Monday’s Writerly Quote

It’s still May and I’m still sticking with all Star Wars, all the time in posts. There are plenty of writerly quotes out there, and more to come, but let’s try something a little different today. Let’s go way back to 1980. Remember this scene from The Empire Strikes Back?

Luke: There’s something not right here… I feel cold. Death.
Yoda: [points to a cave opening beneath a large tree] That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
Luke: What’s in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

For those of you starting out this writing journey, you’ll come to a point where you’ve grown enough in your writing that difficult truth will come out on the pages. Those of you who are already there already know what I’m talking about. All the cliché and regurgitation of old story will start to look fake and uncomfortable and then the important truths come out. In the beginning it may be that only a few of these truths will make it onto the pages. Even as you approach this stage, it doesn’t mean you’ve become a perfect author anymore than it meant Luke had become a real jedi.

It’s a part of the journey you can only take yourself. People can guide and advise you on how to get there and give you an idea of what you’re facing, but like Yoda says, in the end whatever you face in there is what you’ve brought with you.

They say all of us our telling truths in our stories we aren’t hearing anyone else telling. That’s why we’re driven to tell them. But we don’t always understand what those truths are in the beginning. The more you write, the more you’ll discover about yourself and your secrets. And guess what? In some ways you’re putting all of that out there for the world to see and it can be frightening. But if you hold back, it will show and it may lessen the effect of the story you’re writing.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of this—by no means do I fully understand it—but I think I’m beginning to grasp it. If we really want to tell a good story, if we really want to affect readers in a profound way, we have to tell the truth and we have to mean it. That doesn’t mean being grotesque or sensational or extreme for the sake of all of those things. It doesn’t mean edgy or controversial. It just means being honest for the sake of being honest.

It may not come to recognizable fruition right away. It may not even come out at all in the first novel. But if we want to be great writers, we have to be willing to go into the cave and face it and let the world see. That’s the only way we affect real change as storymakers. So the advice I take from that quote is: Tell the truth.

Then let people make of it what they will.

What do you think? Do you strive for personal truth in your storytelling? Are you already digging deep for those truths inside? Have you had any success? Is there anything you would tell those still figuring out their truths? Have you learned anything because of it?

19 thoughts on “Monday’s Writerly Quote

  1. I have a follow up question, when writing fiction what would it mean to you by telling the truth? (If that makes sense, still recovering from cloud brain).

    Hmm, I honestly don’t know if I have gone to that cave. That is pretty insightful. I am going to have to think about this longer.

    • You’re going to find that certain questions come up in your writing, questions you probably didn’t even realize you had that you’ll always be trying to answer with your stories. Think of yourself as really sharing a parable from your subconscious. Since I’ve written more than a dozen novels (most of them as fodder for practice) I started noticing similar issues cropping up. If you watch enough movies of a certain director or read enough stories of a certain author you’ll begin to draw patterns and may discover the truths they’re trying to reveal. When you realize it, you realize how terribly personal writing is. I have to be honest, even writing this post made me a little uncomfortable, because it is what I believe is truth.

      So the device you use, a parable, may be fiction, but in that parable lies something you believe is truth. I hope that helps clarify things a bit.

      • But if it is something that comes up in our writing naturally then it’s already there… are you saying when you say “stand up to the truth” learn to recognize it and not cut it out and maybe extend it?

        • Well, we may discover it but it doesn’t mean we do it justice nor do we tell it as honestly as we could. That’s how I see it. I think there have been scenes and moments in my novel that it took beta readers to help me see I wasn’t being as honest as I needed to be with those moments. I was afraid of being honest. But I think it’s partly what you stated, standing up to the truth. I’ve written a lot of novels (most of them practice) and I started noticing similar themes cropping up and suddenly became more self-conscious about what I was putting into my writing. That’s how I was able to discover this idea of truth. But it may be different for everyone. Sorry if that’s not helpful. I guess I would say, just be willing to be honest about your scenes and writing and you’ll get it.

  2. I think I get closer with every story, and I definitely dig deeper with every revision. It’s strange to see patterns emerging that I didn’t plan, things that are obviously a lot more important to me than I knew.

    Interesting post!

  3. You’re spot on, Jae. I really believe that telling the truth in fiction is a necessary element of success and it’s probably one of the biggest barriers to entry in this field. No one likes to expose themselves, even through the lens of another character. But it’s the only way the reader can really feel your story.

    It takes us awhile to be brave enough to do this, and I feel I’m where you’re at as well — on the cusp of understanding it and fighting myself every inch of the way. 🙂

  4. I’m with Greenembers that I’m not sure how this would relate to fiction. I think I see some common themes in my stories. Destiny versus free will is a big one. My heroes are destined for something, but there is a question of how much free will plays a part. Basically, they are destined to fight an ancient evil, but free will can cause them to die early or not win in the end. I think about destiny and the reason behind things a lot, so I’m not sure if this is what you’re talking about.

    It’s definitely a very thought-provoking post.

    • A lot of this post came from thoughts via Robert McKee’s “Story” and Donald Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” but essentially if you’re telling good story you’re telling us something you believe is absolute truth. We don’t necessarily notice it in the beginning. It’s a deeply subconscious thing. Fiction is only the vessel of the truth that matters to the writer. The more honest we are, the closer to truth we get.

      • That’s making me a little nervous when my hero’s love life becomes a high school level trainwreck with not brakes . . . and the conductor is on fire. 🙂

        Seriously though, I get what you’re saying. Our deep, almost instinctual, beliefs will come through no matter what we write.

        • With more of an ensemble cast than a solitary hero, I think I chose two to be the stable relationship and one guy just happened to fall into the train wreck category. Kind of by accident too.

  5. Lots to think about here. Personally, I write because it’s a fun mental challenge, not because I’m actively striving for any particular message/meaning/truth. I write stories with similar themes, infused with genuine feelings and experiences, and it feels real to me (the question is whether it will continue to feel real as I broaden/deepen my own experiences).

    • Certainly don’t take it to mean intentional preaching. I mean that, for me at least, I write the stories and am coming to understand what it is I’m trying to say. But I think if you’re putting genuine feeling and experience into your stories, you’ll put in truth, intentional or not.

      And of course writing for fun is a great reason to write. 🙂

      • What you’ve said makes sense. In some ways, I think it may be more genuine when we’re not trying so hard to write truth. I often find that my stories don’t pass my own cringe test after a hiatus of a few months. Some of that comes from insecurity, but some of it comes from the fact that it’s just fake or forced. My current WIP has passed the cringe test (so far), though, and I think that’s a good sign.

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