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When I visit classrooms and talk about storytelling, I often discuss the “seeds” of stories. And how the best seeds come from real moments in our life; moments of great joy, or sadness, fear or confusion.
They’re the nuggets of truth that often inspire a story, or get woven into one, adding depth, color and perhaps most importantly, emotion.
The truth can be dangerous for fiction writers. Too much of it, and our fiction becomes nonfiction. Too little, and we may find ourselves with a story that lacks emotional punch.
As authors, our goal is to create the best stories possible. And let’s face it, the truth isn’t always more interesting than fiction.
That can mean letting go of what actually happened and focusing on what these fictional characters in a fictional setting, would do. All with the intent to move the story along and be true to its core.
I struggled with this dilemma when writing my new novel, What Flowers Remember (namelos, 2014). In it, a young girl is faced with the reality that an elderly neighbor she loves has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. My own grandfather had the disease, and he forgot me, along with everyone else he loved and who loved him in return.
|Shannon and her grandfather|
There was a lot of truth I could have drawn from. Moments when we battled the disease and sometimes my grandfather, too, as his personality, as well as his physical and mental abilities changed.
In the end, I included only one truth. The emotion of being forgotten. And the single sentence my grandfather said to me the day I realized he didn’t know me anymore.
I gave that line to the character Old Red. He says it to Delia.
The rest of my truth is for me. Not for my readers.
My character Delia has her own situations to contend with. Her first love, a budding new business, and of course, Alzheimer’s.
How can she save his memories? That is what she wonders. And that is what she sets out to do.
As you work on your own stories, focus on the truth (or truths) that are most critical, then give the rest away. Your characters will talk to you over time. They will help you fill in the rest. And your story will be better for it.
Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a lover of the outdoors.
Her first novel, The Summer of Hammers and Angels (namelos, 2011), was nominated for the William Allen White award.
Born in North Dakota, Shannon has called West Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Michigan “home” at some point in her life. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, one rather dull fish and her always entertaining dog Benson. Find her at facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
From the promotional copy of What Flowers Remember (namelos, 2014):
Most folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month.
Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.
Delia and Old Red Clancy make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. When they dream up a seed- and flower-selling business, well, look out, Tucker’s Ferry, because here they come.
But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for no reason.
As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save as many memories as she can. Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help her.
What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
"[Delia’s] frustration, fear and sense of loss will be readily recognizable to others who have experienced dementia in a loved one, and her story may provide some guidance on how to move down that rocky path toward acceptance and letting go. ...What do flowers remember? The stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s sensitive novel compassionately conveys." – Kirkus Reviews
“Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the goodness of life and people.”
—Voice of Youth Advocates
|Shannon's Writing Studio|