Writer’s Tip: The Qualities of an Ancient Romance

Playful couple at homecoming

Romance, we love them as much as we want them. They inspire us to find the happy zone in our relationships and sooth the savage beasts. But how we aspire to feel in our comings and goings with others can be difficult to translate into a novel. 

Tropes establish the criteria of a romance, but don’t necessarily fulfill the emotional journey a reader craves. The conception of romance writing developed from laying out the desirable qualities of a man and woman before tropes were categorized. It began with a man having the pressure of behaving a certain way when circumstances would lend to his reacting selfishly. 

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is how often I hold the door open for men. It’s really a test I conduct and I’m surprised by how may males fail. Yes, I am aware about the conflicting feelings felt by mankind on the topic of gender, yet, as a Southern gal, I still find value in chivalry. If nothing else, everyone prefers associating with others who respect their place in life and who are polite and kind, which is exactly why romance novels feed us a dose of healing energy. If we can’t find that civility amongst our social dealings, we certainly can tap into that burst of glory in the well-planned organization of words.  

The Inspiration for Romance

Romance novels solidify the qualities of chivalry. It began with man’s guilt. For eons, as early as pre-historic eras, man sought to find patterns between his choices and natural disasters. Imagine those men in sheepskin leaving offerings at the base of active volcanoes. 

Basically, man felt responsible for the weather and nature’s conditions. With man’s tendency to view the universe as revolving around himself, he developed a fear in nature inflicting natural disasters on him as punishment for his foolishness. If you think about it, this is an incredible amount of pressure for a man to take on. His hometown will be scorched in lava if he kills more rabbits than his family can eat. A tidal wave will crush his neighbors if he thinks about dating a woman who is uninterested in him. 

Cause and Effect

The Greeks clarified the expectation that conducting oneself outside the perimeters of acceptable behavior results in destruction and suffering. By then, man had developed desires outside the instinct to survive. Where man had walked miles to find drinkable water, he then acted on impulses to murder a relative in order to gain a political advantage. He fled responsibilities when faced with temptations, which on the surface seemed selfless and ideal, yet resulted in fate still torturing him. 

Self-Indulgence in Motives

Fate was introduced as the element of life man is unable to control. No matter how practical and disciplined he behaves, fate continues on its pre-ordained course. The underlying message is that man can’t undo what is pre-destined. Thus, he might as well reap and sow to his heart’s content.

Sensuality in Expression

The 12th century French court enjoyed convenience and comfort. By now, life was about more than finding food and running from severe weather. The questions became, what was man to do with his keen intelligence and free time? 

He devised fashions and decorated castles. He planned parties and designed communities. He invented gadgets for improving the standard of living. With all the pruning and prepping, he noticed how much effort a lady put into her appearance and presentation. There were those who adhered to the rules of courtesy and hygiene, and those who stuck with barbaric tactics. 

Rules of Behavior

As the population increased, the need for respect increased. As man’s personal space was encroached upon by another, the more aggressive he became in protecting what he considered to be his stuff, otherwise known as, an extension of himself. The greater his aggressiveness, the more guilt and rules of behavior were piled on to establish which men deserved more leeway in his extensions and which should be limited. 

The more man valued another’s territory, the better they got along. This idealized conduct was emphasized in writing, and the birth of man’s own words describing his relationships with others became simplified into the romance genre with boundaries of chivalry.

Story Arc

Man remained the intelligent survivor he was back in the pre-historic day, yet, his increasing free time left him feeling vacant. He had additional hours where he wasn’t testing his brain. 

Writings shifted from being about the words to telling a story. Narratives altered the purpose of words so that the meanings challenged man’s intellect. British literature provided depth to the medieval narratives by idealizing the  love affair and implementing turning points. They mastered the simplicity of plotting, and stories no longer conceptualized what man viewed as reality. Instead, the stories were meant to elevate the standards of behavior practiced by man. 

Emphasis on Surroundings

The setting plays a strong role in romance novels. Just as the French aristocrats invested their creativity and wealth into decorations and fashion, a romance gives the promise of fantastical descriptions of where the characters meet, live and present their complicated feelings. Where other stories mention what is in the room for the value of the characters having props to carry out their intentions, a romance seasons the scenes with fuzzy blankets and enticing colors. Anything to emphasize the sensory preceptors, and kickstart the hero opening up about how he feels and what he thinks and why he wants things to change. 

