Writing from the Heart

I think most writers will admit to, at least on occasion, writing from the heart.

We discuss things which move and inspire us, because these are the things which we can write most passionately and knowledgeably about.  And yet distance still plays an important part in the writing process.

Art often imitates life.

I’m not going to pretend that my novel ‘Flicker’ appeared out of nowhere.  Whilst the main premise, based upon the Chinese Elementary Cycle, had been in the back of my mind for a number of years, it was only when I travelled down the east coast of Australia that the rest of the plot truly formed in my mind.

I had just been dumped, and had left the UK for a year travelling around the world, starting in Australia.  Five years beforehand I had lost both my parents.  And so when you meet Flic Firestone, Flicker’s central character, it might come as no surprise to find that, she too has been dumped.  She has just lost her mother, never knew her father, and according to her mother’s last wishes, joins a gap year trip down the east coast of Australia.

Felicity Firestone isn’t me.

However, at that point, she definitely shared a number of my characteristics.  Firstly, because I felt they added to the story.  And secondly, because they were things I believed I could write well about.

And then there was the third reason why Flic shared some of my more painful characteristics.  A normally unspoken reason.

Because on some level, writing about those things from Flic’s perspective was cathartic.  What better way to get over some of life’s most painful issues, than have a character get over them for you?

And so Flicker took shape.  Five months, and 180,000 words later, and I had myself a novel.  I also had some form of closure.

The book wasn’t just about Flic’s parents or her heartbreak, but with those two things underpinning her experiences, it would have been hard not to draw parallels between her and me.

By the end of the novel, Flic is stronger.  More certain of herself, and able to stand alone, without her mother, and without a man at her side.  And as for me, well, by the end of the novel, I was stronger too.  I was proud of my achievement, and felt stronger in myself … more willing to explore the world and its possibilities on my own.

As I explained in my post ‘So am I an Author yet?!’ my first agent-inspired edit of Flicker was to cut the manuscript in half.  I had to remove 90,000 words, whilst still preserving the story.

A lot of readers have asked how I could bear to do this, but, other than the obvious complexity of physically removing so many words, I actually found the process rather painless.

There were two reasons why I so willingly cut the text.  The first was that I loved the story as a whole, but not necessarily for its every individual word.  And so, if slimming the contents of the story down was going to better my chances of sharing it with a wider audience, then that was something I needed to do.

My second reason for so readily editing down Flicker, was related to the reasons I first started writing.

When I first began writing Flicker, I was heart-broken, and so too was Flic.  But when I finished Flicker, Flic had come to terms with her break-up with Ally, and I too had come to terms with the end of my own relationship.  I had the personal closure, and the new distance from those emotions, to enable me to re-read what I had written, and very clinically remove all of the excess emotion, which at the time, my grieving sensibility had thought relevant.

Bit by bit, I removed myself, and my own personal pain from the text.  Because it didn’t need to be there.  Flic’s pain was enough!

This second step was arguably as cathartic as the first.

Being able to re-read my work, and remove the unnecessarily personal elements of the text so clinically, made me realise how far I had come, and that for Flicker to be a good story, it really didn’t need to be based too heavily on my own personal experience.

From this first edit onwards, all of the characters, including Flic, truly began to develop as individuals, rather than as mosaics of different parts of people I knew.  For example, Jules, a character who had started off as a cross between my close friend Carly, and a girl I had known at university, fully developed into Flic’s best friend, an individual in her own right.  And by the same token, Flic Firestone was no longer an echo of myself, and my troubles, but a real three-dimensional girl, with some of the problems and adventures I had experienced in my life, but with an awful lot more to offer too.

It was only a I stepped away from my comfort zone, and really explored my imagination, that I saw my writing truly blossom.  I was no longer writing a journal of sorts and changing the names, but exploring the possibilities the corners of my imagination, and enjoying it.  ‘De-Charlifying’ the text became as much a part of the edit as reducing the word count, and the result was something I was tremendously proud of.

But the interesting thing is that this change became a permanent one.  Rather than beginning all my other books in the same way, setting the framework with people and experiences I already knew, and then colouring this framework with imagination, my later books all started firmly at that imagination phase.

It was as if, stepping firmly away from the comfort of topics so close to my heart, had marked a shift in my writing, and one, in my opinion, for the better!

I was asked just this morning if Ellody Rose, the main character from The Dream Navigator is based on me.  And whilst, still, where Flic is concerned, I might dither ever so slightly on the answer, with Elle I can be categorical with my answer.

