By Sharon Stevens
Carla Stewart recently blogged with Susan Reinhardt about writing, and also about her book, “The Moses Conspiracy”. Reinhardt said something that truly touched my heart. Her words… “The novel was born from an experience I had while standing in Gettysburg Square on December 2004. Surrounded by old buildings, I “heard” the forefathers voices, but they were like fading echoes.”
Can you imagine standing in Gettysburg Square? What did Susan feel, sense, smell, hear, or touch with the echoes of the forefathers? Who was there to tug at her thoughts? I am sure she didn’t hear laughter, but then again, what if she sensed the families that strolled through the town at better times.
How many of us stop and actually listen to the voices of our characters? How does the setting change if we turn in this direction? How can we write our stories if we can’t hear what they are saying? So many times we are so afraid of losing the terrific thoughts running through our brain that we forget to forge the story within. We are petrified that if we stop for even just a moment in time, all will be lost and we will have to start all over again. But the opposite is so true. Sometimes, if we breathe with the heart of our character, OUR heart will carry on to complete the scene.
I remember how Natalie Bright told our critique group that her character would wake her up at night urging her to tell the story. Jodi Thomas spent nights at the computer only to hear the alarm go off the next morning just in time to get ready to teach school. Paul Green, who wrote the musical drama TEXAS, said that the panhandle was his thinking day and night.
Without a doubt we need to listen to our characters, but then again, not to forget they also took time out of their busy lives to celebrate life itself.
Someone left behind a desk diary from 2002, “On Writers & Writing” by Helen Sheehy & Leslie Stainton. Each page listed an author and the story of their life. To me, this was a true treasure on every level. The calendar itself had spaces to write thoughts and memories. The birth or death dates of authors were inserted at the bottom of each entry. But it was the stories of all the authors that caused my heart to leap for joy!
The March notation is the life story of Olaudah Equiano who was born sometime in 1745 and died March 31, 1797. Equiano’s life story began when he was kidnapped at age 11 and shipped to America for a life of slavery, “in a state of distraction not to be described.” He wrote an autobiography recounting the violence of being branded and beaten, but also of being taken in by an officer of the Royal Navy who taught him to read. He writes, “I had a great curiosity to talk to the books as I thought they did.” Equiano recalled. “for that purpose I have often taken up a book and have talked to it and then put my ears to it, when in hopes it would answer me.”
As writers, may you always take a moment to listen to your books as they tell their story! And may your books have a story to tell.