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June 15, 2017

How Can We Make Our Writing More Authentic? — Guest: Lizzie Shane

Giant digging bucket for mining equipment with text: Mining Our Experiences for Emotions

For many of us, the stories that sink deep inside our thoughts are those that resonate. That feel real. That say something honest about the world, relationships, or ourselves.

When I read, stories feel deeper or less shallow if I feel like I have an epiphany of understanding while reading. Usually, it’s triggered by an especially insightful line in the book, and I’ll find myself nodding along and shouting inside my head, “Yes! This!”

But to make our writing that insightful, that deep, that honest, we have to dig deep into ourselves. Most of us have probably heard the advice about how we should make our writing more authentic or genuine. But what does that mean, and how can we make it happen?

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Lizzie Shane to my blog to tackle this question. Before I turn this post over to her, I just want to fangirl for a minute…

I have very few auto-buy authors, but I judged one of her books in a contest—and gave it a perfect score. I loved the story. Loved. And she’s now one of the few on my auto-buy list, so kudos to her. *smile*

More importantly for us, she didn’t run from my fangirl-cornering on Twitter and instead offered to come here and share some of her thoughts on how we can make our writing more authentic. Please welcome Lizzie Shane!

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Honesty, Authenticity, and Mining Your Personal Experiences for Writing Gold

Emotional resonance. As an author, especially a romance author, that’s what I’m always seeking in my writing.

As a reader, I connect with a character when they feel real—and that reality is in the details—but for me, it’s not about knowing what kind of toothpaste they use or what the name of their childhood pet was. It’s about the little moments when their inner life—their emotional life—rings particularly true.

Authentic Writing Exposes the Real Us

Writing is an act of exposing your truest self—the moments of humanity we don’t always want to admit—because if you aren’t honest, your readers will spot the inauthenticity. I think a pitfall some writers fall into early in their careers is the urge to write our characters as we wish we are rather than as we truly are.

That aspirational writing can spin a lovely fantasy, but it won’t have the same emotional depth and impact as if we write characters with real reactions—warts and all. And then give those flawed humans a happily-ever-after. That’s where the power is.

I know I don’t always have instinctive emotional reactions I’m proud of. But instead of writing characters who never experience schadenfreude or never think of the selfish thing first, I try to write characters like me—people who may feel the not-so-perfect reaction, but also try to control the reaction and be better.

Often, when a character is feeling one way and wishes they were feeling another way, that is something I can relate to more than anything. Emotion isn’t just broad strokes—happy, sad, in love. It’s often the nuances and subtle warring of how we feel and how we think we ought to feel.

“Write What We Know…Emotionally”

They tell us to write what we know, and that doesn’t just mean as an accountant you can only write about numbers. We all have a breadth of knowledge in our own lives—emotional knowledge—to draw from. Both in our own experience and in the experiences of those close to us.

Empathy, sincerity, and self-awareness are valuable writing tools. Click To TweetTwo of the most valuable tools in a writer’s toolbox are Empathy and Sincerity. And Self-Awareness. Three! The three most valuable tools… Okay, I’ll stop. (Even though it was tempting to go into the entire Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch.)

I have the dubious distinction of being a single romance writer—which means I get the mixed blessing of lots of dating material as I look for my own hero and fail to find him. Like the time a date Googled me and knew more about me than I knew about myself by our first date? I was completely taken aback. And it totally went in a book.

Collect Emotions for Our Writing Toolbox

All those times you think “This is totally going in a book”—WRITE IT DOWN. But don’t just write down the situation, make an emotional record and add it to your toolbox.

When my best friend was getting married, I was her maid of honor, and I kept detailed notes on the experience. But my notes weren’t about which flowers to choose or how many dress stores we visited. They were all about the emotions—both hers and mine. The nerves. The excitement. The pressure.

When I felt happy for her but also left behind, or worried the cost of the bachelorette weekend was going to bankrupt me while also wanting it to be special for her, I wrote it all down—and mined it mercilessly for the book that I very conveniently happened to be writing during those months, Always a Bridesmaid.

Those feelings were fleeting, but they were great material. And perhaps part of the reason they were so fleeting was because I had an incredible outlet. Writing can be great therapy.

I’ve gotten in the habit of jotting things down when I’m feeling something that is particularly complicated or rich. Last year I was fortunate enough to be a finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA Award. And I was giddy with the validation of it.

I jotted down lots of notes about the experience—the euphora, the nerves, the imposter syndrome. But the best ones, I think, were actually the notes I made after the ceremony when I lost.

Translate Those Emotions to Our Brand of Writing

Winning would have been insanely awesome (and terrifying—going up on that stage? Ack!). But the feeling of losing was so much more complicated and fascinating to me that I decided that night that one of my future heroes will have to be nominated for an Oscar and lose.

I write primarily about love in the wilds of Hollywood, so that was a way of fitting my personal experience into the context of my brand. If I wrote about politicians or athletes, they could have lost an election or a Super Bowl just as easily. It’s all about finding the way to fit your emotional context into your work to enhance it.

You know those cheesy Pepsi commercials—”This must be what Odell Beckham Jr. feels like when he scores the game-winning touchdown.” That’s pretty much what we’re talking about as writers.

You’re trying to make your characters’ emotions as authentic as possible. So if we aren’t going to be chasing bad guys in our day to day lives—or scoring NFL touchdowns to the delight of millions of fans—then we need to mine our own experiences for moments of emotional resonance.

