Dear Writer, Would You Kill to be a New York Bestselling Author?

Would you murder to write a bestseller?
Would you murder to write a bestseller?

Maybe not a NY Times bestseller.  Maybe you dream of Pulitzers, Man Bookers, a Nobel in literature.  Whatever you consider writer-Nirvana.

Would you kill for it?

That deadly blank page demands courage.  Hard work, sacrifices.  But—murder?

You’ve heard it repeated ad infinitum: write from your own experience.  Write what you know.

If you’re a city dweller, the local zoo the only wildlife you’ve seen, the jungle you create in a story probably won’t pull the reader into its humid and slightly rotting smell as powerfully as, say, one described by someone that grew up in southern India.  And this mythical author would never recreate the vibrant diversity of a teeming metropolis like you would.

We write best what we know best.

But—to make a murder scene in your book jump off the page, you—the author—needs to be a murderer?

Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Put down the knife and come back here.  You thought you’d go stick it in someone?  Bet you already had someone in mind.  That’s so sick.  And illegal.

Here.  Satisfy your twisted bloodlust instead by brutally annihilating your preconceived notions of—well, anything.  Water-board your biases.  Hack your limitations to pieces.  Use yourself as a guinea pig.

No, really.

My MCs got into a fight.  I’ve never been in one.  I’m a wuss girl.  I had no clue, and the characters knew it.  “We’re not girls,” they said, “or wusses.  Get it right or we go somewhere else.”

Desperate measures. 

I changed into old jeans, found a paint-spattered t-shirt, lured Rusty, my forty-pound Rottweiler, out to the yard.

After an hour I did look like I’d been in a fight.  Rusty, panting like a rabid predator, hadn’t had that much fun ever.

I aced the fight scene, growls and all.

Do I recommend an unsupervised tussle with a forty-pound dog?  Uh, no.  Unless you need an irrefutable excuse to jump in the shower.  But I do recommend this: do the unexpected.  Become an adventure junkie.  Expand yourself.  Become all eyes, all ears.  Let the world be your teacher.

When your head is suffused with experience from the flesh, when the pain you charge your words with is real, that potent muscle you call imagination has a solid foundation to make magic.

That’s the kind of writing that makes people pay attention.  Including Pulitzer people.

~ * ~

This was a guest post by Guilie Castillo-Oriard, who is a 38-year-old Mexican writer currently exiled in the island of Curacao.  She misses Mexican food and Mexican “amabilidad”, but the “laissez-faire” attitude and the beauty of the Caribbean is a fair exchange.  Plus, the bounty of cultural diversity on the island inspires great culture-clash-based topics that her talent is seldom good enough to bring to fruition.

 

Guilie is currently in the final revision process of her first novel, Restoring Experience, and working on another spawned during NaNoWriMo 2011.  She blogs at Quiet Laughter, and her short stories have appeared in Fiction365 and the newly published Lady Ink Magazine, as well as a few blogs, including an honorable mention in Clarity of Night’s contest this past July, which is when I made her acquaintance. We have been great blog buddies and twitter friends ever since. This is Guilie’s first guest post.

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

33 comments

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  1. SimpleDateFormat

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  2. Marie Pinschmidt

    There’s a great movie dealing somewhat with this topic and a writer’s life. SHADOWS IN THE SUN. I enjoyed the movie so much I bought it. It is beautifully acted, funny, and profoundly inspirational for a writer or a would-be artist of any ilk. Check it out. Great post and comments.

  3. J.C. Martin

    Great post! As a crime writer, does that make me a serial killer? 🙂 My job as a kung fu instructor helps with fight scenes, but for going all out and killing somebody, I turn to the likes of CSI and violent video games (being *very* careful with scientific accuracy).

    Oh, and I’ve been known to stab a piece of meat multiple times to get the sound of the blade sinking into flesh, or to stomp on a “spare” spare rib to determine the force required to break it…

    W-wait, where are you guys going? Come back!

    • Guilie

      LOL, JC 😀 Forget about those fleeing–you’ve made me very happy, because I now know I’m not the only one stabbing at a ham 😀

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for the reminder about your kung fu experience–I’ll be sure to contact you for my next fight scene, hehe.

  4. Corinne O'Flynn (@CorinneOFlynn)

    Excellent post, Damyanti! I have missed your musings on writing. I actually had a run in with a 110 lb Rottweiler that ended with me in the ER getting stitches, but really don’t want to get back into that experience. O_O

    *puts the knife away*

    • Guilie

      Corinne, glad you liked the post! I may have written it, but certainly under the guidance of Damyanti, to whom I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity :). Yeah–Rottweilers can be dangerous, and I’m glad your “experience” ended with only stitches. And I’m glad you finally decided to put the knife away 😀

  5. CarrieVS

    I don’t have a 40lb rottweiler, but playfights (and the occasional genuine disagreement) with my 4kg cat ought to stand me in good stead should I write about a knife fight or a leopard attack.

