I just spent 3 days or so with a wonderful group of women writers in a cabin in Tahoe. We explored the elements of powerful writing, and had a number of rousing discussions. But we really came alive when we explored this question:
“What is your emotional catalyst for writing this book?”
What, you may ask, is a catalyst? Well, if we were talking screenplays, the catalyst is that precise moment when the hero/heroine’s world changes, when they can no longer turn back and are forced to head out into the unknown.
For those of us writing books, though, the catalyst is within us. It’s the ember that burns deep inside us. An emotional catalyst runs throughout each book we write. Sometimes we explore new aspects of it, sometimes the catalyst itself changes. But it’s there, simmering beneath the surface.
The catalyst is the underlying reason for you to write your book. It’s the question, you want answered, the hope you want to impart, the insight the reader longs for. Catalyst has significant impact on your life, your characters’ lives, your readers’ lives. It’s the spark that captures our hearts and minds, the longing buried deep inside, the fear that won’t leave us alone.
On the surface, it seems the catalyst would be easy to determine. But in reality, you have to dig deep. Then go deeper.
Peel back the layers until you see the ember, burning beneath it all.
I’ll show you what I mean in my next blog, but first, I’m curious. What is YOUR emotional catalyst for the book you’re working on?
I had a long time just going through the motions with God. Becoming a parent altered the way I viewed Him and my position before Him. No longer did I see Him as distant and aloof. Rather He became personal, Someone who cares about me deeply and desires to be part of my everyday. That launched a few years during which I explored just what it means to be a child of God and what it means to have Him as Father. The result — the I hope to pass along to readers — is (1) a deeper understanding of our salvation and adoption and (2) and more tangible, intimate relationship with God.
For years I’ve been discouraged by the petty (and not so petty) differences among church members. And even more discouraged by the time it takes people to get over disagreements, if they ever do. Seems like Christians waste a lot of time bickering when they could be doing something constructive, like reaching the lost. But so many of these strong feelings are prompted by fear, usually fear that we’re not good enough for God. I think that’s why there is so much finger pointing and blame–because people are trying to make themselves feel more worthy. But that’s SO not what Jesus is about. (I’m guilty too.)
Whoa. That sounds really deep and stuffy. Hopefully my book won’t come across that way.
I’m looking forward to your next post and your explanation of going deep and deeper. I’m not sure I’m on the right track yet.
Not too stuffy V.V. I’m with you! I LOVE the differences God created in us and how He can use that to His Glory. And yet, sometimes Christians use them as ways to separate from each other. They are not what defines us as worthy or unworthy. Just how God is going to use us uniquely for His Will. You’re on the right track IMHO.
Thanks, Connie. I’ve learned a lot while working on this project. In the beginning, I was sympathetic to only one perspective, (perhaps the one I feel closer to), but later I realized the book would be more effective (and entertaining) if I showed it from both perspectives.
Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂
What a great question, Karen. I think my story came out of what I see happeneing in marriages today. My heart breaks when I see a marriage fall apart. I know so many people whose marriages have broken up for one reason or another. I think my story came out of a desire to encourage women in their relationships with their husbands, even when circumstances are less than perfect.
I made a lot of very big mistakes when I was a teenager and young adult. It took me years to accept the forgiveness God offered me and to forgive the people who hurt me. I look at people–both lost and saved–who are still battling ghosts from their pasts. I know how they feel, because I lived that for decades. My heroine’s past comes back to torment her, and she has to not just face it, but seek forgiveness and offer it to others. I hope my books give people same hope I’ve found–that in Christ, we are new creatures who are both loved and lovable.
Heather Day Gilbert
I know my motivation in writing my historical fiction novel about a particular Viking woman was to bring that time period alive for readers, and, in particular, to show that Christianity was shining its light into paganism even then. I also have a theme of making marriages work. I think too many people give up on marriage and are unwilling to stick it out through the hard times–and I think the hard times are what forge that unbreakable, loving bond in marriage! My book deals with a woman who has thoughts of infidelity, and I think that goes on far more than people would like to admit.
Plus, I’m supposed to be related to Eirik the Red, so I have a personal reason for wanting to see my Vikings make it into readers’ hands! I guess you could say I’m quite driven!
Ooo, I love this! When I think about the main theme in my book, I see that in many ways, I am like both of my MCs: I strive and strive toward success, toward being seen, toward being enough. But I don’t need to: I’m enough to God, and He sees me.
That’s the hope I want to impart to everyone else who is just like me.
I love Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ll watch the prologue and the first song when I need a short break. A few years ago I began to wonder about the enchantress who starts the story and then disappears, so I wrote a story about her.
I also wrote a sequel to another story mainly because I wanted to redeem the bad guy.
I write so women know that if my hard, independent, mistrusting of all things male heroine can turn back to God, they can too.
