Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “I am trying to make, before I get through, a picture of the whole world—or as much of it as I have seen. Boiling it down always, rather than spreading it thin.” As a writer, his sentiment about rich story content is at the forefront of my mind. I strive to bring something of value to the page hoping to engage readers, if only to evoke their own introspection on the heels of my own.
We’re human beings, programmed to wonder, question and challenge. By virtue of living, we accumulate a certain amount of experience and knowledge from which beliefs are formed.
For a writer to gain a picture of the world, reading widely is a must. Fiction, whether contemporary or classic, tells something of truth, love, sacrifice, justice and freedom. Novels carry us around the globe and to different eras of history and drop us amidst peoples we’d never otherwise meet. Such are the rewards derived through the journey of literature. Readers minds and souls should be nourished, but the writers stock these fresh perspectives and images like spare parts with which to create new narratives.
Most of us have read comparisons of a book’s nonfiction research to an iceberg. The peak is visible while the critical bulk lurks out of view. In my humble opinion, aside from research specific to a writing project, it’s important to read nonfiction about whatever lights you on fire. Through venturing into new territory, writers may discover the road into another new work. Consider the power of memoirs. Reading about other people’s lives permits us to unfold our own and discover deeper context to what we’ve experienced or to tweak a memory that lay buried so deep we had no access to it. Writers compost everything and bring it to the page.
Fiction writers are also students of human nature. As we observe others, we must also stay attuned to our inner world and thoughts therein spanning grief through joy. Daily we climb into the identify of characters wholly different from ourselves and imagine how their stomach may feel when they suffer a loss. Our challenge is to describe the realm of human experience in a manner that’s all at once unique and universally relatable.
Boiling it down always, rather than spreading it thin.
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