Worth It

You sit down at your desk every day, diving deep into your mind, scavenging for a few rusty words to pen down. It wears your brain down, and you sigh in frustration as you look at the few measly pages that took you all of two months to compile. You look again at the story in your mind and realize that it isn’t much more than that. Is it even worth it? Aren’t there a billion other people who could do the exact same thing as you are trying to do?

No. No, there are not. Because no one else views the world through the same set of eyes.

Let me tell you right now, that if you have ever asked yourself those questions, you are not alone. I think I ask them myself every day. Some days, writing is awesome. Some days, I clock in around 6,000 words and am completely ecstatic with the way the story’s going. And some days, it feels like I’m writing with my own blood and I’m deleting every fifth word. I want to scream at my computer and throw my notebook out the window so the wind can carry the pages to someone more capable than I.

But there is no one else that can write the story for you. This world has 7.6 billion people, and only one of them is capable of writing that particular story. Only one. And that person is you.

worth it

Let me phrase it this way. You know the Harry Potter theme? Yeah, that song that, when it starts playing, instantly makes you stop whatever you’re doing and get choked up with emotion? No? Maybe that’s just me. But there is something quite magical about the music in Harry Potter. Whenever the theme song plays, it makes you think of the story and the characters and the magic.

Now let me ask you something. What if the director had gotten Hans Zimmer to write the soundtrack? It’d be amazing, no doubt, because Hans Zimmer is insanely talented (think Pirates of the Caribbean). But it would be much, much different, because only John Williams could have written that magical tune that we all know.

Now what if Tolkien decided to give all his notes about The Lord of the Rings to a trusted friend? What if he taught him all the lore of Middle-earth and told him the detailed histories of the hundreds of characters? What if he gave his friend all the maps, alphabets, even rough drafts of chapters? I think we still would have ended up with a very different book, don’t you, precious?

God gave you the gift of writing for a reason. He’s going to use it someday. Even if just one person in the entire world needs to hear your story, it will be worth it. And you’re the only person who can write it. Don’t give up. Try again, yes, restart, rewrite, scream and throw your notebook at the wall if you have to, but don’t give up.

I used to give up after a couple of tries at the same story. Right now, I am starting–for the third time this month–a new story. Seventh time if you count what I tried to do two years ago. It’s getting old. I’m tired of this endless cycle of not being able to find that sweet spot where the story resides. But God gave me a talent and a desire to write, and if only one person in the world reads this story, that will be fine by me. If I am able to express God’s beauty and love through this story, then it will be worth it.

So go on, dear writer. It’s worth it.

Do you often find yourself discouraged and wanting to give up?

What’s your motivation for when writing gets tough?

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The Power of Empathy: How to Keep Readers in Thrall

Funky 6Hi everyone!! Today, I have a very special post… I am absolutely THRILLED to have Angela Ackerman on my blog! She’s here to talk about character empathy. So, without further ado, I’ll hand things over to her. 🙂

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Gluing readers to the page. This is a writer’s goal each step of the way, from gaining the attention of an agent, to compelling an editor to make an offer, and finally, to enthralling an audience. We strive to make people experience something powerful when they read our words. To genuinely FEEL. To care.

Sounds…um, not easy? I know! Building empathy requires skill, knowledge and practice. Writers must become deeply in tune with a reader’s emotions and learn how to use these feelings to bind them to the story.

 

Girl with booksMake Outsiders Become Insiders

When a reader opens a book, they have certain expectations. They know the book’s genre and the jacket copy offers a peek into what the storyline is about. However, at this point, they are still Outsiders. They have not yet invested in the protagonist or their journey. The author has a narrow window of time to draw readers in and convert them into close confidants. Insiders.

Encouraging empathy is the way to make this happen. When readers are brought into the hero’s or heroine’s point-of-view, they not only begin to understand the character’s world, they actually can share their experiences, something done by keying into real human experiences.

Each of us knows how it feels to make a mistake, to screw up in a way that disappoints others and ourselves. Likewise, we also know what it is like to face a difficult challenge and triumph, proving to ourselves and others that we are capable and worthy. These are two situations out of infinite possibilities that readers will read and recognize because they too have had these experience and felt the emotions that go with them. When a writer shows emotion-bound experiences like these through the character’s eyes the reader connects to them and the character. They remember their own past experiences and it created a sense of shared understanding—brotherhood. And this allows empathy to form.

Empathy is a powerful bond where a reader invests in and cares for the hero or heroine. The character is more than a name on a page; they take on bones and shape, and become someone worth caring for. This emotional investment means a reader will feel discomfort and anguish at the losses and excitement and satisfaction at the wins. Whenever readers find themselves caring about what is at stake, the author has succeeded at making them Insiders who root for the protagonist all the way to the finish line.

 

5 Ways To Encourage Reader Empathy

Humanize your character. Real people have strengths, flaws, and weaknesses. Characters must also have a blend of these. They should be imperfect and make mistakes, but also be likable. Give your hero at least one commendable trait that makes him worthy to cheer for.

