Monday, June 16, 2014

Exploiting the unhappy childhood

Although Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, felt the creative spark that motivates writers is for them to have had an unhappy childhood, it’s not the only catalyst. Not all good writers had sad, abusive or disappointing childhoods. My favorite exception is Ferrol Sams, a former physician in Georgia, who wrote about his delightful boyhood, manhood and old age. His first, Run With the Horseman entertains people of all stripes. The conflict is in the physical depictions of the story. Not so with Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. His genius was to get his readers inside the poor Irish boy’s soul without the whining. He had me in tears when he looked in the mirror as he prepared for his first job at age fourteen and all his teeth were rotted at the roots.

It’s true the perspective gained in a dysfunctional childhood makes fodder for fiction. Conflict is the essential element in any story. If you put your readers in nirvana, they’ll be bored and disinterested. Drop a “situation” into nirvana and you’ve got a story. Your hero or heroine must work his or her way out of the dilemma. The story is in the HOW.

Writers go inward whereas other unsatisfied souls either repress and stifle their own growth, or express feelings through negative behaviors. An unhappy childhood separates children from the norm making them aware of the conflict within and around them. When writers have experienced this, or have thoroughly researched a situation, they can fall easily into the emotional zone of that character to write the story. If authors don’t cry, neither will their readers.

Fiction follows a pattern with life as the framework on which we hang our plots. Writers leave out the mundane details and show their characters striving to overcome challenges. The preoccupation of the lead character provides the conflict. The conflicted character drives readers to question everything and thereby develop an awareness of differences, ironies, dichotomies and drama.

As evil puppeteers, aka writers, we throw more and more at our characters until time to wind up the details and put readers and writers out of their misery.

Find Julie at:
Twitter: @JulieEPainter
Julie is a regular blogger on , and feature writer for!issue-14 an online slick. Her flash fiction appears under
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Big Mike said...

The really good writers are capable of enveloping readers into fictional worlds they never experienced them self. The ability to imagine "What would it be like if only..." is the fundamental building block, IMO to whether your stories scream out "This is real" or whimper, "Just another dead zone."


Victoria Roder said...

Very interesting. I think we've all heard the line writers are tortured souls and that writing is good therapy.

Veronica Helen Hart said...

Well said, Julie.

Liz Fountain said...

Very thought-provoking, thank you Julie.