Sell Your Heart

heart-for-saleThe Great Gatsby movie is coming out soon, so I thought I might write a little on Fitzgerald today, if you’ll indulge me.

In addition to being one of the best known American authors ever, F. Scott Fitzgerald felt a strong need to contribute to the development of future writers. By that, I mean he enjoyed criticizing others’ work. However, his advice, as cutting as it may have been, often came with keen observations from which we can learn about the craft.

In a letter to Frances Turnbull, a student, Fitzgerald famously wrote these words: “You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.”

While it may sound melodramatic, his point is well made. If we hope to move our readers, we can’t write about mundane, ordinary things. Whatever happens in our stories must have a violent emotional impact on our characters, and thereby our readers.

Fitzgerald often wrote about filthy rich, unhappy characters. More often than not, their unhappiness stemmed from unrequited or failed love—something that dramatically affected Fitzgerald himself. To begin with, he took the most emotionally scarring experiences of his life, and used them to fuel his characters motivations and tragedies.

However, this need not be dark and depressing. Our victories can be just as moving as our failures, but generally they only accomplish the violent emotional impact if they follow on the heels of a great failure.

What’s the central emotion of your story? Is it one with a violent emotional impact? If not, why are you writing about it? If you don’t feel the depth of emotion, you readers never will.

Once you’ve experienced that emotion, the next step is to find a way to conceptualize it, to use fiction as a medium to express it in a powerful and profound way. Carver has some ideas about that. We’ll look at them next week. Until then, good writing.

9 thoughts on “Sell Your Heart”

  • I think it realy is important to be able to put everything you havein your wrighting. If you dont put in the time to write it then the reader wont put in the time to read it.

  • if you take your time on a story and revise it and correct all your errors but yuo dont want to just go on and on about nonsense or you dont put effort into your book then the reader is just gonna waist their time on reading a foolish book.

  • It’s hard to figure out the emotion on the object I’m trying to set and the next step to conceptualize is a bit difficult it takes time to conceptually capitalize.

  • Fiction is all about emotional impact. The reader is supposed to celebrate the protagonist’s victories and mourn his/her failures. It doesn’t need to be melodramatic–but it does need to be emotional.
    Think about the emotions of your characters. Connect them to your own. Don’t make it a self-insertion–if your readers wanted to know about you, they’d read a biography. Just harness the way certain things made you feel. It could be something as simple as your favorite meal to something as hardcore as a nuclear explosion.
    Write well, write often.

  • It’s important to have different emotions in a story. If not, the story might be boring and the setting could be confusing.

  • Usually I write songs or poetry so it’s easy for me to add an emotional appeal. And usually when I write a story I usually do it based off of my expirience, like a death in the family a breakup or just a difficult time that occurs in a teenage girls life. So “selling my heart” or dramatically adding emotion isn’t so hard for me.

  • I love F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels.
    Having the motivation and the heart to write wonderful pieces is what I love most about Fitzgerald.
    Everything that he wrote had so much truth burried within. I’ve read The Great Gatby about four times and each time I read it, I notice how much emotion that Fitzgerald captures.
    He is one remarkable writer!

  • Using personal experiences in your writing can make literature more personal and since the author is using her or her own life experiences, they will know exactly how to write a story on the subject.

  • It is much easier to base the story off of a personal experience, it gives your readers a more personal reading experience, and gives the author the ability to play the what if game. The authors that people tend to enjoy the most, leave all their emotion in their story.

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