The Human Element

Christmas comes early. If you’ve followed my joy concerning my achievements during NaNo last month you may believe I’m revisiting those numbers again. I’m not. This is more profound, at least to me. Yes, NaNo helped make it possible, but the tale stretches back much farther than that.

I’m talking about my writing voice.

I’ve long known fantasy writing was where I belonged and made my official entry into the genre in ’99. Even so, I struggled to capture the human element. I say this with the benefit of hindsight, for at the time I didn’t understand what was wrong. There were moments when it worked, but more often my writing was hollow. It was as if the truth was just beyond the veil, but my fingers couldn’t find the veil to part it.

Time helped inch me in the right direction, but the first major step came in 2011 while I was recovering from the worst year and illness of my life. While medications were still clouding my thoughts I turned to poetry. My thinking was that poems would require less focus time and teach me to curtail my wordy tendencies. Nowhere in my plan did I include finding the voice in my heart.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

I joined a poetry group on Facebook and for the first time shared my writing with strangers, a milestone. I also learned to turn inward, take what I found, and express it. Terrible poems followed, but over time they improved until they led to healing, growing, and a book of poetry, The Renaissance Cycle, in 2014.

Still, my prose suffered. In 2012 I started a blog, moving it to my website in ’14. The website has served as an outlet for my poetry and offered me the opportunity to tap into life experiences and world view.

And still something was missing in my fiction.

As 2015 opened I vowed to learn writing in Deep 3rd (point-of-view is restricted to one character). Though I longed for a more intimate style apprehension and procrastination ruled. August arrived and I’d had enough. Harsh words were exchanged with my writing self (it’s complicated). I wrote my first short story in four years in Deep 3rd. H’m, not bad. Several more followed in September along with growing confidence. NaNo forced me to shut off my internal editor AND protected me from overthinking Deep 3rd. At times it worked and other times it wavered, but each word taught me more.

This isn’t the end of a mystical writing road. Instead, this is another corner in a series of corners extending to the end of my writing life. Still, it’s a significant turn and I’m pumped!.

For instance, in the (first draft) novel, Bleeding Heritage, there’s a scene involving two important characters, neither of whom is the protagonist. It’s told from Shayleen’s perspective and what thrilled me was the extra mystery Deep 3rd produced:

Thouvoll walked Shayleen to the stone house on the low rise, the tension within stretching nerves and stiffening muscles, not just because he was walking close, but because he was carrying the case she’d surrendered to the chivalrous notions society dictated. If only he knew what was at its bottom.

“Once you’re inside make sure she locked the entire house.” Where was the joviality he’d so long possessed?

“Okay…”

“And be careful about who you two let into the house. Believe me, Amatha can tell you about the scene earlier.”

“Amatha? The scene? She was there?”

“She and I found the body.” Shayleen stared at the dim path the trees had engulfed. She was on that path. How casually he mentioned he’d been with Amatha. How casual he was when with her.

“I see.”

“As if a killer on the loose isn’t bad enough there’s still this business with Amatha’s past and understanding her gift. I may have to leave soon, another attempt at finding a wizard. They’re damned hard to find.” She already understood that from experience, but Thouvoll never asked about her life since she was, after all, just the hired help and Amatha was the adopted cousin with exotic attractiveness and a mysterious past.

“I understand.”

The laugh he appeared to reach for struggled to survive and died before breathing. “I can always count on you.” To keep Amatha safe.

“Of course.”

The stone house rose before them, a grim sentinel with the low moon as a backlight, a dark heart at the estate’s center waiting to embrace a betrayer. Thouvoll unlocked the back door, set her case inside, and waited until she’d lit a candle before leaving. Thouvoll, like Bractus before him, was another young man who’d glimpsed the heart she’d left exposed.

Already she’d watched Bractus die.

Tapping into deep emotions is helping shape the brand of fantasy I write. It’s the human struggle that appeals to me, even when the characters aren’t human. For me, battles are history in the making, but what matters more is how people manage life’s trials. In the short story, Bringing Light, written in late November, a woman struggles to go on despite the horrific events in her life:

Drell came running into Galmora’s room where she sat before her dressing table pinning her auburn hair, her eyes struggling to overcome the poor lighting. “Mom, it says in the paper they’re getting closer to perfecting the drive system for an airship.”

“Imagine that.”

“But can you imagine that? Traveling across all Ontyre while looking down from above?”

“And probably they’ll find a way to use them in war.”

“Mom…”

“It just seems to go that way.” Her hair done, she stood and brushed at her green and black plaid skirt. She’d do her best to be festive for Drell’s sake. He’d lost so much, yet didn’t realize how much better off he was for the loss. “You’d think men who can invent such things could invent a more comfortable corset.”

Drell sputtered. “You can be funny sometimes.”

“I do believe you’re the only one who thinks so, but thank you…I think.” She tousled his brown hair. She was below average height for a woman and it looked like Drell would also be short. That was one trait he wouldn’t inherit from his father. Drell was also too thin, but what to do about that problem when he possessed so much energy? Regardless, even after what happened at least she had a good job and could provide.

A knock at the door.

“Okay, time to disappear into your room with your books and maps so you aren’t tempted to pester the hopefully nice man with technical questions about gas. He has a job to do.”

His shoulders sagged. “And then there are those times when you aren’t so much fun.”

“That’s what mothers do, I’m afraid.”

Body bent, he took short steps to his door before igniting with renewed energy and swinging his door shut. Another new idea concerning technology or exploration, no doubt. She walked to the apartment door holding her breath. Let it be the repairman and not another salesman offering to sell another potion certain to provide endless benefits and profound happiness.

She already had magic and it was a curse.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

At home with the kitties after a recent meeting. Photo: CA Hawthorne

This is closer to what I want. The stories still contain action, but it’s on a more personal level. Too, it’s become easier to tap into humor. That’s huge! I love contrast. Bleeding Heritage is rife with humor, from Thouvoll’s brawl in the tavern to Amatha fighting to survive hostile family members at dinner, it pops up as needed breaks between ghastly murders and plotting relatives. Woven through it all is the human element and that’s what I’ve long sought.

3 Replies to “The Human Element”

  1. Pingback: The Human Element | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. Great post, Christina! So glad it’s all coming together for you. Still miss your presence on FB, but I understand your need to cut back. Now it makes me realize I need to get my butt in gear or I am going to left behind!

    • Thank you, Laurie! Miss you too. I can’t believe how productive I’ve been the last ten weeks: a novel and 13 short stories. More exciting is what begins to click in the brain when it’s forced to work on fiction on a regular basis. Hope the family is well. I’ll stop by FB soon. 🙂

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