Nancy Bo Flood, one of the namelos authors we’ve met over the last two weeks, shares her insight into the craft of writing. Here she discusses Heart, You’ve Got to Have Heart:
But, you may argue, I am writing a nonfiction nature book…or a fantasy…or a picture-book biography. It doesn’t matter. If you want your reader to keep turning the pages, your manuscript must have heart. Emotion.
Emotion connects the information, the meaning and the reader. It is this emotional connection to a story unfolding or facts unfolding that enables us to remember what we experience. If your manuscript has heart, your reader will remember what you wrote.
How does a writer create heart or emotion? Through story. Through creating “intent,” the overall theme or meaning of a book. When someone asks you, what was that book about? Your reply, if your remember anything about the book, will be a description of the book’s theme. Charlotte’s Web is about letting go of someone we love. Yes, the book is about a girl, a pig and a spider. That sounds pretty hokey, doesn’t it? But what the book really is about, is love and death, which is what we remember.
How does an author develop intent, the emotional power of a book, fiction or nonfiction? First, you do your research. You learn what you must know in order to write an authentic, accurate setting and an interesting unfolding of events or facts. Next, discover the story line. Weave it through the entire manuscript. Create a story arc.
When I wrote a nonfiction picture book about sandstone, Sand to Stone and Back Again, sedimentary rock became my main character. First I did the research – indeed, I read dozens of geology books to write less than a thousand words about sandstone. The tough challenge was finding the “way in,” discovering the connection between my subject and the reader, in other words, discovering my “intent,” what I really wanted to say about sandstone. I asked myself, how could I make sandstone relevant to a third-grader?
My hook, my way in, my connection to the reader, developed from my intent. What I really cared about was the mystery that stone is always changing, just like that third-grade child:
“You began as one tiny cell, as small as a grain of sand. From one cell, you became two, then four. Now you are made of millions of connected cells. From one tiny cell, you became a person. From one grain of sand, I became a mountain.”
Sandstone is always changing, just like you.
Writing memorable fiction or nonfiction requires research that allows the writer to thoroughly know the subject but most important, find the story, your intention, the real meaning. Intention is the emotional answer to “so what, why are these facts or this story important?” Within your work’s intention, whether fiction or nonfiction, is the real treasure, the heart, the emotional connection between the story and your reader.
Nancy Bo Flood is a counselor, teacher, and parent. She has conducted workshops on child abuse, learning disabilities, play therapy, and creative writing. Ms. Flood has lived in Malawi, Hawaii, Japan, and Saipan, where her first novel, Warriors in the Crossfire, is set. She lives on the Navajo Nation reservation, near Flagstaff, Arizona. Her namelos book, No-Name Baby, is an intimate portrait of a young girl as she discovers the truth about herself and her family during World War I. Read her post on “How I found the heart of No-Name.”