There's a lot of talk of brand these days. Find your brand, what makes you you, what sets you apart from other authors. Find your passion. What makes you tick. The elements that light you up. Then use those as much as possible in your own creative work to maximize your potential.
Tracy Groot, at a recent writer's conference, talked about drawing from your instincts as you write. Ultimately the best writing comes not in following craft books step by step, but in drawing from your creative well--that inner compost inside you that Tolkien talks about. That black gold rich with memory, zeal, excitement, and zest for stories.
The best exercise I've found for discovering my inner gold was in James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers. In it, he had you make a list of what you believe. Then he had you jot down your favorite books and movies and analyze the elements that you loved most about them. He said you want to put elements from both lists in your stories, so you're always passionate about them.
Today I thought it would be fun to share my lists with you and see how they've played out in the wide variety of genres I've read and written.
Things I Believe
This isn't just a list of theological things I believe. But mindsets I hold that strongly affect the way I act, treat others, and make decisions.
- God is a deeply loving and perfectly holy Heavenly Father. He gives us his love and calls us to pursue holiness.
- Kindness and courtesy are essential elements to communication
- Be a safe place in a world that has few of them. That shoulder they can cry on, the place where they feel able to share who they really are and let off the pressure of performance and masks.
- Be vulnerable and authentic for real relationships.
- Don't be afraid to live with all-out passion for the things God has given you to love.
- Find friends who are shield brothers--loyal, loving, generous, forgiving.
- Have compassion on the outcasts. The messy, the broken, the struggling.
Books and Movies that Mean the Most to Me
- Great Expectations--it leaves me feeling that justice and mercy have been fully satisfied. I end it feeling mentally inspired, with a heart that's been touched and a host of new friends in cast and characters.
- Little Dorrit--I feel as if we have come through much suffering and yet suffering has not broken us.
- Kidnapped--the male soul-friendship to trump all soul friendships. This one will always be my favorite in the realm of literature.
- Amazing Grace--I must not give up the causes I am passionate about, even when it takes a long time and seems to ask for everything I have. When it ends, I feel triumphant, contemplative, grateful, and deeply moved.
- The Pilgrim of Hate--I love the twist of justice and grace.
- The Young Victoria--Victoria and Albert can stand shoulder to shoulder, with hearts beating in unison, and face anything. I feel excited about marriage when I watch that movie.
- A Cast of Stones--I get to walk step by humiliating step with a wrecked, drunken outcast and watch him rise above his pain and humiliation to conquer it. Nobility for the outcast gets me every time.
Common Elements Between Them
Tying through all those books and movies are themes of passion, grace, justice, mercy, kindred friendships, and suffering. Every single one of them has a clear picture of the kaleidoscope of personalities in the world that I love. They all have people paying the price for things they love, but refusing to give up: grappling with impossible darkness in themselves and others, and coming out scarred, but victorious.
I don't particularly love villains, but I deeply, deeply love flawed heroes. And this list very much shows that fact.
If I sat down and made a list of favorite literature and movies with my mom, my dad, or my sister in mind (hey little kylo ren fangirl), they would be completely different, with completely different elements. They would have different passion points, different common elements they're always looking for before my family pronounces a story "good". And that's the cool thing about the world if literature--we'll always have different types of stories because people are moved by different things.
How They Play Out in My Novels
War of Loyalties
War of Loyalties pretty much crams everything I love into one giant epic. Ben, Jaeryn, and Terry all have to grapple with justice, mercy, suffering, scars, friendships, and overcoming in a world of spies and broken generations and political turmoil. That is my first baby, therefore all my passions went into it at once.
The Caribbean Novellas
These novellas are way different than WoL. They're modern day friendships exploring life and growing up and budding romance. But they started out with the soul-friendship theme, and the main characters have safe and authentic fellowship, both funny and contemplative by turns. Colby, Julian, and Roo are safe places for one another and find ways to show love and enjoy life in whatever they're walking through. This story pulls more from my core beliefs list than from the dramatic literature I enjoy.
The Jazz Age Novellas
The Jazz age novellas incorporate zeal+shield brothers into one story. They don't have a lot of angsty safe-place scenes. They're just about having a purpose to better the world and holding to that purpose with joy, vigor, and willingness to sacrifice self. Plus, I suppose, slightly unlikely friendships.
schuyler and her outcast theme. has to get it in somewhere.
The Country Story
This is a newer venture, a novella that hasn't been finished yet, and is barely started. It's a story about Becca, and it deals again with safe places and outcasts, but in a slightly different way than the Caribbean novellas. Becca is deeply in need of a safe place and finds it in someone who isn't a social outcast, but who could be in homeschool circles. I'm already getting ideas for a sequel from watching God's Not Dead 2 yesterday with the sis. A real outcast walked into the cast of characters, and I want to explore where it takes me. While the themes of outcast and safe space are classic ones for me, the setting is fresh, placed in the country, with characters and struggles that are deeply autobiographical and personal for the year that 2016 has been.
You see, it's not about making sure every story is unlike the one before it. It's about putting your message to the world in fresh guises. After all, Dickens deals with social injustice, Ellis Peters writes mysteries with oppressed lovers, every Jules Verne is a tale of perseverance and impossible discovery, many L.M. Montgomery novels deal with escape from harsh control. You can change settings from America to Asia, change ages from young to old, change character religions and incomes and family backgrounds, but ultimately that heartbeat of what you believe and love should sink into every single thing you write.
After today, I think I've discovered that for now, every story I write will have the outcast, the dreamer, or the flawed hero.
Because that is who I am. And that is what I want to offer to the world.
So I'd love to know--what are two or three of your favorite books or movies? Do they mirror your passion points? How does what you believe influence the stories you like to read--or write?
(Or feel free to steal this blog post idea and link up to it in the comments.)