Quality of Setting

The surroundings gauge the mood and emotions of us all. A sterile white room reminds us of doctors and medical treatment. An ivory interior at a ski lodge brings on thoughts of staying warm after long hours on the invigorating slopes. 

As you write romance, include the details in the room, those that invoke feelings, good or bad. Whichever emotions the characters are expressing determines the items you bring into focus. At times, you will want to match the comforting textures with the buildup to a trusting relationship. 

Other times, you should contrast the adversarial context with poignant elements around them that emphasis how wrong the situation is. A heated scene with a disagreement between the hero and another is a perfect time to have expensive items to be damaged. You can show how important a feeling is to a character by having his actions take precedent over the value he gives to material things in the extravagant setting.

Quality of Words

The language used, the selection of words and the pattern for organizing the order of those words, creates a romanticized quality. By having the characters speak one way with the sub-characters be in contrast with the way he speaks to the love interest when no one else is listening elevates the significance of his interactions with that one person. 

In general, man’s defenses are lower when his vital life force and standard of living are not threatened. If a stranger breaks in line at the grocery store, it is less of a statement against one’s livelihood than if the love of his life never speaks to him again. The hero will respond to a slight with an exaggerated flare when committed by the woman he is pursuing.

Primitive Guilt Shifts to Judgment

The same way man originally felt guilt for his choices, he evolved to measuring the behavior of others. In a romance, the hero explores how he feels about being slighted. When a stranger is rude, most of us don’t bother to analyze how his behavior relates to our childhood. But to have that one person we believe fulfills a hero’s sense of lack devalue him creates a threat to his concept of wholeness. Where a civilized person ignores a scuff by a person who doesn’t have a value in his life, a romance novel provides a forum for a civilized person to experiment with the outcomes of his expressing a wide range of feelings he isn’t allowed to share in reality.

The romance hero is given a stage where he can safely share his thoughts about the one he loves. He can explain why he is such a klutz when it comes to sentimentality, and justify why he gets confused by her conflicting messages. 

A romance allows the hero to be open with his feelings before he responds to the unfair situations thrust upon him. Keeping these expressive qualities of what created ancient storytelling in mind keeps the romance alive, in books as well as life. 

Relationship Booster: Set the Mood in Scenic Saigon 

Buddhist Temple in Vietnam

Buddhist Temple in Vietnam taken by J. M. Wilder Bill

A sure-fire way to reset the idyllic images you shared between your loved ones and yourself is by exploring a historic destination together. My family and I roamed Saigon together and I’d classify it as a wildly exotic city.

In fiction, Saigon is portrayed as the romanticized metropolitan where men fall deeply in love during warfare and women weep bitterly when the treaties are signed. Saigon was the capital of South Vietnam during the long war that sacrificed lives from all over the world. The new generation as of 1976 grew up with Saigon’s revamped image under the name of a previous North Vietnamese leader credited for gaining independence for Vietnam in 1945, Ho Chi Minh City.

Like many history buffs, my husband gets excited about standing in a place he’s seen in the news as having great political significance. We made a point to touch the Reunification Palace gates where a tank was televised for destroying the barrier and seizing the territory as an end to the Vietnam War. When South Vietnam fell, the country reunited as a communist society.

To appeal to my gentler qualities, we strolled through Ho Chi Minh City’s French colony that was established around 1856 and lasted into 1945. The elegant style is evident in the clean architecture and artistic pockets in the street layouts. The French colonial district still feels alive with the dashing reporters and the dare-devil media cast in noir detective mysteries.

We appreciated the retro-accommodations in the Rex Hotel, the Caravelle Hotel, and the Hotel Majestic. It is a town conducive to couples bonding under atmospheric sightseeing at the City Post Office and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. 

When we returned home, my dear local Vietnamese friends became sentimental at seeing photos of the community where they lived. They had a home around the corner from the post office and I was able to better understand the difficult choice they made in leaving an endearing town they cherished to live so far from their relatives. I was able to show that I valued her walk through life by taking time to educate myself on her customs and challenges. I would touched by her keeping a few photos of me in her hometown as a memento of our growing closer. 

