By Patti Shene
They say you should write what you know. These past few months, my life has been draped in sadness and loss. (Please don’t stop reading! I’m not going to take you into a world of gloom and grief!).
My mom passed away in February of this year and my husband in June. I was blessed to speak at both of their Celebration of Life services. Writing those eulogies reminded me of the way we paint portraits of our characters on the pages of our work.
Mom loved to bake. I told the anecdote of the double batch of cookie dough we mixed, when five cups of flour ended up on the floor, and after cleaning up the mess, I failed to remember to double the rest of the ingredients. This gave me the opportunity to not only mention Mom’s baking skills, but to illustrate our relationship, plus reveal that I was often the victim of her quick temper.
Her severe visual impairment limited her physically, but also sparked situations that brought chuckles from listeners. I depicted her impact on others, emphasizing how she accomplished great things despite her legal blindness.
My husband was the most patient man I have ever known and content in all circumstances throughout his life. When I started to write his eulogy, I based it around Paul’s words “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” Philippians 4:11. The advice I received from family was to get rid of the sermon and share my heart.
That’s what I did. I talked about how we met and gave examples when his patience surpassed all limits. I illustrated ways he demonstrated his love for his family despite physical limitations, multiple surgeries, and intense pain during the last five years of his life.
My goal in both cases was to familiarize the congregation with not only the people they knew, but the loved ones my family and I will remember.
Your character may be active in community affairs, a pillar of the church, a leader in the local political arena. You as the writer could demonstrate this by staging a disagreement between him and his wife, who doesn’t understand his need to attend a meeting every evening as opposed to engaging in a movie night with the family. Share the torment he faces as he is torn between his love for his family and his commitment to serve God to the best of his ability.
Take incidents from your own life and shape them to fit scenes in your novel. Close your eyes, relive the experience, and capture the raw emotion you felt at the time of the real event. How did you react the first time your true love clasped your hand in his? Were you surrounded by sunshine or moonlight? Was it a hot and blustery day, or did the gentle breeze of a fall evening caress your cheek? Did a thrill thread down your back, or did you pull away, annoyed that this jerk would assume you cared about him?
Did you go to God in prayer or rail against Him in anger when you learned your precious child would require surgery? What smells accosted your nostrils in the emergency room? Did the doctor invoke confidence or fear? Did your hands tremble, your mouth go dry, your legs weaken, forcing you to sink into a chair? Or did you stand tall and face the news with the confidence that God is in control of all things?
Don’t allow your reader to simply scan the pages of your book with her eyes. Wrap her soul with your words and share your heart.
She longs to know your character as well as you do.
Patti Shene Gonzales hosts Step Into the Light, a weekly interview style blog talk radio show, (temporarily suspended), where she promotes those who share God’s love through writing and other ministry outlets. Patti is published in two anthologies and local publications and has three western novels in progress. Connect with Patti on Facebook or Twitter.