When we’re children, we come up with our own explanations and ideas of certain things. Most often, we grow up and learn we were pretty far off. For me, one of those things was hippos.
Weren’t expecting that, were you?
I’d only seen them in zoos. They looked like kind, lumbering giants with ugly-cute faces. I had developed this ideal of the kind hippo and imagined him keeping to himself while happily wallowing in rivers.
I’ll never forget when I learned they were the fiercest animals in Africa. I was shocked. And then I saw them actually attack and my respect for the creatue skyrocketed.
I’m watching Nature–well, more like listening since I’m desperately trying to catch up on critique work–and my planned writing Sunday has been taken over by an unexpected outing later–and I want so much to catch up on the writing stuff–oh, and maybe nix the tangent here… <g>
Anyway, I have Nature on PBS on this morning and the sight of a protective mother hippo defending her newborn is something amazing to see. This female will willingly die to protect her baby. She rushes anything that dares come close and her expression clearly screams, “You’re gonna die if you take another step.”
I remember feeling this swell of such intense emotion when my children were each first placed in my arms. I looked into their tiny, sleeping faces and knew without doubt that there wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for them. My husband was hit with it as well.
That natural instinct is such a wonderful, profound thing, isn’t it? When I was young, I knew my parents loved me and would protect me, but I truly didn’t understand the depth of that instinct until I had children of my own.
What does this have to do with writing. Funny enough, a lot.
I once saw a local writer, Steven Wedell, give a workshop called Making Dead Babies Count. I think that title is close. He talked about being a young writer and creating a short, horror piece where a baby is killed. He wrote it dry–didn’t think much of it. He then talked about having children of his own, understanding the love you have for them, then rewriting that piece later from a completely different perspective.
He had to make the reader “feel” the horror of this precious lost life. He had to make the reader care about that baby.
Simple concept, yes, but so damned important.
I’m not saying you have to be a parent to understand the desperate fear of loss. It certainly could help in certain types of stories. But no, my point is when you find a story lacks emotion, think about something you would die to protect and try to write that feeling into the piece. Take your main character and give her or him proper motivation. Up the stakes. If you write it using your own heavy emotion, you’ll make the reader feel it, too. Seems easy, but this is one of the hardest things about writing.
Sometimes, you have to dig deeper than you like. 🙂
Oh ew. The hippos are dung-spreading. I really wish I hadn’t seen that.