Rich Ritter - The New Voice of the American West

How to Write the Great American Novel: Step 6

Before you read this step, I must share with you that last month was the five-year anniversary of my Stage 3A melanoma diagnosis. My oncologist, Dr. M., said that I had a 72% chance of surviving five years. I responded, "Cool, that's better odds than I thought I had before the cancer."

Embrace the variety of emotions. It is easy to bask in the pleasant warmth of happiness and to ignore suffering, but your fictional characters will not thrive in a reader’s mind unless you imbue them with a plausible range of emotions.  And until you have examined your own experiences, from giddy joy to bored indifference to abject despair, you will have not the slightest idea of how to achieve this. When you meet a stranger in the waiting room of the hospital who is dying of cancer, do not be afraid to listen to their story or give them a hug. When friends have decided to divorce and each person reaches out to you for advice, offer compassion in equal measures. When you lose your job after years of faithful service, remain sanguine but allow yourself time to grieve. When you awaken from an unsettling dream, remember the feel of cold sweat. Plunge into the depths of your emotions with utter fearlessness, and you will find, with practice, that it is not too scary after all.

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