Thursday, June 28, 2012

Micro Tension - You've Got to Get Personal

 When I attended the Donald Maass Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop, Don spoke about the need to bring yourself to the page to make it real. That doesn't mean to tell your life story, but to draw upon your experiences to express the emotion of the situation. Don't be afraid to expose yourself on the page!

In my current WIP, FORBIDDEN WALL ~ FORBIDDEN LOVE, my protagonist has just experienced the most humiliating degradation of her life. When I wrote the following passage, I drew upon my own painful experiences of humiliation...getting my tonsils out, and being forced to wear a gown that didn't cover my privates (age 5), summer school where the kids teased and tortured me...etc.

The passage below is written from the heart:

Degraded into insignificance, Valeria stood alone in the wooden cart that Drust pulled along the cobblestone road and out the gates of Dunpelder. She felt like a Christian heading for the Coliseum, and hung her head, too humiliated to meet the eyes that stared at her. The citizens watched in silence. Roars from the tribunal had been quashed when the term of her banishment was announced. Engus’ voice had echoed through the hall followed by an eerie hush. No one expected the duration to be so harsh.
It wasn’t until they entered the secluded wood that Valeria allowed a tear to escape. One drop streamed from her eye and dripped from her chin. Swallowing against the lump in her throat, she glanced down and saw the droplet made a mark just above her exposed bellybutton. It probably cut a stream through the blue woad on her face, but she didn’t care.
She could scarcely breathe when she thought of being turned out into the wild with nothing but a dirk and her undergarments. Though it was the peak of summer, this was the northern frontier, and a chill came in the night. She had three urgent needs, food, clothing and shelter. She would set her mind to them each one in that order.
They had travelled quite some distance when Drust pulled the wagon to a halt. He jumped down and pointed east. “There is a glade through the trees yonder, and a stream that runs clear.” He pulled his waterskin off his shoulder and handed it to her. “I’m not to assist ye at all, but I would not leave a living soul in the wild without one of these.”
Valeria took the gift and climbed down from the wagon unassisted. “Thank you.” She didn’t meet his gaze, mortified and shamed at her appearance.
“May your God help you, me lady.”
Valeria nodded and watched as Drust pulled the wagon round and head back to Dunpelder. She stood without moving until the sound of the cart crackling through the woods muffled into the chirps of birds and the rustle of leaves above.
Shivering with the breeze, her heart quickened. Her mouth grew dry with panic. She was completely alone, abandoned. She hadn’t eaten that morning and a wave of hunger churned through her stomach. Circling in place, her thoughts froze, fixated on her own ineptitude. She dropped to her knees. Am I completely expendable? Is there no soul on earth who would assist a useless Roman maid? How will I stay alive? An inhuman wail tore a raw stream through Valeria’s throat. I am hideous. How will Taran ever be able to look at me again?
Doubling over, tears poured from her eyes as her weeping echoed across the trees. The stress from the past year welled to the surface of her anguish. The death of her mother, traveling across the Empire to join her father, only to have him slain within weeks of her arrival, had landed her here in the region of barbarians. Now she was an outcast with no idea if she would ever become a Pict. They taunted her, cut her most cherished asset and smeared what remained with mud. She curled into a ball, her bleary eyes focusing on the blue markings painted on her thighs. She was a monster.
Hugging herself, she rocked and sobbed. Her jaw trembled as spittle moistened her lips and chin. Every muscle in her body burned as Valeria tensed at the raw memory of her humiliation. She wanted to die. She didn’t care about the stream or food or water. She prayed for God to send down a bolt of lightning to strike her dead. How could she survive alone for twenty-eight days? Her hair destroyed, her lovely skin dyed blue—how would Taran ever love her?
Valeria wept from the bottom of her soul—a gut wrenching wail. No one could hear. Complete loneliness racked her entire being, forcing her to cry more. No one would help her, she had been discarded. Valeria lost track of time. Anguish and disgrace claimed her senses. She remained curled on the forest floor, her only refuge. She rocked, her arms still tight around her body, her tears flowed without pause.


  1. This is a great post! I really like your style of writing.

  2. Beautiful! I love this passage, Amy. The descriptions put me right there, right in the middle of it. When my life simmers down, I'd love to read the whole thing! :)

  3. Thanks, Gina. - Liz, I'd love for you to read it when things settle down for you. Remember I'd be happy to beta for you as well!