Where is our gold when it comes to telling strong stories that connect us to our audience? How do we learn to tell stories that touch our spirits and make our hearts come alive? Compelling stories often come from a truthful place that lives and breathes inside the emotional well of the storyteller. Your emotional well is your gold when it comes to bringing your truth to the page and learning how to fictionalize it. This is not about coming from an autobiographical place. It is about coming from an authentic place, connecting with your life experience and bringing your voice into your characters. History has shown us that rewards come to those gifted writers who know how to delve into themselves and bring their truth to the page.
An excellent example of this is the Oscar-nominated film The King’s Speech and its writer, David Seidler. As a child, Seidler used to stutter. When I watched this film, I felt more emotionally connected to the plight of this character than any other recent film’s protagonist. I was totally mesmerized by this character’s journey. When King George VI (played brilliantly by Colin Firth) approached the microphone, I felt his fear. I could feel it in my throat. I rooted for him. I wanted him to arrive at the ‘light bulb’ moment by doing the work with Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). I related with his sheer terror. Having personally experienced the challenges of public speaking and learning how to move past the fear as millions of us do, I wanted to see Prince Albert (on the road to becoming King George VI) succeed at his speech. I was on the edge of my seat because I could relate to and connect with his experience. The fear of failure, another life experience that drives most of us, was conveyed flawlessly in this film.
Discovering that David Seidler personally experienced stuttering in his childhood helped me understand why he was able to hit a pitch-perfect portrayal of this character. He drew from his own personal well of experience and emotion and brought it to the page. This allowed the audience real insight into the vulnerability of the film’s central character.
This concept is something I explore heavily in my new book Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story. The book is about learning how to add fiction to your truth. It is also about learning that the stories we experience in our own life have tremendous value. They happen for a reason. And only by doing the challenging emotional work, do we gain the tools to move past the pain and then pass our stories onto others.
In Elizabeth Edwards’ memoir Resilience, I found that she dug deep into her emotional well and came from such a raw and real place. She writes, “Each time I fell into a chasm – my son’s death or a tumor in my breast or an unwelcome woman in my life – I had to accept that the planet had taken a few turns and I could not turn back. My life was and would always be different, and it would be less than I hoped it would be…. I learned that I was starting a new story. I write these words as if that is the beginning and the end of what I did but it is only a slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach and in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality.” Think about the words “…an unwelcome woman in my life” and “it would be less than I hoped it would be.” These are powerful admissions and they prompt an emotional experience that millions can connect with.
Resilience reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. The King’s Speech is an Oscar nominated film. Both stories come from a place of truth and conviction. Both writers draw from their emotional wells and bring their truths to the page, giving their audiences a chance to really see them in their stories. I encourage you to draw from your emotional well in your writing. You never know what can happen.