Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cotton Writing Tip - Exploit Universal Fears?

"Exploit universal fears." - Mike Arnzen

My mentor asked me to study voice in characters that live long after the book is finished. She suggested that I read Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons. I collect Newberry Medal books so I happened to have one on the shelf, although I had not yet read it. I took out a highlighter and started to mark things that I found interesting about Sal, the main character's, voice.

Certain words and phrases indicated to the reader which personality was talking. 'Huzza, huzza' let the reader know that Gram was talking. 'That's what I am trying to tell you' was one of Phoebe's favorite expressions. Ms. Partridge, the blind neighbor made up words. And Sal always prefaced sentences with 'peculiar'. Sal's voice was the most distinct.

Duh, character building 101, you might say. I did. Surely that was not the variable that would make a character's voice live on forever. I continued to search.

I read to the eleventh chapter, (Is that like the eleventh hour?) Flinching. A conversation takes place between Ben and Sal:

"Don't people touch each other at your house?" (Ben)
"What's that supposed to mean?" (Sal)
"I just wondered," he said. "You flinch every time someone touches you." (Ben)

In the middle of the chapter, on the middle of the page, I froze. I became incredibly sad. I haven't cried while reading a book since I read Bridge to Terabithia ten years ago. There I sat with tears filling my eyes.

When was the last time I had touched my own children? When was the last time someone had touched me? Those checked out okay. But when was the last time someone had touched my Aunt Marie in the nursing home? Or war vets in the VA hospital? It made me remember that one project of the infant monkey that died from lack of contact.

It was actually a universal fear displayed within a frame of twenty-five words. This would be the sole reason I would remember the resilient Sal and her peculiar voice forever.

Arnzen was right!

Homework- List Universal Fears



  1. In writing you must not think harder. Just focus on your topic so that you can be able to compose wonderful writing with one thought only. Many readers prefer to read writings that they understand.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. I really learned a lot. Hope you can post an essay about this topic. Thank you and have a happy writing.