Like many towns, Ho Chi Minh City has a hidden gems. Each museum warranted a day of attention because not only are filled with artwork, they contain perfectly preserved pre-historic artifacts. With Vietnam having ideal geography for waterway transportation and creating a barrier against warring countries, it has been invaded continuously going back to pre-historic times. Cambodian relics and ancient mythological statuary were discovered nearby, showing how resourceful their ancestors were in surviving raids and famines. 

The museum also provides quaint innocence. Children put on theatrical puppet productions with fireworks over an elaborate temple and characters dancing in water.

We felt an emotional moment when we visited the last site televised at the end of the Vietnam War. A helicopter landed on the roof of an apartment building in downtown Saigon to evacuate a select few Americans. This was the last evacuation.

Once the helicopter was out of site, the townspeople broke into chaos. Vietnamese families crowded the streets, burning papers and any other evidence that suggested they were in cahoots with someone from the United States.

Another romantic element is the Shangri-La mood within the narrow back streets. Not every aspect of Ho Chi Minh City was influenced by Western civilizations. The people were careful to protect the elaborate Buddhist temples modestly tucked between modern skyscrapers.

To peek inside a temple that is open to non-practitioners, you must venture into the depths of the authentic community. Your senses are rewarded with heady incense, bold decorations and abundant candles. The statues portray images of peacefulness and centeredness. My family and I were overcome with the calming effects of respect shown by the practitioners upon their entering the shaded sanctuary.

A way to boost the love ratio while traveling with loved ones is by taking time to venture outside the developed communities. We experienced a harmonious mood from spending time in the countryside. Outside the cities, Vietnam is green with nature. Rich shades of greenery cushion cottages and airy restaurants. The landscape shifts into an energized good-earth. 

In the rural areas, tables are immaculately set up to sell antiques and unique Asian relics. Booklets of stamps and vintage currency offer history and artwork at low prices. Fresh fruit is a delicacy. The lush fauna allows you to easily connect with Earth. It’s as if the landscape whispers Yanni songs while polite and tailored locals attentively sell their products. You feel as though you’ve meditated and practiced yoga for weeks after a clean meal. Natural fabrics and cleansing vibes permeate the calming effects of tailored gardens. Leaving town is like entering a spa spread across hills if paradise.

If you love history and reconnecting with the Source energy, Vietnam is the place. Refugees return to visit on family and realign with their heritage. The country emits soothing energy, however there is pollution issue in the cities and coastal communities due to manufacturing. A sense of devastation from the war lingers over the residents. Although the city is sensitive to the effects from the war, the raw beauty flourishes, budding into an inspiration for feeling the love of mankind within your family and amongst your neighbors.

Love Your Body, Heal Your Mind

Ever had a moment where you felt an opposition to your body? I’ve enjoyed conversations with family, friends and, even strangers, where someone expressed negative opinions about illnesses, injuries and body images. It leaves me to wonder why as a species we have such emotional responses to the behavior of our bodies.

We blame the media for projecting images of skinny people living adventurous live styles for the moments we feel self-conscious. But is the human mind so limited in processing images and self-perceptions that looking upon a thin person deprives us of personal joy? 

Now, the media is compassionate to our fragile mindsets and politely casts heavyset actors in health food commercials and as lead characters in romances. But, then again, is the human ego so naive to believe one body type is superior to another?

Not if you’ve ever had health issues. I exercise, eat like a monk in the Himalayas, and yet, I’ve received test scores outside the range of ideal performance. Viewing a heavyset person selling leafy salads delivered to my home doesn’t inspire me to buy into the concept that the shapes and performances of our bodies are a direct result of what we consume and how we treat them. It certainly doesn’t inspire me to exchange lettuce for the wide range of fruits and hearty portions of vegetables I consume each day. 

The actors portraying characters in commercials and onscreen don’t establish my ideal body type. I doubt they do for you, as well. More likely, the theories shared within your local community plays a key factor in the body images of those around you. 

Most people are focused on their own weight and health. Certainly, if you have a friend who is disappointed in her thighs, she tends to notice when someone else has thighs like the ones she wants. That isn’t the same as deciding you’re a failure because someone else succeeds. 

We are made in a Holy Image and therefore have an innate ability to perceive each other’s spiritual attributes. 1 Samuel 16:7 provides, the Lord sees not look on the outward appearance, but looks on the heart. By knowing one another as the perfect spirit, we find love when we look to another.

