On Writing: Skipping Stones vs. Going Deeper

First manuscript. First reader. First incredibly insightful feedback received. Here is what he said.

You introduce me to these likable characters and get me to care about them, then bad things happen, and you skip most of the pain and sorrow they experience and jump too quickly to the end of their healing process. It’s like you’re skimming along the surface and not going deeper into the dark ugliness of their situation. You want the hurt to go away too quickly so everyone can hurry up and heal and be happy. Hey! That’s just like you!

It was great insight. It hurt. I had to mull over it for a few days. Wow. I want to skip over the dark things and move right into the light. To the beauty, healing, love, and redemption. Because of that, the story would have no depth. No impact.

Like making pebbles bounce on top of water.

Like skipping stones across a wide stream, landing all the way on the other shore, not reaching any depth.

I need to let the stones sink to the depths.

I recalled the recent Pat Conroy and Cassandra King interview by Lynn Seldon in the May/June issue of Writer’s Digest.

Question: If each of you could give one piece of writing advice, what would it be?

Pat Conroy: Go deeper. Always go deeper.
Cassandra King: He tells me that a lot.

For some reason, I also recalled a certain Bible story. It’s in Mark, chapter ten, about a rich young man who approaches Jesus while he is walking with his disciples. The young man asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus says he must keep all the commandments, and that the man must sell all he has and give to the poor. The man walks away very sad because he has great wealth.

Please understand. I’m not equating writing a novel with personal salvation, but there must have been a reason that particular Bible story came to mind. Why Lord?

Perhaps I am like the rich young man who sadly walks away – not from the kingdom of heaven, but from the-kingdom-of-the-novel-that-can-really-help-others. I could walk away from writing it because I’m unwilling to give up my wealth – my wealth of peace, harmony, and safety.

If I’m going to do this writing thing right, then I have to do it all the way. I need to dig deep into my characters and their pain, and really deal with their dark and ugly things. Their healing won’t be authentic any other way.

A particular portion of the very familiar 23rd Psalm came to mind one evening, and the very next morning, that exact excerpt was the encouraging thought for the day on Family Friendly 89.7 FM KSGN, a local Christian radio station.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Okay, I got it, Lord. I’m going deeper. I know you’ll be with me. I can’t handle it on my own. So I must enter the depths. It’s scary. But I won’t be alone.

Leave a comment


  1. I’m getting ready to let a couple friends read my manuscript. I hope they give feedback that is as helpful as what you received. 🙂

    • Hi C.B.! Thanks for leaving a comment. There was much fear and trembling waiting for the feedback — it took him two months to get back to me – but it was so worth it. I like your blog, and just subscribed. Good luck with your manuscript!

  1. Entering into the darkness « Natalie Sharpston

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