Writing the Significant Versus the Superficial

This is a repost from two years ago. As I dug into the motivation of one of my characters last weekend, I encountered Cami Tang’s post on Seekerville regarding deep point of view, and somehow it seemed appropriate to revisit my thoughts.


A couple years ago I wrote about recognizing the need to ‘go deep’ in my writing, to extract words that are uniquely my own, and I reinforced my conviction that nothing significant comes from the superficial. I had read Toni McGee Causey’s post on the Murderati blog where she prefaced her question about ‘Comfort Reading’  with three poignant pain-filled vignettes. And then she added, “Write…for her… for him… for us.” It was as if her words were aimed directly at me.

I’ve been brooding over her request. There is a cliché about facing one’s demons. If I descend into that part of the abyss where empathy resides, if I stay in the depths long enough to write what will be significant, who will I be when I resurface?

About storytelling Toni says, “We need to connect. We need to both transport somewhere other than our own daily circumstances and to connect to others, to know that someone out there understands us. Understands our fears, our desires. We need to escape, without physically abandoning our family and friends. Stories do that. We need the hope, the connection, the dream.”

She’s right, but storytelling for that purpose involves risk. Writing despite the risk takes courage.

I don’t know if I have that kind of courage. Do you? Can you reach deep down within and touch painful places that allow you to bring a character’s rawness onto the page?


*Photographer: Salvatore Vuono

8 thoughts on “Writing the Significant Versus the Superficial

  1. Laura Best says:

    That is a tough question, Carol. I have to think that it depends upon the character and the story that we are telling. Not all stories are painful, nor all characters raw.

    Writing despite the risk does take courage. But there are always risks when emotions are involved, when we show people who we are.

    However, sometimes we are able to extract that painfulness, that rawness, in a few words. Don’t you think? Sometimes the dept in our writing can be achieved without languishing and wallowing on the page, without exposing our own emotions too openly, without experiencing our own pain on a great level. Sometimes it can be achieved by finding the words that hit the mark the very first time. Do we need to feel the pain so much or to let others feel it? As humans, we are connected to one another by our pain, our joy, and our love. These are things we have all experienced, and understand. In fact, I think it is the understanding of the emotions that breathes life into the characters we read about. It is that understanding that makes us like the story even more.

    Great question, Carol!

  2. Judith Robl says:

    In my grandmother’s words, “You done quit preaching and gone to meddling.” I have always had the ability to stand back and distance myself from the emotional. Had I not had this ability, I would not have survived some of the episodes in my life with any sanity left. But this is a double edged sword for the writer.

    It is hard to go back and call out the emotions that I stifled during crises. And when I do call them forth, they threaten to overwhelm me. It’s easier to stuff them than to deal with them openly. But it isn’t profitable, either emotionally or in a literary sense.

    I’ll be exploring the links in your post today. Thank you for inserting them.

  3. My little girl learned too early, there really was a boogey-man and he preyed on little girl dreams. He waited in the dark corners of her life and when she was the happiest, he snatched her away.

    Some little girls are never returned once they are snatched by the boogey-man. He takes her down under to places no little girl should ever go.

    Carol, I sent you this little bit of a story to say thanks. There is never, can never, be a time when I write her or try to read her, that I don’t cry. I’ve begun to accept that if I want to continue her story, I’ll have to have lots of tissues.

  4. Writing tragedy, really bad happenings, horrors that change a person forever, allows open space for raw emotion to be expressed by the writer through dialog and deeds of the characters involved. The author experiences those feelings by walking in the shoes of those character as they suffer. This lonely, perhaps scary, journey into the unknown provides the writer what you describe as deep point of view. Empathy for these characters brutalized by life enables the writer to reveal the underside of tragedy, as well as, the silver lining that some characters develop, like pearls in oysters.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope I understood (I haven’t visited the links) and that my comment has not veered off into another land. In answer to your question: Do I have the courage to delve into such deep places of the heart, soul, and mind? I hope so because my characters suffer; however, their suffering turns to joy. This is not always the case in some stories. Healing comes easier when the wolf of tragedy is laid to rest early. Blessings to you, Carol…

  5. Jill Kemerer says:

    I’m a huge fan of Camy Tang’s books and her blog. Her advice about deep POV made an impact on me. Your post nails it!

  6. I’m trying! It’s not always easy, though. But that’s what real writing is about.

  7. I’m glad to read your responses. Laura makes a good point with, “Not all stories are painful, nor all characters raw,” and of course she’s right. Deep point of view is a perspective that we strive for regardless of the character’s emotional state. Reliving anguish is painful, but being able to go deep enough to experience any emotion well enough to express it without just telling it, is draining for me… like being put through a wringer. I think that if I don’t feel it like that I’m likely not being very effective. Like Stephanie, I think “that’s what real writing is about.” Am I right?

  8. Rebecca says:

    This is amazing. . .and so is the post you referenced. Thank you so much. I needed that desperately, deeply. I can’t help the feeling at times that I shouldn’t spend many hours on writing, that I’m “wasting time”, but thanks to this I know that I’m not.

    I can’t describe the feeling when I read or write something that feels deep, bleeds with true emotion, and not just sad or angry emotion. When I read a line or paragraph that is truly evocative, I _feel_ what the author is writing and I know they felt something powerful while writing those words. It’s that obvious. Words like that play a chord in my soul, special non-note music that strums just the right spot.

    I hope to do that for someone, someday. Even if that doesn’t happen, writing is highly therapeutic for me!

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