Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Melissa Mayhue: Write What You Know – Universal Emotions

New authors are given all sorts of advice, from every corner of the writing community.   Some of it is excellent and should be followed.  Some of it is simply tired old ‘writing rules,’ best to be ignored.  One of the most often heard is to write what you know.  

When I began my writing career,  that was the first piece of advice I opted not to follow.  Write what I know?  What fun would that be… to write or to read?  Did my favorite authors at the time write only what they knew?  I couldn’t imagine that rule applying to my favorite authors.  Had Christina Skye ever met a ghost?   Had Douglas Adams cavorted with Norse gods?  Had Sherrilyn Kenyon tangled with vampires?  Did Diana Gabaldon actually travel through time?  Or Karen Marie Moning?  Or Flora Speer?  Or Janet Chapman?  Or Terri Brisbin?

I don’t think so!

Instead I chose to chase my fantasies and delve into my imagination and the wonderful world of research  to fill in the blank spots.  And readers [thank goodness!] seemed to like my books.  So much for the old writing what you know rule.

Or was it?

I was a couple of books into my Daughters of the Glen series before I realized that, in spite of my early decision, in many ways, I was writing what I knew.  And in all my favorite books, I had been reading what I knew, too.

It wasn’t the location or the time setting or the mythical creatures.  It was the characters.  More specifically, it was the emotions the characters experienced.  Not only was I pulling on emotions I’ve experienced as I wrote, I realized that in all my favorite books, the authors had been filling their stories with emotions I [as the reader] had felt myself.   So the old rule I’d discarded was there all along, just hiding in plain sight.

Write what you feel… because emotions are universal.

The heroine in my latest release, WARRIOR REBORN, is a perfect example.  Christiana MacDowylt, like so many women I know, feels she is responsible for the well-being and happiness of everyone who’s dear to her.   So much so that she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice her own happiness – and even safety! – to guarantee the same for others.  The one time she acts on her own behalf leaves her choked with guilt over having considered her needs over those of another.

I’m willing to bet you’ve seen that woman in your own life.  A mother, a sister… maybe even you!  It’s such a common feeling for women that we see her all around us.

This was brought home to me this past weekend as I sat at a Romance Readers’ Tea.  They young woman sitting next to me was on her first solo outing since her daughter had been born.  Dad was home with their ten-month old and Mom was getting regular texts – with photos! – to update her on how Dad and Baby Girl were doing.  Naptime [or, more precisely, lack thereof] was the issue.

Mom really wanted to be at that tea.  And she knew that not only was Dad going to do just fine with Baby Girl, it was a good experience for both of them to spend the afternoon together to work on building their relationship.   Intellectually, she knew that.  Emotionally?  You could see the guilt in her eyes, each time she got a new update and shared the photos with those of us at her table.

In the end, Baby Girl did nap.  Dad texted news of his success and Mom was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.  But in those moments before things straightened themselves out?  Mom suffered the same guilt of responsibility that Christiana suffers through in WARRIOR REBORN. 
Universal emotions.  We can all identify.  We’ve all experienced them.  When we read them on the page, we can feel them.  And THAT is a powerful experience, both for the writer and for the reader.

What about you?  Have you read a book where the emotions of the character resonated with you strongly because they were emotions you could just feel as you read the story?  Please share what character or what book touched your emotions in that way.  I’m always looking for another book to add to my TBR pile!!  We’ll even choose one entry from among those who comment to receive an autographed copy of WARRIOR REBORN!

You can see all of Melissa’s books, or contact her directly, at her website –  

***Melissa's winner is Leah Weller!  Please email with your mailing information!***


Mary Preston said...

I tend to read looking in, so I don't strongly identify with the emotions of the characters. I think if I did identify, some of the stories would leave me utterly bereft & miserable.

Carol L. said...

I'm having a problem remembering the book and Author that I actually related so closely with one of her characters. I also tend to think I'm responsible for those around me to the point of depriving myself on occasion. But I think it had become habit after raising my 7 children. Sometimes you forget to let go. :)I would love to win Warrior Reborn. I enjoyed your post.
Carol L
Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

Pat Cochran said...

I agree with Mary. I can't get too deeply
involved with characters. I'd never be able
to sleep at night for trying to solve their
problems! I enjoyed today's commentary.

Pat C.

pamerd said...


I recently read Sultry with a Twist(Macy Beckett)and needed many tissues because there were several parts when the hero just would not see that he deserved love. Such a great book (contemporary).

Thanks for the chance

erin said...

Thanks for a fun post and giveaway! Congrats on the newest release! Ummm... not to sound emotionally stunted or anything, but I usually read very detached and I don't get caught up too much in the emotions. I love reading emotions, don't get me wrong, they usually don't affect me personally.


Leah Weller said...

Haunted Warrior by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, The Pleasure Of Your Kiss by Teresa Medeiros, To Be Queen by Christy English, Immortal Hope by Claire Ashgrove, A Scottish Love by Karen Ranney, And your Warrior's Redemption. All these have sucked me right into the story and pulled my emotions all over the place.

Thank you for the chance in the giveaway! :)


Eli Yanti said...

I've just read one book (the promise by kate worth) and this book is really increased so many feeling for me : sad, mad, joy and other things that make me certaintly want and always wait for her book. I even thing how can Kate's wrote this wonderful book :)

donnas said...

I have had this happen a few times. Nora Roberts is really good at it. The last book though I read that did it was The Mystic Wolves
by Belinda Boring

bacchus76 at myself dot com

Stefanie said...

Most of the time I don't get emotional when I read, but once in a while you'll hear me laugh out loud, or I'll have a tear running over my cheek and sometimes I just want to kick the hero(ine) for being so stubborn. I like it when a book can make me feel these things.

Pam P said...

I can't think now of a book character that reminded me of someone I personally knew, but then that's why I love reading, to meet the author's characters who resonate with me. Love reading a good romance with witty bantering to show the chemistry, but also those a bit more complex and emotional, like Sherry Thomas, Kate Noble, Jo Goodman, to name a few.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Leah! I'm glad you enjoyed Malcolm and Dani's story!

~ Melissa Mayhue