Thursday, February 9, 2017

Get Real


In my writing workshops, I often discuss character weaknesses and how we writers can use these vulnerabilities to engage our readers. By ‘reader connection’ I don’t mean a collective whole, rather a ‘this could be me or my best friend’ type of significance. But how?
November 1, 2016, I celebrated the release of the final book in my young adult techno-crime thriller trilogy. Activate completed the set, easing tensions from Replicate’s rocket-ride action and loose-ended resolution, whilst bringing full circle the story of Integrate’s Blaine Colton, teenage GMO and survivor of mitochondrial disease (mito).

In creating Blaine, I was inspired by a real life mito hero. But this week I learned a friend had died from one of the types of mito I’d referenced to construct for Blaine a uniquely complex version of the disease. I’d known this friend for years, but our lives had taken different paths. Despite remaining in contact via social media, I’d never realised they had mito. When I heard of their death, I felt … numb. It couldn’t be true! Someone was playing a cruel joke and any moment, as I scoured my friend’s Facebook wall, I’d find it was a mistake and somehow, silly me, I’d misinterpreted the message. Instead, I found words of grief and sympathy. Suddenly Blaine was in my world, only it wasn’t Blaine. It was my friend. And they were dead.

This moment confronted me, forced me to revisit the power of writing authentic characters. It was like my advice was working in reverse, where suddenly I was being drawn into my character’s world through reality.

Mid last year I was privileged enough to be one of 180 poets included in the Veils, Halos & Shackles international poetry anthology, a collection of poems depicting the wounds and struggles of women worldwide, presented as raw, personally impacting experiences. The influence of works such as this makes me increasingly convinced a significant key to connecting deeply with our readers involves a willingness to give voice to our own vulnerabilities. Yet, our modern society doesn’t like the impracticalities of a candid response. ‘How are you?’ is often a rhetorical question, asked while keeping up a brave front.
Was this how I’d missed my friend’s illness?

By writing out of the honest, messy reality of our brokenness, we may not necessarily create characters that are all peaches and sparkles. But maybe, like Blaine turning up in my real world, we can allow readers a place to cry in the ashes with characters that will turn up in their world.

I know other authors have created such a place for me over the years. Perhaps our willingness to become vulnerable as writers will give our readers permission to agonise with our characters, experiencing their challenges, and give room to identify mutual pain. And knowing the hope we’ve found in even the darkest moments, maybe we can also use our vulnerabilities to share comfort and invite them to journey with us along the path to healing.

Queensland author Adele Jones writes young adult and historical novels, poetry and short inspirational, fiction and non-fiction works. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks to present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or contact@adelejonesauthor.com

21 comments:

  1. Great blog, Adele. I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend to mitochondrial disease. What a dreadful shock it must have been, especially because you didn't even realise your friend suffered from it. Perhaps you can take comfort that you have chosen to highlight the disease - perhaps your friend read your books and was encouraged that you had chosen it to be something your hero grappled with? So I'd say that you can be assured you did do something for your friend, even if you didn't realise it.

    I love the way you end your blog Adele. "Perhaps our willingness to become vulnerable as writers will give our readers permission to agonise with our characters, experiencing their challenges, and give room to identify mutual pain. And knowing the hope we’ve found in even the darkest moments, maybe we can also use our vulnerabilities to share comfort and invite them to journey with us along the path to healing."

    Fully agree with your sentiments. Thank you for your thoughts and insights and may your books continue to bless the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anusha. It was very much a shock. I appreciate the idea that perhaps, unknowingly, I was able to encourage them. It reiterates how serious this illness is, along with the value of raising awareness.

      I know you are familiar with physical challenges and am constantly encouraged by your attitude to life and care for others. Your writing is a wonderful example of connecting with readers and inviting them along the path to healing, being more than just the physical. For this I am grateful.

      Delete
  2. Sorry to hear about your friend, Adele. a shock, doubly so when he (or she) had Blaine's disease, making your book even more poignant. I love Blaine's vulnerability and his strength to survive. Thanks for giving hope in the messy realities of life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I appreciate your words, Jeanette - for both my friend and Blaine's experiencing. Ah, those messy realities ... Yes, hope can bring us through incredible difficulties. How incredible that our writing has potential to provide that for others.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Lynne. I feel so much for the family. So difficult.

      Delete
  4. This post has touched my heart. May God bring you comfort and may He continue to use your books to bless many. They have certainly blessed me. I was very unwell for several months and unable to do much at all. I felt inadequate and worthless. During that time I read Activate and Blaine's journey encouraged me to remember that we are all of great value even when we can't do anything. I really connected with him, but it was realising how Sophie and his parents loved him even when he couldn't even communicate that really spoke to me and reminded me that it's not about what we do but who we are and the fact that we are of great value just because God has made us and loves us. I'm sure many other people have been blessed by your story and characters just as I was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jenny. How wonderful to know Blaine's journey was able to encourage you during a challenging experience. (You've had quite a number of those lately!) Really appreciate your insights.

      Delete
  5. Powerful post, Adele. So sorry to hear about your friend. It's amazing how we can keep in touch on social media and so easily miss what's really going on in people's lives. I do it all the time. But sad as it is, I think you've really hit on something. We can't expect readers to empathise with our characters unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and put real emotions on the page. I read somewhere this week that it's like the difference between telling someone it's raining versus showing them what the rain feels like. Hopefully your trilogy will help readers to identify with those who struggle in the face of challenges, but like Blaine, hold on to the hope that there's something more. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nola. You make valuable points. I guess it validates the view that social media doesn't necessarily provide the same connection as face-to-face meeting. Still hard to believe though.

      What an important consideration of reader expectations based on the characters we build. I agree, if we paint only partial emotions and exclude vulnerabilities, we miss something in the depth of our characterisation that limits the connection of our readers to our heroes. Love your example of feeling the rain too. Beautiful.

      Delete
    2. Hi Adele, so sorry for your loss, very sad. Illuminating words. Yes you need to get into the details like with a bio. People need to find something they can relate to or get to understand better. amen

      Delete
    3. So true, Rachel. Thank you for your comment.

      Delete
  6. Love. Peace. Healing. Deep calls to deep.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Shane. The vulnerability of speaking from the heart can be difficult, but incredibly powerful.

      Delete
  7. Great post, Adele. Thank you for sharing your grief and confusion as characters blur with real life. I guess that's what we aim for in our writing —to create characters that seem so real and authentic that we can relate to them or recognise our humanity in them. I'm sorry you lost a friend to such a cruel disease. Your books have highlighted and educated and perhaps even inspired a scientist to keep searching for a cure. Wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a strange thing when our fictional worlds and reality overlap. As you say, that what we aim to write, but in this instance it was perhaps doubly a shock because it was unexpected. (We humans aren't the greatest for surprises at times.) I truly hope, if nothing else, the trilogy has raised awareness and brought a human face to mito. Hopefully we'll see significant advances in the future.

      Delete
    2. (And thanks for your comment, Elaine. :) )

      Delete
  8. Sorry to hear about your friend but what a lovely post. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm a bit behind on reading CWD blog post but Adele thank you for this post.
    Your comment "to cry in the ashes with characters that will turn up in their world" is so important isn't it?
    Sorry to hear of your friend's passing. Sounds like they will always hold an inspiring spot in your heart.
    xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you, Di. I'll often do a 'blog crawl' when I've not had time to visit my usual range of blogs. Thank you for your kind words about my friend. They will be missed.

      Yes, I believe if a character feels so real, it's like they've entered our world, I think we have done something right in our creative process.

      Enjoy catching up on recent posts.

      Delete