Feel the Emotion

I have many years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines or private business. Just the facts, don’t let your emotions get too involved, show don’t tell. Storytelling is not a skill I learned in J-school. I certainly did not learn how to structure anything as long as a novel. I think 3,000 words is the longest I’d ever published. I wrote a 10-page paper in college. It was my favorite assignment, but not educational as far as storytelling techniques or writing structure.

Purple glass flowers offset by purple pestamon and peach-colored azaleas
Peaceful Chihuly garden art at the Chiluly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle.

So the logical thing to do before I started my Ireland novel, which still needs a title, was to research how to structure a novel. I wrote a novel for National Novel Writing Month in 2014. While I wrote a lot of words and have some good story and great writing, it isn’t publishable because I didn’t know how to end it. That novel taught me a ton, but the biggest lesson was that I didn’t know anything about writing novels. To remedy my ignorance before I took on my Ireland novel, I educated myself about novel writing. I’ve read at least five non-fiction books about novel writing, three books on DIY master’s of fine arts degrees, and countless books on writing by writers and for writers.

Structure is extremely important to holding up ideas and thoughts. Voice says more than we realize. Authors can choose many types of voice. I also learned that emotions are essential, that for a writer to translate emotions to the reader, the writer needs to feel the emotions too. Ugh. Maybe I should have stuck with newspaper writing. I think only one “story” in all my years made me cry. It was about a domestic violence abuser and his ex-wife who told me their stories.

All of this to say that writing is more difficult emotionally than I expected. I recently killed my first character. It was tough. I gave him tubercular meningitis, an illness not out of the realm of possibility in 1820s Ireland, but not something particularly common or particularly traceable. I expect I’ll cut much of the story around his death when I edit. I hesitated a lot in my writing because I just wasn’t sure what to say.

Then, there was the fall out. Someone dies. He’s not real. He’s a fictional character based on a real person, whom I know nothing about except his name and maybe his birthplace. I don’t know how he died or exactly when he died. I don’t know much about what happened to his immediate family right after he died. I get to make all that up. Except I wasn’t thinking about how painful his death would be to his family. Even though they mainly live in my mind and now on my computer, I spend hours with them. I imagine how they felt, how they responded, how they acted, what they said. The tears. The sounds. The loneliness. The fear.

Oh, the fear. As I was writing today, I realized they not only lost a beloved husband, father, brother, son, but a family lost its main provider in an era where he was the only one with the wherewithal to provide for his family of five. This family not only lost their Da, they will lose their home, their security. Their future is threatened.

So as I wrote, tears streamed down my face. My chest felt constricted, my throat hurt. I wanted to moan with Mam’s pain. I felt William’s abandonment and with him, leaned into his uncle’s chest, knowing full well that no matter how hard his uncles try, they cannot replace his father.

I felt all of this as I wrote, hoping I got it right. I have not lost any of my beloved parents or siblings yet. I know the loss I feel not knowing my husband’s dad. I hope my readers can feel the loss, the pain, and the love of this family as much as I do, because in reality, this is my family. I never knew them. Yet from them, their pain, my family was born. Thomas has a legacy. William has a legacy. I have a legacy. Our stories matter.

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