Sell Your Heart: When Real Life Becomes Fiction

Sell Your Heart

You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell. 

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

 
When I was writing my first novel, Mama’s Shoes, I took great comfort from the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words. Writing a novel is a daunting task. It didn’t matter that I was an English teacher and knew how to use correct grammar, punctuation and syntax, or that I knew how to create setting and plot and put my characters in the throes of conflict. That didn’t make me a writer — at least not one anyone would necessarily care to read; what made me a writer is that in addition to having all the proper elements in a story, I added the one thing you won’t find in a style manual. Emotion.

My Mama  in 1942 at age 17. She is wearing her beautician's uniform. She was the inspiration for Sylvia Richardson in Mama’ s Shoes.

My Mama in 1942 at age 17. She is wearing her beautician’s uniform. She was the inspiration for Sylvia Richardson in Mama’ s Shoes.

As Fitzgerald said, you only have your emotions to sell.  I knew if I was going to write a novel that anyone wanted to read, I was going to have to sell my emotions. In Mama’s Shoes, I dug deep down inside myself to find the little girl who had grown up in a little coal mining town going to the beauty shops where her beautiful mama worked. I had to close my eyes and smell the cigarette smoke and beauty shop chemicals. I had to listen again to the women talk about having babies, husbands who got drunk and beat them, planting gardens and canning vegetables, and trying to raise their families amid the poverty and coal dust. And I had to put those sights and sounds on the page. I had to tell their stories by showing their emotions and mine.

Those women taught me more about life than I ever learned anywhere else. It was their stories that I drew from to find the happiness and love, sadness and grief, and never-ending hope that created the world where my characters lived in Mama’s Shoes. The story is indeed fiction, but the emotion in Mama’s Shoes is real — drawn from the life of a 12-year-old girl struggling to grow up and find her way in a world.

There are rules you have to follow to master writing. All those grammar and syntax rules I mentioned are indeed important, but don’t forget the most important of all — emotion. Sometimes you have to cry and laugh or even bleed on the page. Whatever you do, you have to make your reader hear your voice, feel your characters’ pain, and rejoice in their happiness. When you do that, you’re on your way to being a writer.

Rebecca D. Elswick is the award-winning author of Mama’s Shoes. Visit her website at http://www.rebeccaelswick.com/.

 
Takeaway Tweets

“You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly.” Tweet This

Sometimes you have to cry and laugh or even bleed on the page. Tweet This

Make your reader hear your voice, feel your characters’ pain, and rejoice in their happiness. Tweet This

 
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