“What underlies great science is what underlies great art, whether it is visual or written, and that is the ability to distinguish patterns out of chaos.” – Diana Gabaldon
“Character, I think, is the single most important thing in fiction. You might read a book once for its interesting plot – but not twice. – Diana Gabaldon
“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’ “ – Neil deGrasse Tyson
As most of you know, I’m working on my first novel, The Space Between Time. Because of that, I’ve been reading voraciously. Some years ago, someone mentioned the Outlander series to me. For some reason I got the wrong impression about their subject matter, so I wasn’t eager to read the books. However, a few months ago someone else mentioned the books and my interest was peaked. After reading the first in the series at the end of last year, I was hooked and bought the first seven of the books of the series with an Amazon gift card that I got for Christmas.
The thing that I love about Diana Gabaldon’s books is their density. Almost everything that happens and everything that the characters say, even the minor ones, is memorable and significant. She doesn’t use pedestrian language. Granted the main part of the books take place two hundred or more years in the past, but still, her writing is beautiful. I’m envious and inspired.
I write all of that to make a point about one particularly controversial scene in Outlander, the first book, which got me thinking about my own work. Claire, the main character, has been transported two hundred years in the past and though she’s assimilated fairly well, at one point she violates some code of conduct. She has no idea that she’s stepped way out of bounds given the time she’s landed in, and how much danger she’s brought upon herself and her cohorts. Jamie, Claire’s new husband, must impress upon her the transgression she’s committed. The way he does it is to spank her with a strap. It was a shocking scene to read from a twenty-first century point of view. But what I marveled at was Ms. Gabaldon’s courage in writing it. When I read it I was in the scene but also I wondered if she had a difficult time writing it. Reading that scene made me compare this scene to a couple in my book that were particularly challenging for me to write.
While working on my own book, I was sometimes surprised by my character’s actions. In one such scene one of my characters commits suicide in a very gruesome way. I remember being shocked when I wrote it. I didn’t know it was going to happen. And when I wrote it, I looked at the way I’d written the lead in and aftermath and realized that I hadn’t set up the events very well. I hadn’t done the scene justice at all. Rewriting that particular section wasn’t easy and it took several versions before I felt happy with that portion of the book. I’m sure it’s this way for other writers too. Very few scenes just roll out of our minds, through our fingers and onto the page in the exact way they will appear when the book is published.
What I’m learning as I continue to revise my manuscript, is that the exquisitely written work of Ms. Gabaldon must have been crafted one sentence at a time through numerous rewrites. Writing is a little bit like mining. We have to dig deep into places we’d sometimes rather not go. It’s a painstaking process. I had to do that with my character Chloe. She lived in a very dark place. Every work of art contains large parts of the artist’s heart and soul. After all, we’re trying to interpret the human experience so it can be felt by another. When we touch someone with our work, that’s a sacred moment. One the receiver will never forget.
I’ve been touched by art in ways that will stay with me always. Like the effect of being inside the exquisite architecture of Notre Dame in Paris and seeing the statue of Joan of Arc, or the Van Gogh and Picasso paintings in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and so many other beautiful pieces of art. It’s like the artwork speaks to me and I see the world in a different way. Great books affect me the same way, as if my heart is touched by the feelings of the characters and the artist as they created the work. Somehow, I understand humanity better. My outlook is larger and more expansive.
I don’t know if my book will touch people that way, but that’s my goal. Maybe it will never happen, but I want people to be thinking and talking about my posts and books long after they’ve read them as people are doing with Diana Gabaldon’s books. To have a positive affect on other people through my writing is, in my estimation, a great goal.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015