The Big Picture
My first novel (tentative release date in late 2020,) says a lot about who I am.
At its most basic, big-picture idea, it’s an Urban Fantasy story about an unlikely friendship between a technophobic beekeeper and a bright young android who take on one problem, and another problem, and another problem to unravel the mystery behind suspicious deaths and disappearances—hopefully before anyone else can get hurt.
But it’s also a story of great personal sacrifice, ingenuity with very little resources, a love that withstands “in sickness and in health”, multi-faceted growth in the group and in the heart of each character, acceptance when there is none to be had from others, and forgiveness. These themes aren’t just great emotional rollercoasters for the crowd, they’re centered around what it means to be human (or android!) and I care about the hope for a better humanity very, very much.
Almost any writer could tackle these elements and themes, but every writer would approach them in vastly different ways. These are basic human needs and core values; we can all appreciate them and connect with them in a way that is personal to us.
Everyone has their own set of core value beliefs, and I encourage you to skim this list of CORE VALUES after reading this post and reflect on what you hold in high esteem. Try to pick ten or twenty and then narrow it down to your top 5. It might surprise you! Or maybe it will reaffirm/put into words what you have always believed. Want instant conflict? Consider your list, and think of the opposite circumstance; if you were to value family above all else, then what might enrage you most when you experience betrayal from a family member? Does that violate everything you believed family stood for? (Trust, truth, comfort, safety, love, etc…) Or what would happen if your goal in life was to be entirely self-sufficient until (God forbid) you got into a terrible accident and had to rely on a stranger to feed and bathe you? How frustrating!
Maybe you’ve been in a situation like that. Take it, use it. That’s part of your heart, your soul, and unique perspective. It should be a part of your writing.
Beyond the Big Picture: Getting Gritty
Now on another, seemingly insignificant layer, you can see my hobbies and preferences shine through my work. My beekeeper, for instance, has a personality (sometimes appallingly) different from my own, but he got his passion for gardening and (some of his) taste in music from me. (Yes, I do believe it’s okay—inevitable!—to share parts of yourself with your character. Characters are like friends, and you usually befriend those whom you share common interests with. Just don’t make a flawless, idealized “mini-me” or write an autobiography cleverly disguised as an Epic Quest novel. It’ll only make receiving constructive criticism that much harder.)
Starting out with his story, I knew very little about who my beekeeper was. I knew even less about raising honeybees! If you’ve read my previous post, however, you will know I was a homeschooled kid and, let me tell you, “Animals” was my favorite subject even through high school. Perfecting my beekeeper’s quirky friendship with his honeybees took a lot of research but because of my combined love for nature and the curiosity to learn, I loved every minute spent poring over six or seven beekeeping books, various blogs, and YouTube videos. I found something to motivate me to explore his life and interests in depth. Suddenly we had common interests to break the ice and ever since then have had plenty of “conversation” material that will help me to understand the sort of man he is and who he wants to be, despite his shortcomings. He even inspired me to want to build a few hives of my own!! (Updates will be given if that daydream ever becomes realized…)
What makes you tick? What is your message? What do you fight for, who do you love, what can’t you stand, and how do you enjoy your free time? THAT’S your story. Even if it’s technically about a robot and a guy who grew up to be Winnie-the-Pooh solving mysteries together, your story will always be about so much more.
Now I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes our interests and hobbies can be very unexpected to other people. A lawyer who enjoys skydiving; an artist who likes trigonometry; the crab fisher who knits blankets. We all have our own quirks, and that truly is what it means to “give your character a quirk”: make them conflicting, varied, passionate; humans in their own right. Just like you!
As a writer, it’s our job to observe, to soak up details, to tune the crackling noise of life into one smooth melody line (there goes another passion of mine: music.) We might as well put “Professional People-Watcher” into our job title because it is something we are very, very good at. I would like to encourage you to take some time to watch yourself, as well.
That is how you will fall in love with any writing project, ever. Find your own heart in it. Embrace yourself, good bad and ugly. Take time to explore the themes and core values in your own life, and observe how they take action in your hobbies and preferences, maybe without you even connecting the dots until right now.
Be passionate! Incorporate your knowledge. I’m not a die-hard follower of the popular “write what you know” advice, but to badly paraphrase Stephen King’s advice in his outstanding book, On Writing, if you’re a plumber and you want to write about outerspace, then you might very well be the best candidate to tell us what a plumber would think of being on a spaceship.