Thursday, February 18, 2016

What We Bring To A Story by Heidi Chiavaroli

Last weekend, after the kids were snuggled in their beds, my husband and I settled down to watch Titanic. I was a sophomore in high school when the movie first came out and I watched it several times as a sixteen-year-old, completely engrossed in Jack and Rose's love story.

Last Saturday night, when I made the suggestion to dear hubby that we watch the movie, I looked forward to reliving the romance and adventure.

But I was in for a surprise. One scene (really a snip of a scene) shook me to the core and had tears pouring down my cheeks. And strangely enough, it had nothing to do with Jack and Rose. In fact, I had barely noticed the scene when watching Titanic as a starry-eyed teenager. So why the emotions? Twelve years later, I am a different person. I brought something different to this story: my experience of motherhood.

The scene that grabbed my thoughts wasn't the one I latched onto years earlier—that of Rose releasing Jack to the cold ocean depths at the end of the movie. I was prepared for that. I knew the inevitable. Rather, the scene that took me by surprise was of an underprivileged mother and her two children. They'd been locked beneath the ship to die. Water pooled around them. The mother leaned over her little ones cuddled on a bottom bunk, stroked their foreheads, and told them a story. Calmly. As if this night were like all the others.

The scene was but five seconds, but it tugged at my heartstrings in a deeply personal way and sent my imagination flying. How would I react in such a circumstance? Could I be so brave? What stories would I tell my children? What sweet words of Jesus would I whisper in their little ears?

And why did the scene barely impact me all those times I'd seen it years earlier? Had my heart been cold? Did I not value children?

I don't think any of these were the case. In fact, it was what I now brought with me to the story. My children are the same age as those in the movie. I could relate to this poor mother's predicament in a way I couldn't as a sophomore in high school.

A good story is one that evokes emotion from a reader. A skilled author creates characters and situations that draw on our own emotional experiences. Love, protection, fear, hopelessness. We all know these feelings. It's a writer's job to tap into them, and it’s a writer’s job to know the audience they are writing for so that they can accomplish this well.

How do you go about relating to your audience in your stories?

Heidi Chiavaroli is a writer, runner, wife, mother, and grace-clinger—not necessarily in that order. Ever since taking her first trip to Plimoth Plantation with her sister, mother, and grandmother at the age of nine, she has been fascinated with history and its significance to today’s people and culture. Heidi is the winner of ACFW’s 2014 Genesis Contest, Historical Category. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two sons, and Howie, her standard poodle. Learn more about Heidi on her website:

Heidi will join us on the third Thursday each month.