My catalyst right now? Solid, resounding faith that remains unshakable. I must admit that it worries me that sometimes we easily crumble under trials and turn to unrighteous acts to solve our problems. It’s so easy to take the easy way out these days. It’s so easy to forget to be still before God while we wait for His will to prevail in our lives. It’s so easy to succumb to sorrow and pain, and give in to fear. It’s so easy to let faith break when it seems even God is silent and not with us. My book is about a young woman, Faith (coincidentally), who encounters a circumstance that costs her more than is deemed fair, but learns what it truly means to be awake in faith.
I hope to encourage that Things could happen that would cause us to be “pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
My catalyst is the struggle many Christians go through in major metropolitan areas or certain professions that are not very friendly to their faith. My setting is at a major state university. However, I found myself white-washing the content so much, to make it palatable to the typical Christian reader that it no longer rang true and the conflict was virtually missing. One day I was talking to someone about why I wrote this story and realized it did not do what I’d set out to do. Oh no! That’s what makes your question so pertinent. I hope I’ve fixed that problem, allowing the Christian reader to feel these challenges without turning them off. It’s a very real struggle for many people I know!
It’s so easy to lose our catalyst amid all the writing rules and genre guidelines. Just yesterday I cut the one mention of tobacco in my book, so now I have a small Texas town where none of the modern day cowboys spit snuff. How realistic is that? (I may have to reconsider.)
Anyway, I’ve had the same experience as you, where I tweaked my manuscript so much the catalyst disappeared. Then I had to go back and rework the conflict . . . and the plot & structure . . . and some of the characters.
I love writing, but I may go insane soon.
One of the things that fascinates me is how much people love someone because of who they imagine a person to be or what they want them to become rather than because of what the person is. And it also goes the other way. People often are angered more by the motives they think the other person has than they are by what the person has actually done.
Controlling God. Or rather, coming to the realization that He is best left in control.
Great post, Karen. And very timely. Tamela and I were just talking about The Moral Premise by Williams, so your post was thought provoking. Thanks.
My catalyst for “The Unraveling of Reverend G” was to encourage the caregivers who deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It is such a difficult job and finding hope in this long goodbye requires strength beyond grace. Somehow…I want my book to bring a smile, maybe a cleansing tear – but most of all, to encourage caregivers for another 36 hour day.
I’m a very curious soul. So my writing questions are always “what if…”
The next book release, A Healing Heart, deals with my own deep issue of being a workaholic. A few years ago I was in the wrong job. I asked myself “what if I quit?” what would happen? The result was I quit and started following God’s plan. Then this book idea grew out of a combination of God engineered circumstances. As I look back, I can see how those experiences set me on the right path to write this story. But I could not recognize that in the process. Absolutely, the book came from the deep after peeling layer after layer away.
Wow. My catalyst comes from the book of Hosea.
What God did for me:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor (Her Trouble) as a door of HOPE. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. “It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “that you will call Me Ishi (Husband), and will no longer call me Baali (Master).
What I want to share with others:
And Hosea 6:1-3 (NASB) “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but he will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us; He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. SO LET US KNOW, LET US PRESS ON TO KNOW THE LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn, and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.”
What is my catalyst? Jesus Christ paid full price to purchase me from the slave block and He wants me to call Him “Husband” – if I can help others to grasp even the very hem of His robe, then I am fulfilling my calling.
Thank you, Karen.
God puts orphans in families. He’s showed that to me in a powerful way and now, in “The Road Home,” the second book in the Apple Creek Dream series, I want the lonely, the unforgiven, or the wanderer, or those without a family to discover that God can do it for them, too.
I am not sure that you could call what I’m writing, a book – although I do hope that one day I could be fortunate enough for that to occur. Currently I merely attempting to birth a writing that tells my story one that is lived graciously and with gratitude.
My catalyst began when I started attending Life Coaching sessions and answered a call to write that could no longer be ignored. As God continued to reveal truths beneath the messy heap that my life had become my blog, Stone to Heart, was born out of that process. It continues to be a labour as I am constantly amazed at what living a full life means.
Will I be published, perhaps not, but will I be able to speak to just one person who may resonate with my story – absolutely, and that is sufficient.
This is great, Karen. I had to stop and think about mine. The idea came from a really sad interview I saw in the sports world. I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman and wanted to give her a happy ending. That began my story.
But as I went deeper, I realized how much the happy ending could mean to readers. The book deals with spiritual baggage, how we all struggle–some more than others–with parts of our past, whether they were ten years ago or ten minutes ago. And so my character’s happy ending becomes the hope of a happy ending for my readers.
My catalyst was that I kept looking for books that somehow felt like my life and there were none. I wanted to write a book that made other mothers, especially stay-at-home, homeschooling mothers, that they were NORMAL and OKAY. We all secretly feel like failures.
The best feedback I’ve gotten from readers is that it made them feel like THEY WEREN’T ALONE. Awesome.
I’m not doing agent/editor appointments at ACFW, but I truly hope I get to meet you because you seem like so much fun! 🙂