I’ve written several books over the years, a few of them unpublished because they were just plain bad. Some people might say that about my published works as well, but we don’t talk to those people. *shakes fist*
Along the way, I have learned a metric butt-ton of lessons. Some of those lessons it feels like I have to relearn every time I write a new book. Stupid brain. *shakes brain*
So, in an attempt to try and retain some of that knowledge, I’ve decided to write it down and share it with the rest of the world for the betterment of humanity. You’re welcome, humanity. NOW BRING ME YOUR SACRIFICES!
Um…that was weird. Moving right along…
Here are a few things I learned whilst writing George’s Light. (That’s right, I said “whilst.” Shit got serious real quick, didn’t it?)
PUT A DASH OF YOU IN THE STORY
I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again: there is a lot of me in George’s Light. Some of the things the boys say in the story, some of the beliefs they have, and some of the events (though none of the big ones) are things that have happened to me during the course of my life.
Even something as minor as Jim telling George how his dad once speared a rat in their backyard with a shovel. That really happened! My dad actually did that when I was a kid. A rat darted out of our garage chasing after our dog, Ozzie, and like Tom Hanks in Castaway, dad speared that sumbitch like dinner depended on it. I don’t even know if he remembers it (dad, let me know if you do). But I sure as hell remember it. And now it’s in George’s Light.
Maybe it’s just because they are the personal things to me and no one else will get them or even care, but that’s what makes this story so much more special than the others I have written leading up to this. I’ve infused a part of myself into this story, and unlike with those nudey mags under teenage Matthew’s bed, I didn’t even have to take my pants off to do it. (Of course I did anyway.)
So for me that was lesson numero uno. Sure I might have done it subconsciously in other stories I’ve written if I really go back and think about it. But doing it with intention, now that’s the right way to do it if you ask me. Doesn’t mean you have to do a one-for-one retelling of moments from your life. Just remember the small things, tuck them into unsuspecting pockets of your story, twist them so they don’t look quite the same, or lay them bare for what they truly are. As far as I’m concerned, that’s where the beating heart of the story comes from—the truth.
Taking just those tiny pieces from my life elevated the story and characters to heights I hadn’t reached before, and it’s something I’ll be doing from here on out, intentionally.
YOU CAN WRITE ABOUT RELIGION WITHOUT PREACHING
This could easily be a blog post all its own. Which maybe I’ll do someday. So I’ll try not to run long on this one.
I don’t consider myself a religious person these days. I was raised Catholic. Went to a Catholic school for 8 years which involved going to church at minimum every Friday. Sang in choir. Served mass. Received all the sacraments and even went to Public School Religion to unlock the Confirmation achievement. So basically the whole nine yards. After that, no more church for this guy.
You grow up, you learn new things, ideas change, people change, horizons expand (sex, drugs, rock and roll…ok, not really the drugs part). The usual. So I’m not religious in that I don’t really identify myself as Catholic anymore. But without a doubt I am spiritual. I believe there’s more to life than a handful of years that leads to nothing but black empty nothingness. What that is exactly, I have no idea.
That said, growing up in the environment that I did, religion was a huge part of my life. Church and school fostered certain ways of thinking and behaving that no doubt made up who I was, and even still am today in some ways. And, as a child, a lot of those things I took for fact as far as what happens after death are some of the same thoughts and questions Jim and George express in the book.
But the book isn’t about religion. It was a balance I tried to maintain of not venturing too far into the religious deep end, while still conveying a young boy who has had the fear of God put into him by those around him. Actions speak louder than words, and though it may be a fear of a doomed soul that serves as George’s impetus for change, it’s through George’s actions that we see what he truly believes.
Ultimately, I hope the story comes across in a way that represents what I believe now at 30 years into my life, and that’s that I have no fracking clue what the truth is, but behaving like a decent human being seems like the best way to live a life no matter what the end result may be. Rituals and supplications to a higher authority aren’t crucial to that ideal, and needn’t become the foundation to deliver that message.
FIGURE OUT YOUR THEME AND ENHANCE
Holy shit, what a breakthrough. I learned something most authors have been saying forever. But man, for some reason it finally clicked for me.
Most of the time you likely won’t even know what the theme of your book is until you’ve written the first draft. Or at least have gotten far enough in to know where things will end up. Unless you plan that sort of thing in advance because you’re a better writer than I am and I hate you.
Ahem. Anyway, the important thing is to go back through your story and weave that theme throughout the entire thing so it doesn’t just show up out of nowhere at the end like the Waterboy’s daddy after he saw Bobby on the ESPN.
For George’s Light I realized the theme was redemption. And without even knowing it I had put it on display multiple times throughout the story, only not to the degree that it deserved. Which I like to think I remedied in later drafts, enhancing the theme I had zeroed in on once the first draft was completed. But the idea isn’t to beat it over the reader’s head though. So be mindful of that. Subtlety is key. Only when the reader has the advantage of having read the entire story and can view it as a whole will they recognize the nuances of the theme throughout.
If the truth of the story—where the story gets its life—is its beating heart, then I would say the theme of the story is the muscle. In other words, theme is the strength of your story. And to finish off this body metaphor, if your story is going to produce offspring, A.K.A sequels, then that means your book will need a good pair of…
Actually, that’s probably better saved for a different blog post.
Enjoy the post? Be sure to check out the book that inspired it: George’s Light on Amazon.
Agree or disagree with what I said? Be sure to let me know in the comments, along with your Amazon username, password, and bank account information.