There’s a funny thing that happens when you commit to being a novelist.
And by funny I mean an in your face confrontation where once you bump into some of the deep-rooted (at times gnarly) emotions driving your work, you must decide whether to run like mad or body check the beasts.
I’ve learned to write directly into the heart of my fears. When I do this I’m able to connect with my readers on a deeper level, trusting they’ve experienced similar trepidations.
This brings me to the woods.
What lurks amidst the pine needles and towering trees, those shadows of doubt and memory of pain, that’s where I allow myself to wander when I write. I escort my characters through these forests. There are times I hold their hands and times I let go and hide, watching how they’ll react to the owl’s hoot, the wolf’s howl, and the swishing of leaves that sends electric shocks of terror up their spines.
I remain in the woods with my characters at all times. Feeling. Entering their world—enmeshing with their emotions. Here’s a glimpse of what some of my forest treks have resembled…
Fangorn Forest from Lord of the Rings
Like the hobbits, aware Fangorn Forest is the only way to where they need to go, I tremble. I know what’s in there. Orcs. Sharp-eared, sneering, relentless in their pursuit, hungry to devour me orcs. And worse, other nameless, indescribable things that might very well be the end of me. Raking me through past hurts and future worries.
And yet I take the first step in, leading my characters onward as the trees groan. Yes, we come across a bloodthirsty orc, but because we persist, we don’t give up, we also happen upon a forest filled with some other rather unexpected kindly characters that end up lifting us to higher ground.
Rotten apples from The Wizard of Oz
Dorothy and her friends clutch tighter as the road darkens. The rows of trees serve as bookends around the motley crew determined to walk the yellow brick road. But the trees are feisty. Feisty apple-throwing trees. And the felt presence of the witch’s nearness fills them with dread.
Criticism, judgment, names I’ve been called. Might as well call them Macoun, Red delicious, and Braeburn as I roam these woods. Like apples chucked at my head these are visceral reminders of how often I’ve failed. Insecurities and even pride rotting my insides far quicker than any of these apples could.
So what I do when I come across these apples as I write? I pick ‘em up and bite. I bite back. I throw back. I duck. I don’t let the apples get to my head.
Confusing Characters from Alice in Wonderland
The Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, the smoke-ring blowin’ Caterpillar. I think we can all agree Alice came across her share of enigmatic characters on her forest hike.
I’ve so been there. Real life truly can be stranger than fiction sometimes. People can be rude without warning in the woods I wander through. Deceptive. Just plain perplexing, leaving me to question next steps.
After stumbling across this lot, it’s often I’ll offer a kind word, grab my character’s hand, and take the nearest exit. Remembering. Always remembering and learning how it felt to be scared and treated in such a way. Remembering to not pass it on.
Max from Where the Wild Things Are
There are enough atrocities in this world to cause the whole earth to implode with anger. Max understood this. He got anger.
And then he got to escape it all.
He ventured to where the wild things are and instead of cowering, he “stared into all their yellow eyes without blinking once” and found his safe playground. Crowned ruler, Max conquered his fears. Until loneliness set in and he understood all-day rumpuses with the wild things aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
He went to the woods.
And then he came home.
There are few more allegorical descriptions of what I feel I try to do as a writer than the one of Max and his forest excursion. I bring my reader into the woods with me and my characters. It’s safe (even though tension and conflict are ripe). We rumpus. But then I find a way to bring my readers home.
To take what I’ve written with them, as I am challenged to do the same.
And to believe the power of imagination has the far-reaching influence to change anything.
Do you write into the heart of your fears? Which forest description resonates with you most?
*photo by stock.XCHNG
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