About the Author: Homeschooled since kindergarten, Taylor Bennett is the seventeen-year-old author of Porch Swing Girl, which will be released by Mountain Brook Ink on May 1st. When she’s not reading or writing, Taylor can be found playing her violin or taking walks in the beautiful Oregon countryside. She loves to connect with readers via her author website, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (her favorite!), Pinterest, and Goodreads.
There’s a favorite quote of mine—one of the famous ones—that says:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
And, while this is especially true in real life, it also holds a nugget of wisdom for us as writers.
I can’t always perfectly recount the plotline of a favorite book, nor can I recite especially witty sections of dialogue from memory. I don’t always remember the name of a beloved character, or their height or eye color. Sometimes I read a book that just sticks with me, for reasons I can’t understand.
And that is my ultimate goal as a writer.
I want to create stories that make people feel—one way or another. I don’t care if they remember my characters, if they can quote their favorite scene verbatim. It doesn’t matter to me whether they read the book a million times or can recall the plot from memory.
No, I just want to leave them with something. A feeling, a mood, a memory.
There are books that I read years ago, books that are tucked high on a shelf that I haven’t thought of in ages. But some of those books, though the plotline has grown hazy and I no longer know every character by name, are still in my heart.
They’re in my heart when I hear the chime of an ice cream truck, see the flicker of a firefly or hear the far-off bark of a dog. Something about these books, those on my elite list of favorites, sticks with me. It strikes straight to my heart and all I can say is that it makes me feel something so deep, so beautiful, that I can’t deny my love for that book.
So, how do we, as authors, craft stories and tell tales that evoke such strong feelings and word-pictures that they stick with our readers for years to come?
Let me count the ways…
1. Make a list.
Really!! Make a list—almost an aesthetic of sorts, but without the pictures—of the little (or big!) things you want to stand out in your story. Small bits of description or little truths that you can turn into unexpected beauty. If I made a list for my debut novel, Porch Swing Girl, it might have gone like this:
• Half-melted shave ice
• Pink Converse
• Sunset-painted skies
• Long talks and hard truths
• Hair blown by the breeze
• Shakas (AKA the hang loose sign)
• Overgrown hibiscus bushes
• Sand between toes
• Splintery porch swings
• Early mornings and late nights
• Unanswered texts
• Handmade bracelets
Get the picture? Think about your story—all the little bits and pieces that make it distinctly yours, everything that makes it beautiful—and put it into words. Stephanie Morrill (author of The Lost Girl of Astor Street) calls it a “book love list” and it is such a good idea. You can make it as concrete or abstract as you’d like, but it’s a great way to help you figure out the true heart of your book before you begin writing.
2. Pinterest it!
I’m a huge fan of the aesthetic. I love scrolling through other authors’ inspiration boards, and I absolutely looove creating boards for future books in my free time. (So now you know what I do when I’m not writing! I’m brainstorming future books on Pinterest…)
Creating an aesthetic can really affect how you write—it can bring a depth and richness to your description, especially if your story takes place in a location you’ve never visited before.
Making a Pinterest board can also be a great way to store research about topics your book might address (grief, a certain hobby, etc.) and it also allows you to “see” your story while you write.
3. Find the theme
I’m not talking about being preachy, or even deciding on the “moral” of your story before you start writing. In fact, I’d strongly encourage you to NOT pick a moral or lesson for your story until you’ve written at least the first draft. Books tend to have minds of their own, and oftentimes they present us with much deeper, more profound messages than we could ever come up with.
When I say the “theme” I mean the heart. The true meat of the story, a part of it that goes beyond the plot, the message—all of it.
Ask yourself: What do I want readers to remember most about my book?
Here’s an example:
One of the big takeaway points in Porch Swing Girl is: Sometimes God’s plans for our life are more different than we could imagine—but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beautiful.
But I consider the theme—the true heart of the story to be more than that. The heart behind Porch Swing Girl is about love and loss, friends and family and friends that become family. It’s about the realization that we were made to do more than just exist. It’s about hope and heartache and the beauty that can only come from ashes. It’s about everything that makes life beautiful and how—sometimes—those things aren’t what they seem.
In short, though the theme might be directly related to the moral of the story, it’s deeper—more abstract. If your reader remembers the theme, there’s a greater chance that the lesson included in the story will touch their heart more than you ever could have imagined.
4. What else?
There are plenty of other ways to ensure that you craft a story that stays snugly in your reader’s heart for years. Some of them—like creating wonderfully quirky characters and spinning a tangled web of mindblowing plot twists—are widely covered by a multitude of authors. Others—those spellbinding little bits of magic that get woven between the pages of our favorite books—can only be learned with time.
So get out there, dear writers, and live a life filled with wonder.
Fill notebooks with words and scrapbooks with memories. Live out loud and fill your heart and soul with wonder. And then, when you sit down to write, use those feelings, those memories, those emotions—use them in ways you never thought possible to touch more hearts than you ever could have imagined.
What if friendship cost you everything?
Stranded in Hawaii after the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to escape. She has to get back to Boston before her dad loses all common sense and sells the family house. But plane tickets cost money—something Olive gravely lacks.
With the help of Brander, the fussy youth group worship leader, and Jazz, a mysterious girl with a passion for all things Hawaiian, Olive lands a summer job at the Shave Ice Shack and launches a scheme to buy a plane ticket home before the end of the summer.
But when Jazz reveals a painful secret, Olive’s plans are challenged. Jazz needs money. A lot of it. Olive and Brander are determined to help their friend but, when their fundraising efforts are thwarted, Olive is caught in the middle. To help Jazz means giving up her ticket home. And time is running out.
You can order Porch Swing Girl on Amazon now! 😀