Did You Go Far Enough?
Selene Castrovilla talks about pushing for the truth in writing in this Tips from the Industry essay.
Selene is the author of By the Sword, Saved by the Music and her latest book, The Girl Next Door. You can read an except of The Girl Next Door on her website. Selene lives on Long Island in New York with her two sons, who sometimes think it’s cool to have a mom who writes at home… and sometimes not. (They get “shooshed” a lot — it’s hard to write and listen at the same time!)
In this essay, Selene shares with Book Divas about pushing yourself to be a better writer and not being afraid to tell it like it is–no matter where your characters or storyline takes you. For more information about Selene and her books, visit her website www.selenecastrovilla.com.
Did You Go Far Enough?
A few years ago I attended a writing conference where a seasoned and venerated children’s book editor named Patti Lee Gauch spoke. She said many wonderful and meaningful things, but one simple question she posed would hone the focus on all my future writing.
She asked: “Did you go far enough?”
It’s easy to settle for mediocrity. For doldrum writing that isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t all that good either. Why? Because you didn’t go far enough.
This means: Don’t stop revising until each sentence sings. It means: Add every sensory detail you possibly can. It means: Wring the scene for every drop of emotion.
When we plunge farther, we not only sharpen our images and plump our writing up with the most vivid spectacles possible, but we actually find the story we were meant to tell.
I go over each page a few dozen times. I edit for clarity and punctuation. I see what other senses I can add to make the story breathe as much as possible. I make sure it flows – because a story has to move like a melody for me to be satisfied. It has to have a beat.
Take a look at a favorite book of yours. What were the steps the author took to make you fall in love? How far did that writer go?
There’s a scene in The Catcher in the Rye that really does it for me. Holden Caulfield is in a bar and runs into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and her date. My favorite part is Salinger’s description of the ex’s date, a Navy man: “His name was Commander Blop or something. He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you. God, I hate that stuff.” Think about how much J.D. Salinger says in those lines, not only putting us solidly in the scene, but even more so, in the mind of Holden Caulfield.
This above all: Tell the truth. Tell the truth as you know it. Tell some truth that’s burning inside you that you have to release or you’ll spontaneously combust. You don’t have to write nonfiction. No, there’s truth in fiction too. Sometimes it’s a deeper truth, because fiction gives us license to unbutton those jeans and let our bellies flop out. After all, it’s just fiction. The truth can’t harm us if it’s wrapped up in fiction. But it can heal and transform.
I don’t mean truth like in a news brief – like you’re reporting the facts. I mean an internal truth – a universal, human truth. An unexpected truth. One that touches us all.
When you tell the truth, people will know. YOU will know, you’ll feel it in your gut, and suddenly you’ll take flight. You’ll soar.
That’s when you’ve gone far enough.