Not long ago when I sat at the table to draw with my grandsons, I looked at my blank sheet of paper and said, “I always draw candles—this time I’ll try something different.”
Ben had already formed the outline of a castle on his paper.
“I love castles—I’ll make one, too,” I said. So I did.
Ben’s eyes lit up and his dimples appeared as he said, “Grandma, you’re drawing candles again.” Lucas and David agreed.
“No, I’m not. It’s a real castle.” I pointed to the teardrop shapes. “And these are minarets.”
To prove my point, I went online and found this photo on Wikipedia.
Okay, so it’s a cathedral and not a castle. Close enough for me. The article said that St. Basil’s Cathedral was constructed in 1588 in the shape of a bonfire rising to the sky. Bonfire? Flames?
The kids were right, but so was I.
What was going on in my mind after I had decided not to draw candles and drew candle-like objects anyway? Was it mere coincidence, or did my subconscious refuse to let go of the idea of candles because I had voiced the word?
Why are words so powerful? Words, like flames, shed light, spread easily, symbolize ideas, and can cause great good or great harm. Writers try to put pictures in the minds of readers through word-pictures. I write sentences that I’m hoping will transmit the image I’m visualizing, and you unconsciously receive and translate them, from your experiences, into a picture close enough to mine that the story makes sense. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In light of the potential failures of this two-way process, it’s a wonder that reading has stood the test of time.
Some of the most effective stories are those that trigger our strongest emotions and help us process our worst fears. In his 2009 book, The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass wrote, “Having something to say, or something you wish us to experience, is what gives your novel its power. Identify it. Make it loud. Do not be afraid of what’s burning in your heart.” (page 249)