By Shirley E. Gould
I hated the plastic flowers that were popular when I was young. They looked cheap, artificial and were hard to the touch. I informed my family that when I die, I don’t want any plastic flowers. My brother-in-law, bless his soul, made it his mission to find plastic flowers to give me every Christmas. It made me wish I’d never mentioned my dislike for the fake blooms. I learned it was better to keep my preferences to myself.
When I began writing, I created a world of real characters having amazing adventures with a perfect ‘Happily Ever After.’ I wove in the romantic thread and the spiritual thread with precise placement. But, distancing myself from the emotions of the characters made my work seem artificial and stilted…like plastic flowers.
I’m thankful for the teacher who told me I was too nice in my prose and I had to come out of hiding and put my personal feelings on the page. It was time to be real.
After studying the craft for several years, learning the techniques and re-writing my novel many times, I find my work has become more real and relatable as I put my personal experiences and emotions into the stories.
This writing experience has invaded my privacy–forcing me to reveal parts of the inner journey of my own life no matter how painful those experiences were.
It pulls my heart strings as I put parts of my forty-year romance into print causing me to miss my late husband all the more. The dangers we faced while serving as missionaries in Africa appear on the written page when my characters are caught in a riot or facing a cobra. Driving on the wrong side of the road with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the vehicle is real to me because I lived it. Having Bird of Paradise flowers in my yard and a green mamba snake in my house is vivid in my memory. Staring into the eyes of a malnourished street kid still haunts me, stealing my sleep.
It shouldn’t surprise you that my writing is contemporary romantic suspense set partially in Kenya because I lived it, have journals filled with notes and stacks of photos to aid as I describe the African settings.
I encourage you to write from your personal pasts. Don’t forget to remember where you came from, what you walked through or how it made you feel. Whether it’s a rags to riches story, a single mother struggling to feed her three children or a heart-breaking love affair gone wrong, we have all witnessed or personally experienced dilemmas that others will relate to. Glean from such milestones to write today’s novel. Delve deep into the emotions of your own heart, whether painful or worth celebrating, to add life to your stories.
Writing is a solitary venture but when you activate your memory to relive personal experiences suddenly you’re not alone. In my solitude, my childhood friend shows up to swing on our swing-set and falls and breaks his arm, my great grand-parents are reminiscing about when Bonnie and Clyde showed up at family reunions or I relive the memory of my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary dinner on a dhow cruising the Indian Ocean. My husband asked the Kenyan band to play “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” made famous by Elvis. But they played the only Elvis song they knew, “Please Release Me, Let Me Go.”
Dig deep my friends. You can’t make this stuff up. Don’t be plastic…be real. It’s the material best sellers are made of.
Shirley E. Gould is an inspirational speaker, an African missionary and a freelance journalist. She’s founder of Kenya’s Kids Home for Street Children in Kenya, East Africa. Shirley has written articles and newsletters for twenty years and is presently writing Christian Fiction novels. She lives in the Nashville, Tennessee area.