A picture is worth a thousand words
Those words may be a cliché, but they also have an element of truth. I can talk about the vivid scarlet of a rose, but the description isn’t as powerful as a photo of a tender crimson bud blazing against a verdant green background of leaves drenched in golden morning sunlight.
Yet no photo of a crying woman can communicate the full grief of a devastated mother who has lost a child to a drunk driver. It can’t show the viewer the waterfall of precious seconds that was her son’s life.
An image can’t capture the moment a doctor placed that tiny, screaming newborn on her belly as her brain blazed with relief and joy. Or what it felt like to watch her baby boy toddle toward her, eyes huge with excitement as he took his first steps. Or the blend of loss and joy she felt seeing him off to school that first day, his face tight with nerves and anticipation.
Sixteen years of joy and tears, frustration and triumph. Reading bedtime stories, making Trick-or Treat costumes. Christmas mornings, going to the prom, summer vacations. All the sweet, fleeting moments of childhood and adolescence.
That ended the night the Highway Patrol called.
No photograph can capture the dull impact of her knees hitting the floor as she curled in on herself, wailing while her world blackened into ash.
Even movies or videos can’t capture the full depths of her grief. Viewing her life from the outside doesn’t have the same impact because you must filter it through your own experience.
If you’re a man, you can watch her give birth, but you can never know what those uterine contractions feel like, how they wrap around your back and drag your every muscle into the agonizing effort of forcing eight pounds, nine ounces of baby through an opening far too small for him.
Images can’t make you feel those wracking contractions, like charley horses ripping from back to belly, slowly subsiding only to build again. And again. For hours.
For that depth of understanding, you need a book. You need words to build a bridge from your brain into that grieving mother’s experience.
That’s what we writers do.
We construct those bridges so our readers can see the worlds we’ve constructed for our characters.
We make them feel what it’s like to be a woman in childbirth, or a cop investigating a murder. Or a dragon in flight, the wind blowing cold across wings spread wide as the sun heats earth and air into spiraling updrafts.
The human brain craves such insights and the learning they bring. Though a man may never go through labor, reading a vivid description of it helps him understand what it means to his wife, his mother, his daughter.
Or to a stranger giving birth alone in a cell, fighting to pull her infant from her own pain-wracked body while indifferent guards ignore her screams.
The right words can help him feel that ripping pain, that black death-terror, that utter aloneness. No matter how different our bodies are — or our skin color, our genitalia, our countries, or our religions — our emotions are the same.
It’s the writer’s job to craft experiences that engender powerful emotions in the reader. That emotion gives our work power.
Strong emotion can inspire people to change the world.
That’s why books will never be replaced by cell phones, television, or even some technology we can’t yet imagine.
But to maintain that power, we must remember its source is the emotions we create in our readers. It’s our task to build a rainbow bridge of words to make the reader experience our fictional worlds in a new and seductive way.
Building a rainbow bridge isn’t easy. To pull it off, you must study the engineering of a story, learn to weave the bright cables of action, stringing them from the supports of the plot to form a roadway of emotions for the reader to travel.
There are many building techniques to master.
One of the most powerful is the construction of each character’s goals, motivations and conflicts, and the way they drive him or her to act. All those characters, each driven by competing emotional forces, drive your plot in complex ways. That complexity makes the story’s events more difficult to predict, and therefore more interesting.
Most of all, you must learn how to make the reader feel the character’s emotions with the words you use and the sensations you describe: the feel of hot tears, the swollen eyes, the aching chest. The chill of desperation and the thunder of the heroine’s beating heart as she realizes she’s about to do something that may get her killed.
And yet she has no alternative, because she can’t accept what her world will otherwise become.
I have been driven to write books about such characters since I was nine years old. Every summer, I’d start a book, determined to finish. Yet for decades, I’d write no more than a couple of chapters before I’d quit, having no idea how to go on.
I was 27 when I was finally published with a comic book series called Cycops. Yet what I really wanted was to become a romance novelist. My first novella was published eight years later.
I was forty before I managed to finish a publishable novel, and forty-three before I got a contract with Penguin Putnam, a New York publisher.
There were times over those thirty-four years of effort that I thought I’d never succeed at all. Even my family doubted me. My mother joked I’d eventually be published when I was eighty.
When I was twenty-one, my father asked me why I kept beating my head against the wall when it was obvious I would never be published. I tried to explain that I wrote because I had no choice.
I had to build that rainbow bridge.
And I did.
In the years since 2004 when Penguin Putnam published my first novel, I’ve written twenty novels and more than thirty novellas, e-books, and short stories. I made the New York Times list four times and hit the USA Today and the Publishers Weekly lists on several occasions. I won three Critics Choice awards and a Career Achievement award from Romantic Times magazine for my books.
There have been down times as well. Like many romance novelists, I’ve had to turn to self-publishing in recent years because paranormal is no longer selling as well as it once did.
But I’m still building my rainbow bridges. I have no intention of stopping.
When I bring my characters to life, sharing their struggles as I explore themes of heroism and love, I feel a sweet exhilaration more rewarding than money.
Whether you’re building your first rainbow bridge, or your hundredth, may you, too, find that sweet joy.
Remember that writing books isn’t just about making money or signing autographs. Books help readers see life through someone else’s eyes, feeling their pain and sharing their triumphs.
Books build connections between all of us at a time those bonds are desperately needed.
So don’t stop trying. Don’t stop writing.
You are needed.
Then check out Angela’s class starting August 5!
- Action Sequences: Writing Heart-Pounding Fight Scenes, Chases, and Climaxes with Angela Knight ~ August 5 – September 1
Keeping Mad Alys sane has never been harder – and neither has loving her.
Davon Fredericks is on a self-appointed mission to keep Mad Alys sane. And that job’s never been harder.
Alys Hawkwood is the most powerful seer among the witches of the Magekind. She’s seen a lot of horrors in her visions, but this is the worst: the destruction of the Magekind. The only way to prevent the deaths of everyone she cares about is to allow their worst enemy to kidnap her.
Her only hope of rescue is her vampire partner, Davon, the man she loves – and the one she can never have.
To carry out her plan and save them all, Davon must pull off the impossible: take on a dragon and countless alien enemies alone. But his most deadly opponent is Alys herself…
Master of Fate is coming at the end of May from Changeling Press.