Blogger: Rachel Zurakowski
Location: Books & Such Main Office; Santa Rosa, Calif.
If we’re affected by some of the books we read, how does an author write a book that will make a difference in a life? Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I believe that if an author focuses on these things, he or she will be able to write a book that will make a difference:
If the author writes from the heart, the book is likely to touch hearts. Often the ability to write from the heart comes from past experiences we’ve had. So it may be easier to write a book that will touch hearts when you’ve experienced what you’re writing about yourself or if you’ve watched someone close to you go through that experience.
If the author keeps the book realistic, more people will be able to relate to the story or topic. Sometimes humanoids with special abilities are hard to relate to. Also, talking mice are fun, but I just can’t envision myself in a mouse’s shoes. The need for realism in the books goes beyond characters. Be sure to keep the plot of your novel or the stories used in your nonfiction project believable. Unrealistic plots tend to cause damage to walls when the books are thrown violently across the room. If you’re writing Sci-fi or fantasy and you’d still like to write a story that will make a difference, use your story to create an allegory or use a fable-like plot.
Write about something big that everyone can relate to (eg, faith, surviving hardship, getting old) but do it in a direct and unique way. Don’t try to cover every angle. For example, if you’re going to write about surviving hardship, write specifically about one character’s life, but make it so the lessons learned by the character are universal for anyone going through a hardship.
Write your story with a thesis. I know theses seem like they’re only for essays or research papers, but if you want to write a book that will change lives, you have something you want to instruct people about. So whether you’re writing a novel or a nonfiction, be sure you have a thesis and keep in in mind throughout the entire book. Each chapter and every scene should have a purpose in supporting your thesis. This will also help you to eliminate the “fluff-writing.”
If you’re currently writing a project, please share with us what your ‘big’ topic is and if you know your thesis and feel comfortable sharing, please share that as well!
This is great advice! Thanks a lot! I’m currently brainstorming for my new story so it comes at a perfect time for me!
“I just can’t envision myself in a mouse’s shoes.”
You made me smile. Me too. This might be the reason why I can’t get into Sci-fi or Fantasy.
My ‘big’ writing project topic is about a brand new Christian woman who goes to Korea for a 6-month project, facing obstacles in a foreign land, falling in love, and learning what it means to trust Jesus Christ (thesis).
Rachel, you offer an excellent explanation of the importance of thesis. I’d never made the “research paper and essay” connection to fiction writing, but that makes sense to me.
In my current project, I had the heroine’s goals, motivations, and conflicts well outlined, but what seemed missing for the longest time was “the point.” When I finally got a grasp of the takeaway message, the writing became much more focused. Now I’m trying to distill it into a concise phrase–a tagline–to sharpen my focus even more.
HI! When you said, “If the author writes from the heart, the book is likely to touch hearts” it hit home for me.
I truly believe that. Whether it’s fiction OR non-fiction. I get asked all the time how my paranormal romance stuff fits into all this (write from the heart/touch hearts.)
My response usually includes: Just because my characters can shoot ice from their fingertips, read minds, or lift a car over their heads, they still struggle with everyday things. Self confidence isues, desire to feel accepted/loved, lack of faith in God and/or themselves, wondering why they are in this world . . .
Very real issues for every day humans like ourselves. So, my thesis usually tiptoes around that concept somehow.
Great post. Looking forward to seeing you at ACFW this week, Rachel!
Loved this post!
My current project features a girl growing up with an alcoholic mother and trying to make sense of her world, and esp. trying to see God’s hand in it. A lot of universal questions:
If you are real, God, then why did you allow this situation? And why did you put me in it? If you are there, help me. Help us!
Julie Surface Johnson
Thanks for this post, Rachel. It means a lot to me that you encourage us to write a book that will make a difference. I’m one who’s had to work extra hard not to let my thesis overtake the stories I write.
