The Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Carol Shields wrote, “A story is something moving to someone else. That is all.”
A story has extra impact when you identify that “someone else.” Shields advised writing for someone in particular. She imagined herself whispering her story into her sister’s ear.
When I wrote my first book, Tracking Giants (coming in spring ‘23), I thought of it as a gift for my dear friend Kate Harris. Kate is a writer, and we met when I acquired what would become her award-winning, bestselling first book, Lands of Lost Borders.
As I wrote my manuscript, I wondered, “What would Kate like to see in this scene? How deep would Kate want me to go here?”
I’d text Kate: “Do you want to read a detailed history of logging protests in British Columbia?” Answer: no.
“Do you want to read about this really embarrassing thing that happened to me while searching for big trees?” Answer: if it adds to the story, yes. (Damnation, Kate.)
Now that I’m working with my publisher to shape marketing copy, I can ask Kate: “What do you think of this copy?” Answer: I love it!
Writing for Kate allowed me to be more vulnerable, to share more details, and tell more cheesy jokes. Kate loves me for who I am, and I allowed that personality to shine through on the page. Early reviewers (not Kate) have told me that the book is “so you, Amanda!” I am trying not to take it personally 😉
In the personal is the universal and all that. If your writing lacks pizazz, consider writing it for just one person. This person might be a close friend, a student, a client, or a neighbour. This person could be living or dead. It’s the difference between teaching a yoga class of 30 students, with different abilities, and teaching a private lesson. If you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one.