Ever heard the saying “the journey is the destination”?* I’ve always interpreted it as “the process of getting there is more important than the goal”, and I couldn’t disagree more.
I want to reach my goal. I want the results. I want the destination, which for me has always included an in-person life of friends, family, buddies, neighbors, and locales-that-I-love.
This year of sheltering in place has been one very long journey with no destination in sight. My husband and I worked and stayed at home the entire year, venturing out only for walks, grocery shopping, veterinary appointments, and to assist our elderly neighbors. We sheltered in place for our own safety, but also because of a deep commitment to be one less patient stressing our overwhelmed health care system.
Despite doing the right thing, it felt really awful. Just like it did for a lot of you, I’m sure. I missed my friends, my neighbors, my critique group, my writing buds, my readers, my village, my museums, my hairdresser. You name someone or something in my life before the pandemic and I missed them. The word that I most often use to describe this year is stuck.
But I do relish these bright spots of gratitude: my husband and I are healthy; our friends, family, and neighbors are healthy; and I have time to write, read, and keep up with my historical fiction. I’m also grateful that this year I had a writing revelation, and here it is:
Readers like stories that reach their emotions.
Okay, okay, okay! Most of you know that already, either as readers or writers. I know it as a reader, and I cherish the moments when I am right there with a character, knowing what they want and how hard they have to work to get it. I also know it as a writer, because one of my critique partners–yes, the romance writer–always reminds me that I need more emotion and more emotional reaction in my storytelling.
Of course I have emotion in my short stories and novels, but I write historical crime fiction, and how the heroines, murderers, suspects, and victims feel (or felt) has never come first in my writing. Instead, my priorities focused on researching the time period and creating a crime that really could have happened and hadn’t been told before. Once all that was settled, I tossed my beloved characters into the murky mix and together we found out how they sunk, swam, or continued to tread water.
But as I began final edits to my WIP this January, I realized that I’d created a heroine who (for reasons too long to go into here**) showed very little emotion until Chapter 12. And I suddenly knew that Chapter 12 (or even Chapter 2 or even page two of Chapter 1) is way too late for my heroine to show her feelings.
At the same time, I was also thinking about my heroine’s inner conflict–the push toward a cherished goal vs. the pull of something-bad-but-comfortable–that dominates her life, and I came across the term wounding event. Just like it sounds, the wounding event is the painful, traumatic event (or series of events) that creates the something-bad-but-comfortable pull that keeps the character from moving forward with their cherished goal.
Once I understood what a wounding event was and how it impacted my characters, why my characters had inner conflicts suddenly made sense to me. And once I understood why they were conflicted and understood the truths of their push/pulls, I understood and felt my characters’ emotions much better. Absorbing their wounding events infused them with more life.
So now I’m working through what I call my WIP’s Emotional Edit. I’m taking my time to understand just what my characters want, what prevents them from getting it, and slipping it into their story lives. It’s emotionally exhausting and it takes a long time–all of this listening to suspects and victims and murderers and heroines–but since I’m still sheltering in place, I have lots of time to listen.
I just hope than none of them ever, ever suggests to me that “the journey is the destination.”
* “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1841 essay Self-Reliance.
**You want the reason? It’s because I was trying to be clever. But I can’t tell more without giving away the plot.
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.