There have been times in my life when all I wanted to do was turn off the lights and put R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” on repeat play at a high volume.
So, I did.
|Carolyn and John M. Floyd with Michael Bracken|
at A Bridge to Publication, Lake Charles, LA.
But everybody hurts, in one way or another, and there’s nothing unique about my pain.
Except, as a writer, that pain infuses my writing.
Whether my stories have ostensibly happy endings, or they clearly do not, a great many are stories of loss or the threat of loss. In “Chase Your Dreams” (AHMM, June 2016) Cody loses his lover; in “The Mourning Man” (AHMM, March/April 2018), Johnny loses his wife; in “Going-Away Money” (AHMM, November/December 2018), Sean loses his innocence; and in “Smoked” (Noir at the Salad Bar, 2017), Beau fears losing everything.
If I’ve done my job properly, readers feel the loss or the threat of loss.
And I want them to.
I admire writers who have the ability to embed esoteric clues into deftly plotted stories, but I often feel nothing when I finish reading their stories.
And I want to feel something.
IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ALONE
When I write my stories—the stories I write first and foremost for me, rather than for a particular market or by invitation—I follow the old dictum, attributed in various forms to a great many writers, to sit in front of a keyboard and open a vein.
But, as clever as it is to say such a thing, the reality of it is much different. Most of us only scratch the surface with our writing, not bleeding any more than can be staunched with a metaphorical Band-Aid.
We imagine what others will think of us if we let loose all the pain that courses through our veins. So, we let out a drip here and a drip there, never enough to make us woozy from blood loss.
And our stories suffer because we hold back.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
While all of us hurt in one way or another, not all of us define our lives by what we’ve lost. Our pain is only temporary. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and know it is not a train barreling down upon us.
So, make readers feel that, as well.
When your characters overcome adversity, survive a harrowing experience, or meet the love of their life, it isn’t sufficient for your story to have a happy ending if your reader doesn’t feel the joy.
I wish there were a magic formula I could share, one that would allow you to write an emotion-filled story each time you sit at the keyboard. If there were, I would share it. But I’ve found no magic plot, no specific scenes, and no particular combination of words that infuse a story with emotion. What I have found is that the writers who most infuse their stories with emotion are those who are not afraid to reveal themselves through their writing.
So, sit at the keyboard and open a vein. If you bleed sweat and tears, write sad stories. If you bleed rainbows and unicorns, write joyous stories.
Just don’t be afraid.
You are not alone.
“Going-Away Money” appears in the November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Also in the issue are stories by fellow SleuthSayers R. T. Lawton and Robert Lopresti. Pulp Modern Vol. 2 No. 3, in which my story “Good Girls Don’t” appears, has been available for Kindle for a few months now. The print edition has just been released.