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Friday, March 27, 2015

Talk to Me, I'm Listening

by Joanne Rock

One of my favorite things about being a writer is the ability to live multiple lives. Readers, of course, know what this feels like. Movie goers and actors experience it too. We step into another character’s shoes in a story and get to be someone else for a while.

It’s a gift I enjoy, whether or not I’m ever quite as good at it as I want to be. I’m perpetually in pursuit of my “best” story, continually trying to write a perfect book. Or at least, a wonderful book that readers everywhere love. But I always enjoy the fact that each book touches someone. Hopefully a lot of someones. I receive letters from readers on most everything I write, and I’m deeply touched to think a story of mine has inspired someone – usually someone who is not a writer by nature—to pick up a pen and put their thoughts on paper to communicate with me.

And while I’m fortunate in that I’m able to craft a story into words on paper, the harder part for me is finding the right story to tell. Choosing the right details for the right characters. Being honest to those characters and letting their story be about them and not what I think it’s supposed to about.
As I get older, I think that the secret of this craft –the deepest secret of the storyteller—is the ability to listen. I can read books on the art of storytelling all day long and it only improves what I do by small degrees. The most important thing that I can do to improve my storytelling is to listen to the people and the world around me, to absorb the stories and the minor details of day to day life and filter them in a way that readers can identify with.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Loaf around in my artist’s beret, order coffee at the cafĂ©, read the paper and chat it up with the locals. Except that there’s more to being a writer than just retelling a tale. It’s the little things that make it come alive. The man at the coffee counter can tell me he’s a world-class fisherman and travels around the world on his boat, but it’s his habit of scratching his nose that lets me know he’s lying through his teeth to impress me.  The woman next to me on the plane can tell me about her three successful adult children, but I know it’s that fourth one she skips over who worries her most. Our stories are in what we don’t say as much as what we do, and that’s where storytelling is most interesting.

Being quiet lets me see those things. In my youth, I was occasionally accused of being aloof or stand offish and I know that’s because I was simply a writer in the making—listening more often than speaking. I try to be cognizant of that because it’s also important to be and not to just live in my head all the time. But I also don’t try to be the life of the party when well-meaning people suggest I be more social. I have made peace with the fact that observing life is not only a pleasure for me, but also a gift for an artist. A decade ago, I would have felt presumptuous saying as much. These days, I’m really proud.


If I’m quiet, it doesn’t mean I’m not having fun. I’m just taking it all in. Making sense of the world in my head. And, with any luck, writing about it in a way that is authentic and yields stories that are meaningful. If I’m quiet, I’m just preparing for my next role, my next character, and hoping that you’ll be able to seamlessly slide into someone else’s shoes for a while as a reader because I got my story just right.

**I know you all love to step into a character's shoes as much as me! What character are you loving lately? Someone on television, a film, or in a book? Share with me on the boards today and I'll give on random poster a copy of my upcoming Harlequin Superromance, NIGHTS UNDER THE TENNESSEE STARS. And don't forget to keep an eye out for my upcoming co-authored release with Catherine Mann, THE WEDDING AUDITION!

11 comments:

vmaisie said...

I guess the character I'm loving most is one I love/hate...it's Frank Randall / Blackjack Randall from Outlander... I have to say I do not love Blackjack... Well, I'm not totally sure I love Frank either... But I certainly love Tobias Menzies and the way he perfectly portrays each character in the Outlander series.. It is most definitely two different people... And it's amazing how he can step into the character of both... Everyone Loves Jamie.. And I do too, of course... But watching these two characters come alive by the same actor, has me totally mesmerized!

dalesittonrogers said...

You're so right, Joanne--writers do more listening than talking sometimes. I've been accused of being too quiet many times, but I can occasionally remember more about what actually happened during an event than others. I'm sure you can too, since you and Karen have invented such great characters and stories for your Camp Boyfriend series.

Joanne Rock said...

Hi Vickie! I am mesmerized by this whole show... so beautifully done on so many levels. I can't wait until it starts back up.

Joanne Rock said...

Hi Dale! People are fascinating... I like thinking about the way siblings can be raised the same way and still end up so different. How do we find psychological truth in a character when one person can react one way and one person would behave totally differently in the same circumstances? Yet we recognize psychological truth when we read it-- even if that character is so different from us. Thanks for the story kudos... you've been our favorite supporter!!

Laney4 said...

I always go with the book I'm currently reading - IF it qualifies, of course. In this case, I would say Cindy Kirk's FORTUNE'S LITTLE HEARTBREAKER. I couldn't read it fast enough, plus I liked the HEA so much that I read that section (especially) a couple more times.

Christy said...

I feel like I step into a character's shoes every time I read an engaging book! Recently I've read Cookie Cutter by Jo Richardson, and Iris was a character with whom many women these days can relate! I have my eye on a few Heartwarming titles releasing this spring, including Karen's! I've loved several of the Superromances I've read, too! Thanks for the giveaway!

dstoutholcomb said...

loved the Tule Bachelor series.

Joanne Rock said...

Hi Laney!! Thank you for stopping by the blog. Cindy is such a warm-hearted and generous author! I'm not surprised her characters are so engaging. I love a good HEA :-)

Joanne Rock said...

My pleasure!! It's great connecting with readers through giveaways... I like sending out a book and swag so I can picture someone smiling when they get a fun surprise in the mail :-). Karen just sent me a bunch of Heartwarming titles for a giveaway basket later in the month and they all look fabulous!

Joanne Rock said...

I'm so eager to read these!! Is it so shallow that I fell in love with the covers and haven't even read the blurbs?? I know all those authors though and they write great books. Bring on the Bachelors, I say!

Joanne Rock said...

Good new!!! dstoutholcomb, you're the thread prize winner!! Just email me at jrock008@gmail.com with a mailing addy and I'll put the book in the mail for you ASAP! Thank you so much to everyone for visiting with me!!