That Indefinable Quality Called Heart

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What is that ‘indefinable quality called heart’ in a piece of writing? It is text which communicates directly to a reader, an editor or a publisher. It stands out from all the other unsolicited manuscripts in the pile calling to the editor to read me, read me!

 

 How does a new writer achieve this? Everyone one has a unique way of seeing the world and it is this that a new writer must harness as their voice. Heart-felt writing touches the soul and transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. The core of any tale should shine with prose where every word moves the story along. Language which sings with the rhythm and the cadences of perfect sentences.

 

When you as a writer begin to compose a sustained piece of work, it is necessary to have a strong universal theme that is fundamental to your plot and characters who drive the story forward and make the reader care about them. However, while these elements are essential ingredients in your work it is your voice which is the driving force of the narrative. Not the voice that you think is writerly but the voice that you speak to yourself within your head. Often when we write something that we think others may read we become self-conscious of our writing and it can come across as pretentious and contrived. We’ve all read passages where the writer is clearly showing us how clever they are. It’s understanding the difference between show-off writing and writing from the soul that generates heart.

 

The first sentence should be authentic and entice us to want to read more. It must be the hook into the story. Look at the samples of great beginning sentences below and see how they hook the reader.

 

With the north wind hard at his back, Scully stood in the doorway and sniffed.’

The Riders Tim Winton

 

This sets up the scene of a tough man, a hard wild landscape and something going on inside the house – what is it?

I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time.’

Midnight’s Children Salmon Rushdie

 

Any novel which has ‘once upon a time’ in its first sentence I find intriguing. Was he born in Bombay? Will this be a fantasy or fable? I want to know more.

The hills are full of Irish people.’

The Harp in the South Ruth Park

 

So why are the hills full of Irish people? Where did they come from? As an Australian of Irish/German descent I’m intrigued to know why this iconic Australian writer should begin her novel in such a way.

 

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

1984 George Orwell

 

This is perhaps one of the most intriguing first sentences ever. Why are the clocks striking 13? We know this is going to be something completely abnormal.

 

All of the above first sentences set the scene for what follows. While the language appears simple they invite questions which are loaded. They ask the reader into the text, and in all, what follows does not disappointment.

 

It is not hard to find your voice. It takes practice. Like a concert pianist or a ballerina the more you train and practice your craft the better at it you become. A practical exercise is to keep a diary. I don’t mean a diary which depicts the everyday such as what you had for breakfast (although if you write it in an entertaining way perhaps that would be fine) but where you saw something unusual in your daily travels. Perhaps it was a dog tied to a bike which had fallen over on the side of the road, a man with tattered hair immaculately dressed in a suit or a young woman pushing a cart load of old CDs up a hill. Write the what if scenario about the scene. Start creating characters from these random observations. Create quirky back stories for them. Write about a place you love to spend quiet time. Describe it by bringing it to life through word pictures putting yourself into the middle of it. Try not to use the verb to be very much and make your writing as active as possible.

 

Write, write and write some more until what you have written is a part of your own personal narrative. Your own voice will give your writing ‘that indescribable quality called heart’ which will hook your reader, editor and publisher into your story.

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Guest Monday, 24 September 2018

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