Making It Real

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by Kathy Harris

In a plot twist few had fathomed––although Dean Koontz predicted something eerily similar in his 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness—a tiny organism too small to see without a microscope has turned our lives, and our livelihoods, upside down, setting off a giant conflict in the story we call day-to-day life.

Although this real life “inciting incident” may be difficult for us to understand, as Christians we know that God is working in it for the good of those who love Him, perhaps in ways we won’t fully understand until the end of the story. But, as writers, there are real-time lessons to be learned in today’s headlines, even if we’re not penning a thriller about a global pandemic.

One thing I’ve learned so far is that it’s impossible to smile in a mask. Well, you can smile, but no one sees it. Not completely. And that sets up a great analogy with regard to our writing.

Consider these words from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Charles Simic.

Here in the United States, we speak with reverence of authentic experience. We write poems about our daddies taking us fishing and breaking our hearts by making us throw the little fish back into the river. We even tell the reader the kind of car we were driving, the year and the model, to give the impression that it’s all true. It’s because we think of ourselves as journalists of a kind. Like them, we’ll go anywhere for a story. Don’t believe a word of it. As any poet can tell you, one often sees better with eyes closed than with eyes wide open.

Simic may be writing about poetry. But he has also presented us with the perfect roadmap to becoming a better novelist.

We can turn out good books by simply reporting on our character’s lives in a style that might be likened to journalism. Or we can write great books by looking deep inside ourselves and offering our readers a glimpse into our secret selves—our real-life hurts, our fears, our failings, our disappointments and our triumphs—in a way that unmasks who we really are. When we do this, our stories will become even more real on the page—and even more meaningful to our readers.

Writing coach and author of The Story of With, Allen Arnold recently Tweeted.

Your art has an arc. It may not be apparent at first, but over time what you create will mirror your questions, fears, and passions. Great art isn’t born by following a formula. It happens when the artist chooses to invite us into their beautifully messy journey of discovery.

Authenticity not only produces art; it unburdens our souls. And, for that same reason, it can be difficult to write. Multi-published, contemporary romance and women’s fiction author Beth K. Vogt, whose latest novel is The Best We’ve Been, spoke about an upcoming project on my blog, Divine Detour, earlier this month.

I’ve been mulling over another women’s fiction project and the underlying theme is going to be pulled from my life. Something I’ve thought about tackling for years and now is the time. But it’s also deeply personal, so it may well be my most challenging novel to write.

While authenticity may be difficult to write, it’s not without reward. Mark “Oz” Geist, the best-selling co-author of 13 Hours, the real life tale of the Battle for Benghazi, believes it can be liberating.

‘You need to tell your story for yourself,” Mark shared recently. ‘It’s very cathartic.’

Making It Real: Dig Deeper for Authenticity in your Writing. @divinedetour #ACFWBlogs #writetips #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

Kathy Harris lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and writes romantic suspense and women’s fiction.  She is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency and is the author of Deadly Commitment and The Road to Mercy. Read Kathy’s blog or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.



Comments 4

  1. I tried to look inside my soul,
    past beard and long black hair,
    to understand just how I roll,
    but there was nothing there
    except a polished looking glass
    of dubious reflection,
    mirroring the things that pass
    in the wrong direction.
    “How can this be so?” I cried,
    “Am I just that shallow?
    How now will my writing grow
    where fields are fallen fallow?”
    God said, “Don’t let it get you down;
    fulfill My purpose; be a clown.”

  2. Thanks for this inspiration, Kathy! Just what I needed today as I review my current WIP for that very thing.
    (Full disclosure: I have another WIP on the back burner for the same reason you cited. The feelings are so deeply personal, even though I set the book in 1500s England. Authenticity can be exquisitely painful–but, as you said, also liberating.)

  3. This made me smile and brightens my day.

    Clowns do make most people smile but then
    people go home to their very own lives
    and you are left alone.
    So if you’re happy being a clown, be
    the very best clown you can be, and
    When you take that clown suit off,
    Still be the clown you’re meant to be,
    You make me smile through rain or shine,
    Through Covid’s prison and Amazon’s prime

    Thanking God for what is, whatever it is.

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