The Power of Vulnerability

How many emotions do you experience in a week? A month? If someone told your story, what emotions would they put on the page? Think about your lowest moment and your best experience. I know it’s scary, but if you want your stories to have power, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to translate your emotions and experiences into ink and paper.

Maya Angelou said, “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.” This is true for life and fiction. Emotion is what will carry your story to the end and leave your readers with a lasting impression. If you can make someone laugh, cry, or ache, you have done your job as a novelist. You have made them feel.


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Column by Brandy Vallance, author of the acclaimed historical inspirational debut
THE COVERED DEEP (Worthy, Oct. 2014). Brandy fell in love with the Victorian time
period at a young age, loving the customs, manners, and especially the intricate rules
of love. Since time travel is theoretically impossible, she lives in the nineteenth century
vicariously through her novels. Unaccountable amounts of black tea have fueled this
ambition. Brandy’s love of tea can only be paralleled by her love of Masterpiece
Theater Classics, deep conversations, and a good book. Brandy is the 2013
Operation First Novel winner and the 2012 winner of the ACFW Genesis Contest
for historical romance. Find Brandy on Twitter and Facebook.

Suspense author Brandilyn Collins says, “You should never apologize for human emotion.” I think as writers sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we feel as deeply as we do. We’re tempted to write half-truths in the fear of being judged. But you have to decide what kind of writer you’re going to be. If you truly want to write fiction that is unforgettable, you have to be willing to go deep.

Think of your favorite novels. Why do you love them? Did they portray real, raw, deep emotion? It wasn’t until I embraced this that I began to succeed as a novelist. My critique group partners started saying my scenes made them laugh or cry. Shortly after, I began placing in writing contests.

(Definitions of unusual literary terms & jargon you need to know.)

As you’re writing, remember that to be human is to feel. So get all that on the page—all that anger, hope, passion, love, rage, despair, anxiety, and shame. Go toward the subjects that scare you. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”

If a scene I write doesn’t make me feel, then I know I need to work harder, go deeper, explore more. My particular rule for writing—If it doesn’t scare me, there’s no power. When what you’re writing scares you, it’s usually a sign that you’re being real. When you start to worry about what others will think, that is the writing that will affect people the most. The only way to achieve that is by going to your most vulnerable places.

As most of you know, there is courage needed to finish a book. Sometimes you have to get up early just to write. Sometimes you stay up late. Months go by and people question what you’re doing. This, in and of itself, is a place of vulnerability. You wonder if all the hours you’re pouring into your book will come to anything.

But then, there comes a point when you can’t live without the writing. You look up at the clock and the hours don’t matter anymore. A smile comes when you get a phrase just right. You start to dream your story. It, and its characters come alive. The story is part of you now. You breath it and it breathes you. You begin to believe that someday it will make a difference. Amidst a feeling of unparalleled euphoria, you finally type THE END.

Now comes the scariest part of all, and a step that requires a great deal of courage. You know your story is good. You’ve laughed, you’ve cried . . . In other words, you’ve been vulnerable, your writing has made you feel, and it will do the same for others. You’re going to put your story out into the world and believe that something will happen. You know there’s a chance you’ll get rejected, but hey, you’ve read accounts of how all the greats went through that too. And now, since you went through all those dark hours that required vulnerability and courage, your finger hovers over the send button and you know that you can. So you press it. You feel all happy and light, but then in about 2.5 seconds you’re kind of terrified. And then you have to go gather your courage again.

(Classifying Your Book: How to Research & Target Literary Agents.)

But, this is what we do. We’re the brave ones. By writing fiction, we are vulnerable. We tell stories, and that is no small thing. If you’re on the fence about writing something or submitting, just employ that thing you’re so good at already—courage and vulnerability. Here’s a secret: I almost didn’t enter Operation First Novel, but at the last minute, I hit send.

Yes, being vulnerable is hard. But, it’s the only way to succeed as a writer and have a powerful story. You can do this. Go change the world.


This guest column is a supplement to the
“Breaking In” (debut authors) feature of this author
in Writer’s Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
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2 thoughts on “The Power of Vulnerability

  1. JR MacBeth

    Great article. Keeping it real can be a struggle, but it’s one that pays dividends on and off the page. My son, a third-grader, recently came home with an assignment to “write a story”. He asked me for ideas, and I eventually steered him to a painful memory (his dog died last year). I could see that it was the last thing he wanted to think about, and so we settled on something less emotional. Of course, my son reminded me, of me. There are so many things in life that we don’t want to feel, but it is in these things that we grow and learn to live. And sometimes, when I go to that dark place inside me, rare tears flow, and words bleed onto the page, and usually, those are the words I find that are worth keeping. Thanks so much for the inspiring article. (BTW Brandy, I love your Hemingway quote!)

  2. JanelleFila

    Wow, this article spoke very personally to me. I just received another rejection of my full manuscript and I’m trying not to fall into the “is this every going to actually happen for me?” mentality. I am so blessed to have a loving family supporting me, and getting involved in writer groups and events like NaNo really keeps me encouraged. But you are absolutely right, being vulnerable and authentic is the best way to share a story. Thanks so much for sharing yours with me! Janelle


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