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Touch, Hurt, Write

By, John Henry Davis

A Note to Writers:

In writing for young people, you should try to touch your own pain, put it into your writing, and expose truth.

In A farewell to Arms, Hemingway writes the following passage, in the voice of his main character, Frederick, whose lover Catherine is going through childbirth.

“What is she should die? She can’t die. Yes but what if she should die? She can’t, I tell you. Don’t be a fool. It’s just a bad time. It’s just nature giving her hell . . . Yes, but what if she should die? She can’t die. Why would she die? … But what if she should die? Hey, what about that? What if she should die?”

A passage full of pain. It shows one of the reasons Hemingway’s writing was so compelling when the novel came out, and why it is still relevant now. Writing about personal pain so truthfully has incredible power.

That power is an extraordinary force when writing for all ages, but especially young people. Years of directing and developing shows for young audiences taught me that you must be honest and truthful with children about feelings. As an audience, they will sense false notes right away and punish you instantly for it. Young people are not a different race who need to be condescended to, but are complex, growing beings. They may feel more deeply than many adults who have spent years constructing barriers around their spontaneous emotions.

My YA novel eM: The Beginning is about an empath who has great feelings of isolation. Connecting to others is painful to her because she feels their emotion so deeply. Those feelings of isolation gradually change as she realizes the healing power that the group possesses.

I am writing a new novel for middle school children titled Gog and Me. Claire, the “me” in the title, is a twelve-year-old girl who has problems with her divorced parents: She feels they have broken promises towards her, and she feels abandoned. These feelings lead her to bond herself with a strange alien. Together they go on a journey to escape those who want to capture them. Her raw feelings drive this story.

We are in a world where superheroes dominate movies for kids, and it seems like violence in entertainment makes the most money. But I believe it’s the truth of feeling that really draws people of all ages to find meaning in what they see, read, and hear.

Regarding Hemingway’s story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway said, “I put all the true stuff in.”

So let’s all put the true stuff in.

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