A few weeks ago I read a BBC article with the headline, “The Grannies Who Had Never Seen the Sea.” It was about several elderly women from a village in the Italian Alps who crowd-funded a trip to see the ocean for the first time.
A photo posted with the article has stayed with me: three of the women in matching bathing suits, holding hands, wading out into the shimmering blue water. You can’t see their faces, but it’s easy to imagine what they must have been feeling. Wonder. Apprehension. Anticipation.
This, I remember thinking. This is the goal.
Whether we’re writing about war or first love or a zombie apocalypse, I believe our job as writers is to infuse our words with that depth of humanity, that sense of shared connection.
But how? I’m the first to admit that I often get lost in my own head and forget to notice what’s happening around me. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the people I encounter every day–even if it’s the driver in the car beside me at a red light or a shopper ahead of me in line at the grocery store.
Listen, observe, explore. Pay attention. Take notes. Eavesdrop. Pay someone a compliment. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Make an effort to envision what worries and dreams and disappointments that stranger might be facing. We all feel love and loss, hope, sorrow, fear. We all experience certain universal truths that are part of being human. Shaping our stories around those truths creates a vital connection with our readers.
Conversely, I believe it’s just as important to have moments of stillness, of solitude, where we can breathe deep and reflect, exploring our own essential truths. This form of meditation works especially well for me if I’m in a forest, on the beach, in the mountains—pretty much anywhere outdoors. Maybe your best thinking spot is at the gym, or in the shower. When we take the time to identify what we value, what stories we most want to tell, we breathe new life into our writing and build a more authentic, more relatable world.
What do your characters want, and why? What would they endure or sacrifice to get it? Believable, three-dimensional characters bridge the gap between fiction and reality, creating books that readers will want to revisit again and again.