Mine experiences for moments of emotional resonance. Click To TweetUse whatever is going on in your life—whether it’s the out-of-the-norm (for me) of planning a wedding or the emotions surrounding a day-to-day life of getting up every morning to go to work or getting the kids off to school—and mine your experiences for moments of emotional gold.

Then translate those little moments and feelings into the world of your story to infuse your writing with emotional authenticity, to make your characters more real, and suck the readers in.

Study What Works on an Emotional Level

One other technique I highly recommend is to read actively. As a writer, when you’re reading, be aware of the moments when a character’s emotions seem most real to you—when you find yourself nodding along or feeling a wrench in your heart—and examine what they felt in that moment that got you. For me, it all boils down to honest emotion.

So write fearlessly and pour it all onto the page. And your readers won’t be able to get enough.

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Lizzie ShaneLizzie Shane is the 3-Time RITA-Nominated contemporary romance author of the Reality Romance and Bouquet Catchers series. Her latest novel, Dirty Little Secrets, about a politician falling for his nanny despite the political consequences, released on Tuesday. She also writes paranormal romance under the name Vivi Andrews.

For more about Lizzie and her books, please visit www.lizzieshane.com. You can also find her on Goodreads and Facebook.

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Dirty Little Secrets coverAbout Dirty Little Secrets:

Widowed father of twin girls and descendant of a political dynasty, Aiden Raines has been going through the motions since he lost his wife, throwing himself into work and focusing on taking care of others. He might work a few too many hours, but he’s getting by and he isn’t interested in rocking the boat—or getting involved in another relationship. Until he finds himself growing keenly aware of the woman who’s been right under his nose for years…

Samira Esfahani moved to DC and took the job as a live-in nanny when she was running away from a failed marriage. After learning how wrong she’d been about her ex-husband, she wasn’t ready to trust her romantic instincts again, but if she were to decide she wanted a man, Aiden Raines would be the prototype for the perfect one. Unfortunately, he’s also her boss, and off limits in more ways than one… until one kiss changes everything.

As much as Samira wants to be with him, she’s leery of trusting her heart—especially if being with Aiden would thrust her into the political spotlight, or worse, leave her hiding in the shadows as his DIRTY LITTLE SECRET.

Buy from Amazon :: Apple :: BN :: Kobo

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Thank you so much, Lizzie! As a reader of your books, I enjoyed the insights into the sources of your story ideas, but as a writer, I especially loved your tips. *smile*

As Lizzie said, when we go through emotional experiences, we want to make note of not just the surface emotions, but also of the deeper—perhaps contradictory—emotional levels. Or when we feel a story feels extra authentic, we want to analyze what emotions resonated with us.

We can experience happiness and sadness, along with several other emotions, at the same time. Our thoughts behind how we make sense of those contradictions can get at the core of honest, authentic reactions that help our readers to relate to our characters. And readers who love our characters are more likely to come back for more. *smile*

Do insightful, authentic emotions and reactions make stories feel deeper to you? What’s made you feel an epiphany or gotten you to nod your head in agreement? Have you tried to include honest, authentic emotions in your stories, and if so, how? Did Lizzie’s advice give you any new ideas? Do you have any questions for Lizzie?

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What do you think?

7 Comments on "How Can We Make Our Writing More Authentic? — Guest: Lizzie Shane"

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks! I agree that if a character’s behaviour is written down and is not right for that person in that situation, this niggles at me and I have to come back and correct it. The emotion they feel dictates a lot of their actions.

Lizzie Shane

Absolutely, Clare. We always have to be looking for that authenticity in the moment.

Sieran
Sieran

I find that I can’t stop myself from pouring my emotional experiences into my stories! (I’m a pure pantser.) So readers basically see the dark sides of me as well as the good sides…I’m learning to become more comfortable with my shadow self. It would be impossible to prevent my own emotional experiences (the simple as well as the complex) from saturating the pages, actually. Nobody in my stories is perfect either—even if I try to write a perfect character, they very soon reveal their flaws…

Is it possible to write a story without our emotional experiences streaming through it, though? Just to be clear, I don’t ask this question out of disrespect. I just cannot believe that any author can hide themselves completely in their writing! :O Or did I misunderstand something?

Lizzie Shane

I do think sometimes writers fall into the trap of writing characters that are an idealized version of ourselves rather than an authentic ones. The heroine who is so virtuous she makes your teeth ache or the hero who seems godlike in his infallibility. Personally, I love the dynamics of conflict and real life foibles, but I have definitely read a book or two that was bland due to the sheer perfection of the characters.

Sieran Lane
Sieran Lane

Thanks for your reply! Hmm, maybe it’s about my own reading experiences, then. Aside from books written in the 20th century or earlier, I don’t think I’ve really encountered any flawless protagonists… Even the very heroic leads I see all have weaknesses, often pretty serious weaknesses. And I thought that was partly because 21st century readers dislike perfect main characters. But maybe I just haven’t been exposed to perfect protagonists in 21st century-authored novels yet. (Or if I have, I forgot about them.)

One thing I do notice, is that some readers may believe that a character is perfect when they are actually not…This character may be amazing in many ways, such that some readers don’t even notice (or remember) their flaws! It still astonishes me how some people think Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games is flawless. He is not flawless! I’ll stop now before I start ranting about him (he’s my favorite character in the series), haha.

dolorah

In writing and reading, I like my characters deep, with authentic emotions. Not overly dramatic or emotional, but those little surprises really make the story stand out.

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[…] Kathleen Pooler has 7 tips for writing with intention and why it’s important for memoir writers, and Lizzie Shane shows how we can make our writing more authentic. […]

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