Becoming A Storyteller: Write What You Feel, or, Holy Sh*t Where’s My Kid?

journalThe January 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine features and interview with bestselling author Lee Child. Child is the creator of the ever popular Jack Reacher character, who was recently portrayed by Tom Cruise in what might be one of the most egregious casting liberties taken by Hollywood. (The character Reacher stands 6’5″, weighing over 200 pounds, with ice blue eyes and dirty blonde hair, and is-by all accounts, not an alien. Tom Cruise, however, is 5’7″ and, well, you know.)

In the interview, Lee Child provides his evidence to debunk the long-held writing cliché: ‘write what you know’.

The worse [writing advice] is probably Write what you know. Especially in this market. In the thriller genre, for instance, nobody knows anything that’s worth putting in. There are three people in the world who have actually lived this stuff. And so it’s not about what you know. [Write] what you feel is really excellent advice. Because if you substitute Write what you feel , then you can expand that into-if you’re a parent, for instance, especially if you’re a mother, I bet you’ve had an episode where for five seconds you lost your kid at the mall. You turn around, your kid is suddenly not there, and for five seconds your heart is in your mouth and you turn the other way, and there he is. So you’ve gotta remember the feel of those five seconds-that utter panic and disorientation. And then you blow that up: It’s not five seconds, it’s five days-your kid has been kidnapped, your kid is being held by a monster. You use what you feel and expand it, right up as far as you can, and that way you get a sort of authenticity.

When I read this, I immediately thought of the time when I lost my kid for about five seconds in a Toys ‘R Us. Jason was close to three at the time, still wobbly on his feet and gaining more confidence with every well-placed step. I can’t remember why we were at the store, but we were at a juncture between the sporting goods section and the action figures. I was pushing a cart, but he wanted down to play with some of the over-sized bouncy balls strewn in the aisle.

While slapped his chubby little hand on a rubber ball, I turned to replace something on an adjacent end cap. I can’t remember how long I was looking whatever it was, but it couldn’t have been more than a moment or two. And when I turned, I didn’t see Jason.

The word panic doesn’t do the feeling justice. Child’s rendition of your heart in your mouth seems closer. It’s paralytic.

Wide-eyed, I stepped around the end cap. Nothing. I looked down the sporting goods aisle. Nothing.

I called out his name, my voice raising a few octaves. Tunnel vision. I whipped my head around, noting the other adults and children, but I was alone. I turned down the next aisle.

There he was, chugging after the rubber ball that had scooted away. I scooped him up and wrapped him in a hug. My heart still hammered in my throat, and took several minutes before sinking back to its proper place. I don’t think he was out of my sight for a single moment for the rest of the day. And I don’t think my hands stopped shaking for days.

I know what Lee Child means, and I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know much, so if I wrote strictly on what I “know”, my stories wouldn’t be as nearly as interesting. At least to me. I write because I want the stories in my head told. I want to enjoy them, and I wouldn’t be caught dead reading about a former coffee-making, middle school media specialist/basketball coach. There aren’t many conflicts beyond the generic or benign. To me.

Joseph Conrad once said: “Make the reader see.” I think it goes a bit beyond that though. We need to make the reader feel, as Child said. So as I continue my journey toward Storyteller, I need to be vigilant in framing a narrative, a chapter, a scene, a line that is evocative. I think as writers we all strive for the authentic, and if writing those scenes pushes us–just imagine what it can do for our readers.

What do you think of Child’s take?

My Review of Create Your Writer Platform

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books, a bestselling humor book writer, and a freelance editor. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. His bestselling humor books are: How To Survive A Garden Gnome Attack and Red Dog/Blue Dog: When Pooches Get Political.

I met Chuck at the Writer’s Digest Conference last January, where he was a presenter and one of the conference organizers. Chuck was very approachable and incredibly helpful to me in what was really my first foray into the world of publishing. He gave me some valuable advice ahead of the Pitch Slam. (Read what I wrote about my Pitch Slam experience here.) He recently sent me a copy of his latest writing-themed book and asked me if I would give it a review. Below is what I’ve posted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Chuck is good people, so I hope this helps him, and, by extension, helps any of you who are moved to give the book a try.

Chuck Sambuchino’s Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author is an absolute must-have How-To for today’s writers. This comprehensive guide takes veteran and fledgling writers alike through the chaos that is writer platform and visibility. No matter if you’re a best-selling novelist or an unpublished freelance journalist, this book has something for you.

As a fiction writer, I’ve struggled with balancing the development of my stories and the development of my platform. Chuck Sambuchino takes a candid, straight-forward approach the to subject that absolutely showed me how to scaffold the different social media outlets and other visibility mediums into a sturdy platform to present my writer self. If found his action plan and suggestions to be both wildly informative and practical.

He presents the Principles of Platform in a very easy-to-read style, then develops the Mechanics behind it all in a very detailed manner. The book goes on to present 12 case studies, with authors hailing from multiple genres, that demonstrate the principles and mechanics at work. It covers not only Non-Fiction, but also Fiction and Memoir. The interviews with authors that are interspersed throughout the chapters provide valuable insights to the publishing world and lend credibility to what is being presented.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for any beginning of established author who finds the world of platform building mystifying.