Ellody Rose is not me.  Nor is she based on me.  If I had to find any similarities between us … she has dark hair.  But then, I have a feeling all my lead females will have dark hair, because as a lifelong brunette, I don’t think I’ll ever know what it is to be a blonde 😉

And in the book Ellody moves to Whistler … the infamous Canadian ski resort where my last two books were penned.  A village which I know, and which I both love and hate … something which proved very useful in the context of the story.

However, other than that … Elle is all imagination.

And I love her for it!

So fellow writers … don’t abandon your hearts altogether, because knowledge and empathy are definite assets in a writer.  But equally don’t spill those hearts out either … you’ll only have to time mopping them (and 90,000 words) up later!

 

C-C xx

 

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13 Comments

Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

13 responses to “Writing from the Heart

  1. Great words of advice for all writers! Not only are you a very talented writer, but you have such a gracious way of encouraging the rest of us. Thanks for the push to write from the heart, with all the passion and knowledge that it has endured.

    • Thank you 🙂 I’m glad it hit the mark I was aiming for.
      Am absolutely loving the way that blogging, as opposed to my usual kind of writing, lets me hear exactly what my readers think, minutes after I put pen to ‘paper’
      Thanks for the support, and glad to be of inspiration!
      C-C xx

  2. I, too, wrote both my novels based on my personal life. I remember going through a very difficult three months, back in high school, and realizing, “Hey, this is a story that other’s should learn from.” However, how you and I differ, is that I based my characters very strongly on real people. My main character, Lilly, is me. I also added a bunch of fiction, for creative sake, that enhanced the story and made it not just a memoir, but an imaginative story. I remembering becoming a better person through my character becoming a better person, as you said, and how once we were both better people, it was easy to go back and cut out the personal pain and only leave the pain that “moved the story forward,” as most editors comment.
    I think it’s great that you were able to change through your character, as I feel I’ve changed through mine. I look forward to reading more of your work, and of course, good luck on your many writing endeavors.

    Always,
    Jennifer

  3. Thanks Jennifer 🙂
    I’m sure you’re in the majority with your situation, and that a lot of great fiction has been written from a very autobiographical first person angle. There will still always be an element of it in my writing – I don’t think I’ll ever convincingly be able to write from the perspective of a man – however the more I write, the more departed I am getting from my personal comfort zone. My latest experiment is writing from a rather psychotic antagonist’s point of view, which I have thoroughly enjoyed 🙂 (I hope she’s not actually anything like me!!!)
    Thanks again for taking the time to read the blog, it’s great to have your input, and I will try to make time to properly read yours too 🙂
    C-C xx

  4. jesswords10

    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your writing adventure. I appreciate the time and energy you must have put into your novel that 180,000 words ago, I’m sure that passion will show in the book’s voice. I hope you tell us more about how you’re beginning these new book projects differently as you continue to grow as an author. Best of luck! And happy travels, wish I was with you touring the world!

    • Thanks Jessi 🙂 Am planning on writing individual blogs about each of the books, and where I got the inspiration for them – especially My Ten Future Lives, where I not only wrote from the perspective of someone very different to me … but wrote from her perspective 13 different ways 🙂
      Watch this space, and please keep reading and commenting – it’s great to hear what other writers think!
      Cheers
      C-C xx

  5. Whether we realize it or not, I think we lay our hearts out on the page to some degree every time we write. My first novel was total fiction and not in any way autobiographical (or so I thought). But then my mother-in-law told me that she had learned a lot about me by reading it. I was surprised and a little taken aback. I had no idea I had revealed so much.

    • Did she specify exactly what she had learned?? And did you agree with her detective work?

      I think you’re right, I think it’s impossible to completely ignore your heart, because in reality there needs to be a passion underpinning the story, and motivating you to write, I think what I trying to get at is the need to reign in that soul-bearing, so that you don’t give too much of yourself away, and so that you, yourself, feel like you’ve written a fictional piece as opposed to a memoir. That way the criticism becomes about your writing, rather than about your personal character, or your friends’!

      C-C xx

      • Yes, I agree. There has to be a separation between self and the work. The rejection would be impossible to bear otherwise. As for what my mother-in-law learned – no, she didn’t specify and I didn’t ask. I had the impression it might be something to do with the healty sex life of a married couple in the novel (playfully alluded to, not described graphically, you understand. After all it’s Jane Austenish!).

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