    • Guilie

      Ooohhh… Yes! Cats are great for testing flash reflexes–and the leopard attack scene, of course 😀 Thanks for the comment, Carrie!

  6. Angela Perry

    Excellent advice! Sometimes I get so bogged down in writing at a computer all day that I forget to experience life. And yet that experience is essential to producing quality writing. Time to go wrestle my Boxer 😉

    • Guilie

      Angela–LOL 😀 Your boxer’s probably ultra happy now, hahaha. You’re right–we get all caught up in the worlds we create–which happen to be pretty cool, or we wouldn’t create them, right?–that we forget to live in this one. Great comment–thanks!

  7. Team Oyeniyi

    Your article made me feel more confident about writing my memoir, for I do “know” all of that – and considered murder along the way (figuratively, that is)!

    • Guilie

      Haven’t we all? 😉 Glad this article helped you in some way, and best of luck with that memoir! They’re tough, I think!

  8. Justin Beeman

    Great post. Really made me stop and think about why some of my chars are the way they are. BTW I wouldn’t do anything illegal but I would shank someone to be have a bestseller. 😉

    • Guilie

      Hahahahahaa, Justin–glad you enjoyed this post. Some of those characters we create sometimes–just makes you go, “huh? where did YOU come from?” Thanks for the comment!

  9. abigailcash

    I find that little pieces of my life often make their way into the things I write, and I always used to fight that. Over time, though, I’ve realized that it lends authenticity to my writing, because I’m adding flavor through things I really know best. I love hearing stories about how writers immerse themselves in an experience to really get a scene right. It reminds me of method acting!

    • Guilie

      Abigail–method acting is *exactly* right! It’s amazing how those little bits of real-life experience push your work into a whole different level, isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed this!

  10. Rick Gualtieri

    Heh! I’m just finishing a story in which I have butchered a lot of good people. Fortunately I am happy to say that no real campers were harmed in the making of this book.

    However, several battles were fought with my kids. It’s amazing how an epic Nerf war can put you into the mindset of being a wrathful god. 🙂

  11. Guilie

    Great input, Toby! Yep, it’s not really about hands-on experience, really, is it? It’s more about the willingness to put yourself out there, to open up and absorb the experience second-hand, if such a thing is possible–but hey, it’s better than nothing, right? And us writers… well, we’ve been known to have a somewhat active imagination 🙂

    Thanks for the comment!

  12. Toby Neal (@tobywneal)

    Awesome post! I think we often have to immerse to write more powerfully. Or, consult with those who do. I have a women’s MMA fight scene in my newest novel. Never fought or even watched one. You-tube videos and consult from another writer who’s a trainer add veracity.
    Aloha
    Toby
    http://www.tobyneal.net/

  13. bornstoryteller

    I’ll be role playing later today with some seniors. How many can I put in intensive ward? 😉

    I used to work out a lot of things in my weekly improv workshop. Felt good to just cut loose and “be dangerous” and have no fear.

    Thanks Guilie.,

    • Guilie

      Stuart, thanks for sharing that! Yes, indeed–role-playing is such a great way to get new angles on things we *think* we know, and breaking down the barriers of fear, just letting go, is such an awesome experience. With your expertise in acting, I’m not surprised you’re totally familiar with how satisfying it can be.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Guilie

      Hahahahaha… Alex, my advice (or my Rottweiler’s–I’m a little confused) is to follow your instinct and see what happens 🙂 Who knows–maybe that fight in your WIP could be resolved amicably, after all 😉

  14. Arlee Bird

    I find that reading non-fiction and journalism like the daily newspaper is a great way to get exposure to things that I will probably (and often hopefully) never experience in my life. Living viscerally through the experiences of others is a great way to experience things without really going through them.

    But your suggestion of acting out scenarios is a good way to internally feel things with greater intensity. Role playing works for many purposes and not just writing.

    Good post.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    • Guilie

      Thanks for that, Arlee–glad you enjoyed it. I agree–exposure to other experiences, however you want to do it (40 lb. Rottweiler or not), is really the best way. I guess what I was trying to say was to do the unexpected, whatever it may be, in order to gain a new perspective on–everything, really. Life. Yourself. Your WIP.

      Thanks for the comment, Arlee!