For the second day in a row I woke before 5 a.m.
I try to fall back asleep, but it’s useless and I know it. This phenomenon happens every time I am halfway though a story. After dutifully plodding through the opening chapters, setting up the plot and characters, the book suddenly comes alive. My mind goes into overdrive. Ideas flow like lava, igniting my imagination.
My main character, Greg, is an actor on a popular nighttime drama. As such, he has to dig deep into himself in order to bring the character he portrays to life, to make him believable. When his lover on the series “dies” he draws on his grief he felt after his father’s suicide, and the subsequent scene catapults him from mediocrity to fame. And that fame makes him a target…but no more about the plot. That’s not the point.
What I’m saying is that we, as writers, also have to dig deep within ourselves to find the emotions we want to portray. I’ve been in love and I think, old as I am, I can still remember what first love felt like.
I’ve been betrayed, and I can draw on that anger and denial.
I’ve felt deep and devastating loss. And I can draw on that.
It’s hard to bring these emotions to the surface and relive the grief, anger, loss. It’s hard to remember that first love, because now I know how it ends. But in order to write about these emotions honestly, I have to remember and relive those experiences. It isn’t easy. And sometimes it doesn’t work because I am afraid to go too deeply.
So it isn’t just the overflow of ideas that keeps me awake. It’s the surge of empathy I feel toward these cardboard people, an empathy that will breath life into them. Is Greg afraid his career, now that he’s achieved success, will end? How does that feel? How does he feel? How did I feel?
I lost a job I loved because I had to make the choice to walk away or be sucked into a pit I didn’t think I could climb out of. So I know a little about his fear and anger.
My job now is to translate that into his actions and words.
And that is what writers do.