Here’s a guilty admission: I don’t remember a time before I could read.
My mother said I used to play with wooden letter blocks, stack them up and ask her what they spelled. One day, she got sick of answering and asked me to tell her. So I did. She tried different combinations, and I continued to “read” them to her.
I don’t remember this.
But I do remember being fascinated by those little block letters and sensing that they were the portals to limitless new worlds.
In other words, it all started with a case of writer’s blocks.
In first grade, I began using those block letters to build my own worlds.
At first, it was very bad poetry (“Wing to Wing, I’m Flying on a Swing” was a major crib from Robert Louis Stevenson). Next, it was bad stories. Then, mediocre comic books. Followed by sappy songs.
Gradually, they got better. There’s still room for improvement.
That’s really the secret to writing. Just sit down and do it. Don’t be afraid of it. Try to learn more about it. It helps to have cheerleaders and critics and co-conspirators. Eventually, they will all come to dwell inside of you. Listen to them all, but don’t believe any of them too much.
Instead, listen to the quiet whisper inside. The one that says, “This idea might be really good.”
Look for the character or world that won’t go away, that keeps coming back even after you shut the door, that startles you awake in the dead of night.
Because the really good ones don’t let go.
“Truth hides in stories, Kacie. Because truth alone can’t make a story. It’s the what-ifs.” —Jack McKinney, Redemption’s Run
How can truth hide in fiction, a genre often defined as “not real”?
Here’s the point: Just because it’s not real, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Fiction—that pack of elegant lies—fails to resonate unless there is truth within.
What is true about your story? What is it trying to say?
Authors may not know until they’re tacking headlong into the third act of the first draft. It’s the writer’s job to uncover that truth, thoroughly examine it and craft ways to reveal it gradually, gift-wrapped in pages of riveting prose.
Truth alone is testimony, not story. Worlds are built on what-ifs.
We should have to work to find truth, writers and readers alike. It should always be worth the effort. Because truth is the heart of story.
And now, more than ever, truth matters.