An email came into my inbox this week with the subject Deep Inner Magic. Being a sucker for such things, I clicked. It was a promo for a webinar that didn’t interest me much, but the phrase stuck with me.
As I pondered why, I realized it’s because deep inner magic is what I believe happens to all the best story characters. The characters I love to read about in novels transform themselves in some way. They are alchemists—transmuting metaphorical base metal into gold.
We readers experience that transformation with them. There’s a tension in watching a character transform. The wise reader often knows exactly what the character needs to do, but it takes the character much longer to figure it out, since they are the ones doing the transforming. That tension sustains attention, and when a reader’s attention is sustained, the reader is much more likely to share the emotions of the main character. (All this is according to Psychology Today.)
And—wait for it—if the reader shares deep emotion with the character, they are more likely to mimic that emotion later in their own lives. Which is why reading truly is transformational, baby. And, I submit—why writing is transformational as well. Because I believe that we writers transform as we write our characters’ transformations as well. As the ancients used to say, as above, so below. Transformation in one area of life is always echoed in another. And if that isn’t deep inner magic, I don’t know what is.
But how do we make this magic happen?
You’ve heard it a million times before, but I’ll repeat it. Give your characters something they desire desperately—and then make it really difficult for them to get it. This is the simplest of story-writing advice, and putting it into practice is incredibly hard.
I think this is true for a couple of reasons. First of all, most of us have been trained not to go after what we want with everything we’ve got. And so we settle. We settle for a good enough life, a good enough marriage, a good enough career. But the characters we love to read about don’t settle. They go after what they want with a vengeance. And get pushed down, knocked about, and pressed to the ground in the process. Because so many of us don’t have experience doing that, it is hard to write about.
And second, we don’t like to torture our characters. I don’t know about you, but I fall in love with my characters, all of them, even the despicable ones. And then I want to make their lives easy and simple and sweet. However, sigh, easy and simple and sweet does not create deep inner magic. Or any kind of magic.
So, give your characters a fierce desire and huge obstacles to achieving it and watch the magic happen in your character, your reader, and yourself.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This novel is the star of my October reading. I’ve heard how marvelous it is for years, but only just now got around to reading it. Ursula Todd is born, then dies, and is born again. Throughout the book you read her different lives. I don’t know how Atkinson made it work, but she did. Not a quick read, but worth it.
Nantucket Wedding, by Nancy Thayer. I’ve been reading Thayer’s books since I was a young woman with small children, an eon ago, and she is still at it. She’s traditionally been one of my favorites but I’m finding this one predictable and a bit boring. Yet still, I persist.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel H Pink. Pink consolidates tons of research and thought into a highly readable book.
10% Happier, by Dan Harris. After an on-air panic attack, the he ABC News anchor started searching for answers to his anxiety. He writes a funny and engaging book about his journey through self-help. Ultimately, he lands on, wait for it, meditation. So of course he’s near and dear to my heart!
Make Something Good Today by Erin and Ben Napier. In one of my free writes I had an idea for a story about a couple similar to this one and then I saw this book at the library, so I brought it home. The book exists for no other reason than that this cute couple has a TV show.
Oscar’s Oasis, Justin Time Go, The Cat in the Hat, Story Bots, and many more kids shows. Please don’t make me do a run-down of each of them for you.
Don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.
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