The world may listen
to shouters, but we are changed by those who whisper...
It’s the word God keeps
whispering to me. And it stretches my soul. I’m the out-there girl,
saying it all, holding back nothing. Even in my prose.
When I sing, I’m loud.
When I bang on the piano or play
the guitar, I resound.
When I tell a story, I shout to
the reader’s face.
Last night as I listened to my
daughter’s choir concert, a memory flashed inside me—my voice coach
tutoring me in high school. He’d put a hand on my shoulder, tell me to
focus and to restrain my voice. My problem was a strong break between
my chest and head tones—so strong I fancied myself only an alto, and
would shy away from those breaking notes, G or A, depending on the day.
He taught me that I could
nullify the break in my voice if I quieted down.
I still sing loud, still break
at G or A. Thickheaded me!
Then I remembered my piano
teacher in college. (Don’t get any wild ideas. I’m no pianist. This was
beginning piano.) I’d treat every series of notes as a crescendo,
pounding the poor piano to death. My teacher, an aging Jewish man who
spoke with reverence and beauty, told me to relax, to breathe.
“Breathe, Mary. Slow down. Life’s not about getting to the end of the
piece. Enjoy playing it. Don’t rush.” He saw into my character even
then and spoke wisdom into me, but I resisted.
Surely life couldn’t be about
subtlety. Mustn’t it always be shouted? Proclaimed? Told boldly?
Painted with red and black and blue and yellow?
In the quiet of my home on the
grayest of Texas days, I see the wisdom of both my music teachers. The
world may listen to shouters, but we are changed by those who whisper,
who sweetly coerce. The stories that cling to soul are those that
unfold gently, like an elderly mother unfolds her daughter’s yellowed
christening gown. Layer upon subtle layer is the stuff we are made of.
To believe otherwise is to cheapen our worth.
Just for a moment, I’d love to
hear my teachers’ voices cautioning me to slow down, to quiet my voice,
to listen to the rhythm of life beating its hushed drum. I’d like to
think I’d stop and listen—and actually heed this time.
Isn’t it amazing how God circles
around His messages to us? In my latest novel, Daisy Chain
(releasing this December through Zondervan), I pounded that plot to
death, shouting, hollering, pointing. My editor, wise man that he is,
restrained me, daring me to let the story hush its way to climax. He
wrote, “Overall, the book needs more subtlety and development instead
of up-front flatness.”
So I spent months working
through the subterranean plot of my book, creating subtlety and nuance.
I worked to make the threads flow seamlessly. I stopped banging the
reader over the head with a scene. I let the story unfold.
Too abstract? Here’s an example:
There, facing the bush,
he smiled. Mama had stolen again—this time from old Mrs. Ree, known for
her tangles of championship roses. Hap never saw the need for flowers,
but Mama thrived on them, so she took to “borrowing” them from
neighbors at night.
Facing the bush, Jed
spied clean cuts where the neighbor’s roses had been given a haircut.
Mama didn’t garden; she pruned flowers from other folks in the
neighborhood, being particularly smitten with Ethrea Ree’s tangle of
My editor’s comments about the
Even though I knew the
answer, I thought, Now, why the heck does Mama do that?
Which means: that’s exactly it. That’s what I think will give your
readers only enough to make them keep reading, and you phrased it just
Instead of spelling out
(shouting!) the why of Mama’s actions, I left it mysterious, inviting,
and less insulting to my reader’s intelligence.
Lewis Carroll wrote this:
When you are describing,
A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don’t state the matter plainly,
But put in it a hint;
And learn to look at things,
With a sort of mental squint.
I’ve framed that quote in my
writing office to remind me to rein in my outlandish words, to revel in
subtlety, to do the harder work of weaving, rather than thrashing, a
Subtlety doesn’t meander its way
through me, I know. But that doesn’t mean God can’t weave those threads
through my outlandish soul. And it doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to
create a subtler story. Both fixes (soul and words) require listening,
reflecting, thinking, and taking a deep breath. At the end of the day,
I know my soul and my stories will be better for it.