I talked my man into going to an arts and crafts fair this weekend. It’s a huge show with way more stuff to see than I can take in. I love it!
Some years when I go, I see so many things I love I’m looking for a way to ship some of it home. Other years . . . meh. This year, one thing really caught me and wouldn’t let go. It was a line of handmade dolls. The business is called, “Polka Dot Pig.”
The first thing that caught my eye was the woman’s booth. It wasn’t just a table or a couple of shelves. It was an elaborate set of antique shelves and crates and what looked like it might have been part of an old post office at one time. But what made me come back at the end of the day was the merchandise. These sweet babies.
Now, I’ve never been a doll lover. Didn’t like them when I was little, don’t care a lot for them now, because most of them are just lifeless blanks. Think about Barbie. Or even Raggedy Ann. They’re all the exact same.
To be honest, these aren’t all that different. I saw very similar dolls in a couple of other booths at the fair as I looked around. But those left me cold. Why? I wondered. What was it about this woman’s dolls that made me have to go back?
So this morning when I couldn’t sleep, I got to wondering why. It was more than just being handmade. It wasn’t just the antiques used to display them. And it wasn’t that each doll had something extra with it.
Finally, I got it. In her booth, every doll had a story to tell. One of the mammy dolls had a pair of antique scissors around her neck, hanging on an old piece of twine. The mama doll in the picture above has, “Mammy loves fried chicken” embroidered on her apron and an old cup in her hand.
One of my favorites was “keeper of broken dolls” angel. She had a Betsy-Wetsy doll in her arms. And the B-W doll was obviously broken.
Of all the dolls and pretties in the show, I had to have one of these dolls. (I really wanted to buy several, but I restrained myself.) The woman who makes these dolls goes the extra mile. Each doll has a story, and I have to think of it as “heart”.
What’s that have to do with writing?
In the same way there are lots of dolls looking for a home in the world, there are millions of writers trying to sell. When an editor is looking for a new book to publish, how will she choose?
If I were an editor, I’d look for a manuscript with heart.
It’s easy with dolls, right? Just add an antique or embroider her skirt or give the doll a doll. But how do you give a story heart?
I’m not an editor, but I am a reader who won’t finish a boring book so in a sense, I am an editor.
I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from reading great authors. The way to give your story heart is to go the extra mile. Make your settings real. Find out what the place smells like in the morning. What your characters hear when they can’t sleep in the night. What does the light look like when the sun goes down before it gets dark. And how dark does it really get?
Make your characters real. Vulnerable. Imperfect. Give them scars and warts.
Give them true emotions, then let them experience conflict. And let your reader feel her gut wrench as she lives through your character. (Just don’t make it melodramatic.)
I’m rereading one of Marilyn Pappano’s books right now. Just a few moments ago, I (when I read, I’m the POV character.) wrapped my hands around a steaming cup of chai tea. I closed my eyes and enjoyed breathing in the cinnamon and clove scented steam wafting off of it, and finally took a long sip.
I really think my sinuses warmed a little when I read that paragraph. Her description is something a lot of writers would skip over or they’d quickly skim through it. Instead, Marilyn let us enjoy drinking that tea with the character. The character was comforted by it and, to be honest, so was I. 🙂
How do you make your book stand out in a world of kajillions of books? Make your characters come alive. And to do that–
♪♫ All you really need is heart. ♪♫
- Oklahoma Trip – Pryor, OK (travelpod.com)