Much to my husband’s dismay, I could watch the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” over and over again for the rest of my life. Like a good wife, I tricked him into watching it with me by promising it was about World War II. I conveniently forgot to mention that it was a Cinderella story set in 1940s Japan about a girl essentially sold into slavery and resilient enough to fight for what she wants anyway. He really should have learned his lesson after I told him “The Notebook” was a World War II movie.
There is one line in “Memoirs of a Geisha” that haunts me and touches something inside my soul every time I hear it. After the main character thinks all hope is lost, she says that “the heart dies a slow death. Shedding each hope like leaves, until there is nothing left.”
What is it about that movie–and that line in particular–that captivates me?
It’s that it speaks to the very soul of who I am. It is my story in so many ways. The feelings of being trapped in horrible life circumstances, refusing to accept them, and finding the courage to break free no matter the cost. It is a story of freedom. I know what it feels like to be that leafless tree with no hope, only to find that spring comes and the cherry blossoms really do bloom again!
It’s the same reason so many people, myself included, flock to Harry Potter. An abused orphan who lives under the stairs that gets to escape to a magical world where he not only matters, but is the hero that will end up saving them all? Who can’t relate to that same longing for something more?
As writers, we so often want our words, our stories to reach our readers somewhere deep within their hearts. But realistically, we cannot reach them if we do not first reach deep into our own hearts. Robert Frost once said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
I’ve heard it said that each writer has a specific core story inside of them that always manifests itself somehow in their writing, often without them even realizing it.
More than fancy prose or memorable dialogue, finding the heart of your story is what will captivate your readers.
We write because there is a voiceless part of ourselves longing to be given a voice. Give that part a voice and you might be amazed by its power and ability to enchant. It’s the soul of your story because it is a story that comes from your soul.
But how do we find that soul of our story? That’s a little more difficult, especially if we haven’t even written very many stories yet! But here’s one way to tell: look at the books and movies you already love. What is your favorite movie? Your favorite scene? The line that tingles in the back of your mind for days after you hear it or read it?
Study the themes and messages those writers are trying to share with you. Is it like mine and tells a story of breaking free from a cage? Does it speak of a longing to be rescued? A love of second chances? Redemption of the seemingly unredeemable? Is it a longing for adventure and wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself?
Unlock the meanings of the stories you already love and you may just discover the story hiding in your own heart waiting to be told!
Lani Forbes is a middle school science teacher and author of YA science fiction and fantasy. She is a California surfer girl that followed her cowboy husband to the mountains of Idaho where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She is a blogger with the Quills and Inkblotts writing blog and has had two short stories published. Her YA historical fantasy was a finalist with the RWA’s Emma Merritt Contest. You can find her on Twitter at @LaniForbes or on her website www.laniforbes.com.