My “big topic” is “the power of positive choices,” especially as it relates to making life choices (including abortion,euthanasia, and reconciliation). These topics are controversial but they are important; and
as a person with a long history in the crisis pregnancy movement, I feel passionately about them!
Excellent post! 🙂 It’s so interesting you addressed this topic, because I just read a great post on the Novel Matters blog about subtext. I think, in a lot of ways, subtext is how you can fold your thesis into your story.
I’m still playing with this concept in my WIP. Thesis: “Coping with tragedy and bravely rebuilding.”
It is refreshing to read that so many others are like-minded. Time is so short these days so it is up to us to be respectful of that time and give people something to “make a difference” as you stated so well.
My current project’s thesis would have to do with hope overcoming major obstacles in life. I am a strong Christian but this is not a Christian series. Judeo-Christian values, I trust, will shine through!
Thank you – I’m really enjoying these blogs!
“…but make it so the lessons learned by the character are universal for anyone going through a hardship.”
That’s the key. And it’s not just about the lessons but the emotions, too. I can take the pain I felt from losing my husband to cancer and put it into a character who has to put down her beloved horse. The pain rings true because that character’s horse is her best friend, just as my husband was mine.
But about fantasy…try this essay by Chesterton: http://www.classicreader.com/book/2281/31/
It is not about our being able to put ourselves in the mouse’s shoe. It is about making a mouse who fills a man’s shoe. Reepicheep was no mouse. He was a noble warrior. And every boy who has ever read Voyage of the Dawn Treader or Prince Caspian has found in that noble soul a great role model.
And I’m just starting a new book, so I did a rough sketch of my plot last night. In this book, I will have a Christ figure leave her home on high and descend to a dark world where she has to walk with the people in order to save them.
I’m really excited about this one but I don’t have the theme all worked out yet.
The one I just finished had a God the Father figure sacrificing the one she loved best to save a sinful people who had treated her badly. It contrasted contentment and apathy and lust and love so it had a lot of lessons, but the thesis was: When you do what’s best for yourself without caring about others, you will suffer, but when you do what’s best for others even though it costs you dearly, you get a reward in the end.
Ah, this is the trick, isn’t it? I love the idea of a thesis–that helped me a ton with finishing a rewrite of my latest novel. It flows much better now!
As for the WIP… well, thanks for the reminder to find a theme and bring it out strongly 🙂 It needs that right now.
My project is about challenging people to embrace all the virtues in the Bible, and not just those they are used to or comfortable with. Often we ignore the verses just before or after the “famous” passages, despite being equally God-inspired. Often we just breeze by these lesser verses, living a life of Sound-bite spirituality.
It started as an afterthought 40 minute workshop, but the response was strong and immediate, though it took a couple years before my own heart beleived it was a book.
It’s awesome hearing “my friend came to the workshop last year and said I had to this year.” It’s changed the outlook of my wife and I as we hold each other accountable to what’s right, even if it isn’t easy, and similar feedback has been shared by others.
If I didn’t believe it could affect people’s lives, there are many other things the time could be spent on.
I’m not sure I understand the difference between what you describe as the “big topic” and what you describe as the “thesis”.
I’m writing a book “about” becoming a mother at 19. But the point, so to speak, is that we are very rarely failures. We do the best we can with what we have – and that is truly OK.
writing from the heart? I just finished writing a true story using creative non-fiction. The editor, writer mentor and good friend, also a writer, couldn’t put it down. I submitted it to a contest – they didn’t like it at all. Writing from the heart? hmmm. I’m learning what we write doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Great post, Rachel.
If I didn’t believe the book I’m working on could make a difference, I wouldn’t bother. It’s another non-fiction, this one aimed at moms. One theme echoes through every page…that our job as mothers is to help our children become self-sufficient.
You talked about writing from experience, and I do. This book grows out of rearing four daughters to adulthood, learning a lot on the job–and since.
I like your idea to write a thesis. I will use idea to keep focussed as I start my non-fiction book.