Get inside their bones. Make your protagonist believable by giving him realistic desires, emotions, thoughts, and fears that an audience can relate to. These commonalities will resonate with the reader’s own beliefs and feelings, reinforcing that bond. Allow the character’s self-doubt to bleed through to some degree, showing the reader his vulnerable side.

Clearly define the needs, goals, and stakes. Scene to scene, readers must always know what the character is fighting for. Leave no doubt as to what he is trying to achieve, why, and the cost of failure.

Hobble characters through challenges that readers will sympathize with.  Readers bring their own life experience to the book, so use it. Story conflict and personal stakes will remind readers of their own past where they faced similar roadblocks. Pile on challenges, make the hero sometimes fail, but also show growth and successes on the journey.

Never betray the reader’s trust. Writers must know their characters inside and out, and make sure their actions, thoughts, and beliefs align with who they are. If a character acts in a way that does not fit his nature, the reader will feel betrayed. Dig deep. Get to know the character, including what past wounds haunt him. And always plot with intent. Manipulating a character’s choices or actions just to bring about a plot twist or complication will always ring false.

Remember, well-drawn characters are worth the work of developing because they are the ones readers can’t forget…not a week after reading the story, or a month, or a year.

 

What are some of the stand-out characters you love? What drew them to you and caused that empathy bond to form? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as five others. Her books are available in six languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

Write Like a Scientist

Hi everyone! Today I’m writing (mostly) about science fiction – probably my second favorite genre. Roughly half of the stories I write are science fiction, and the ones that aren’t usually contain allusions to it. I’m sure all science fiction authors write differently, but there is one thing they have in common: they all think like scientists.

Actually, all writers do this. But for the purpose of this analogy, I want to talk about science fiction first. How do you think Einstein came up with the theory of relativity? How do you think Newton discovered the laws of gravity? How do you think Copernicus theorized that the earth revolved around the sun?

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They all asked questions. Questions nobody had thought to ask yet. And they set out to answer them. That’s what we, as writers, should strive to do. Ask questions that nobody has ever asked, questions that people don’t even think to ask. And then answer them. For example, have you ever wondered why there are twelve numbers on the clock? Yeah, me neither. Not until I started writing. I currently have three books to answer the question, and I plan on writing even more. I can’t tell you anything else about it, because SPOILERS.

Back to science fiction. To write good science fiction, you must first think like a scientist and then quickly leave your scientist persona behind, unless you want realistic science fiction, in which case you should consider being an actual scientist. Consider the famous hyperdrive of the Star Wars universe. What is a hyperdrive? We know basically two things about it: It allows you to travel at light speed, and it malfunctions pretty much every time someone tries to use it. Obviously, I don’t know how George Lucas invented it, but I’m willing to bet he asked a question. Maybe the question was something along the lines of, “What if you could travel at the speed of light? What could enable someone to do that?”

If you write any sort of speculative fiction, you basically get to rewrite the rules of the universe. Many times this involves traveling at impossibly high speeds, time traveling (my favorite), or parallel worlds. But in order to do it well, you have to write like a scientist. Ask yourself lots and lots of questions. Instead of performing experiments to answer them, you must write a book. When I was thirteen, I invented another element for the periodic table. I had lots of questions but knew nothing about it, so I eavesdropped on some chemists in the story I was writing, and I overheard everything they said about it. Then later, I (stupidly) decided to play with said element, and I discovered to my horror that if you touch it, it instantly sends you to another dimension. (Don’t worry, I kept writing like a scientist and eventually figured out a way to get back.)

Now I know that some writers don’t like figuring things out as they go. Some writers like to know everything before they even write page one. I say, good for you, because knowing too much will stump my creativity. But if you’re a planner, you still need to write like a scientist. The only difference is that you answer all or most of your questions before the story’s written.

Writing like a scientist isn’t just for science fiction writers, obviously. If you’re a writer at all, you have to ask questions. It doesn’t matter what you write… you could be writing Harry Potter fanfiction set in ancient Greece with vampires for all I care, but you would still ask questions and seek answers (for example, why on earth are vampires roaming ancient Greece?)

If I’ve learned anything about scientists, it’s that 1) they’re constantly asking questions, 2) they do repetitive experiments to test their hypotheses, 3) they are insanely passionate and knowledgeable in their area of expertise, and 4) they’re often slightly crazy. As writers, we are exactly the same. We are constantly asking questions about our stories. And it’s a sad truth that writing requires repetitive experimentation until we get it exactly right. And I haven’t yet met a writer who isn’t passionate about it and who isn’t knowledgeable when it comes to their favorite genres. And, let’s face it, we’re insane.

So basically, write like a scientist. Ask questions. Seek answers. Observe. Take your time travel pod back in time to see what the Middle Ages were like. Or, better yet, create a time paradox just to see what happens.

What’s your favorite sci-fi story?

Are you a scientist when it comes to writing? (If you’re an actual scientist that would be awesome too.)