and compassionate we all felt.
It can work the same way for our readers. The more of these universal experiences we can sprinkle in our story, the more attached they’re going to feel to our characters. And the more connected they feel, the more they’re going to care about what happens to this story person--and the less likely they are to put down the book!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this--as readers and/or writers! Leave a comment to be entered to win signed copies of both Her Mountain Refuge and the first book in the Cedar Ridge collection Lost and Found Faith!
Award-winning author Laurel Blount writes inspirational romances full of grit and grace—with characters who’ll walk right off the page and into your heart! She lives on a farm in Georgia with her husband, their four fabulous kids, and an assortment of ridiculously spoiled animals.
An enthusiastic multi-tasker, Laurel writes for both Berkley/Penguin Random House and Love Inspired/Harlequin. She’s the recipient of ACFW’s Carol Award, The New England Reader’s Choice Award and GRW’s Maggie Award. She’s represented by Jessica Alvarez of Bookends Literary Agency. Her Mountain Refuge is Laurel’s eighth book.