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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - What Stirs Us

We live in an age of immediacy. Boundless technology, instant gratification, and self-absorption. These are unromantic times. A shame. I've always had the heart of a Romantic. With a capital R. A heart that stutters at sunsets and grips tight at the edge of vistas. How does that Lee Ann Womack song go? "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean." "I hope you never lose your sense of wonder."
If we close our eyes for a moment, and blot out all the chaos swirling around us, we can conjure up images that stir our inner Romantic. For me, it's open fields, and farmlands, and weathered fence posts. It's English hamlets, and craggy outcroppings of rock across the moors I've never visited. It's priceless documents under glass, touched with ink by our founding fathers. It's some long-lost shred of a song, a ghost of a sound that fills the ears when you lay a hand on the jamb of a centuries' old house. It is the past, and legacy, and the vastness of simple landscapes that brings the fine hairs on my nape to attention. Gives me goosebumps.
Things that make me feel small. When you look back over your shoulder, and see the road unfurling endlessly behind you. When the thunder of hooves comes up through the grass and hits you in the knees and you know the herd is about to crest the hill before you, twelve-thousand pounds of strength you can't imagine.

This soul-stirring is universal. It's different for everyone, but we've all shivered over some marvel of the world before. We've all felt small. It's humbling, and necessary, and when you're writing a story moored in a world that isn't mainstream, it can be a way to bring your audience into the shoes of your characters.

I've said before that I'm writing in the wrong genre, and this is true. But...well, I spent years researching motorcycle clubs, and the attraction for me as a writer wasn't the tattoos, or the violence, or the debauchery. The dark side isn't the draw. It's the road. They spend so much time on the road, they see so much of the country - the real, broken-down, proud Americana. Can't you see them, parked on the shoulder, with a view of the sun rippling up the hills toward them? Can't you hear that moment of silent wonder? To willingly align yourself with a brotherhood that accentuates your smallness in the world - well, I'm romanticizing it. But it's the spirit of it all that I find so appealing. There's a timeless quality to this world. There's order and hierarchy and codes that feel medieval. It's a total lack of self-absorption that hearkens to times long past. It's tradition, and legacy, and the simple existence of footsteps to fill.

I think next to character development, that stirring is what helps readers connect to a story. Takes it from fiction to truth. And after all...

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