For every skinny person who feels overweight, there is a large-boned person who feels fabulous. For each person who watches his diet to avoid a health issue, there is another who puts forth no effort, appears to be unhealthy but never seems to suffer. If you ask for opinions about what is ideal, you will receive a range of descriptions with regard to health and image.

According to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, you are God’s temple and the Holy Spirit dwells inside you. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is Holy, and you are that temple.” When you are in opposition to your body, you destroy a temple placed in your custody.

The issue of body consciousness is about how you relate to your body and its way of expressing your mindset. The body seems to behave on its own. It develops unanticipated characteristics. While we make an intention to treat our bodies with respect, and to cherish them the way we do a temple, we find ourselves at crossroads as to how sacred a temple can be without essentially being treated as an idol, a pagan god. 

These conflicting emotions stem from adversarial thoughts we carry toward our bodies. If we are given a negative medical prognosis, we tend to attack our shells. We pump ourselves full of chemicals and pesticide quality nutrients in an effort to overpower our physical selves. When we outshine an ailment, we applaud ourselves or having the intellect to devise a drug or remedy, yet is it necessary? 

In truth, yes, at this age and time. We are at a place, as a global community, where we operate under physical laws requiring each of us to take responsibility for the state of our bodily affairs. During another era, we neglected ourselves of nutrients, yet managed to remain vigorous and healthy. For instance, Huguenots were imprisoned for a lifetime. They were locked inside dark boxes, and denied sunlight. They ate one bread per day, and still, they survived for decades. 

Whenever I decide to let go of a few pounds, I muster through three days of reestablishing my eating habits by reminding myself man doesn’t require three square meals per day. He can go several days without food and water, and be perfectly fine. Cavemen, even settlers, couldn’t access fruits and veggies all year. Even when stored, food rots.

The key is to connect with our bodies the same way we establish a bond with a pet, family member, or friend. We turn to another when feeling discouraged. In seeking a solution to our needs, we crave for another to fill our emptiness. When sick, we long for a cohesiveness with another to restore our energy. We seek a healing comfort outside ourselves because we sense an inability to rise to that level of affection toward ourselves. 

We need to offer affection to those in need. When you are depleted and ill, your reserves save for self-recovery. The same intensity of love you put forth in caring for your pet and those you sympathize with should be turned inward. Send love and comfort to yourself. 

If you love your body, you heal your mind. The moment you feel inadequate or ill, consider new ways to love yourself, and the rehabilitation will flow.

The Purpose of Your Life

energetic colors of aura

I am the least photogenic person on the planet, and therefore, I rarely post images of myself. I am sharing the above picture taken while I was visiting the islands surrounding Tahiti as an example of the energy we emit, and the energy moving around us. We can’t always see the forces in our lives, but every once in a while we get a glimpse to remind us of our higher purposes.

I offer tips to make love blossom. Through these words, I hope to inspire you to take a moment to celebrate and, thereby, heal mankind from any possibility of existing as the fractured souls of creation. We can release the connection to a community of individuals being expressed in unique, yet uniform ways. 

While some character traits are appreciated, others appear to create obstacles in one’s health, finances, emotional balance and spiritual growth. At times, our personalities and characteristics are a result of the Divine Love surrounding us becoming distorted by our perceptions. 

What is the purpose of life?

Our goal in establishing desires and then working to satisfy them can cause us to fragment and then reconnect in a less divine way. When we defragment, our energy flows less smoothly. This can cause us to feel weak, isolated or unloved. Each of us chose to be born on Earth at this time because there is a higher likelihood we will grow substantially in our spiritual, emotional, mental and physical bodies. But once we get life rolling down here, there are so many distractions that can shift us off course, and so many energies adverse to our original ideals, we might find ourselves in need of repairing our pathways.

You are here with an opportunity to rejoin the essence of you into your wholeness and complete energy form so you can transcend above your current situation for a better quality of enjoyment in life. We’ve all heard of accumulating negative karma due to our poor choices or intentions. We’ve been chastised and tend to be told at some point that we deserve the worst. 

But not all suffering is necessary in order to ward off bad karma. There are situations that arise that you did not create; however, you drew them into your experience. These are emotions and energy spots you didn’t intend to attract. 

De-fragmenting is a way to save yourself without beating yourself up. You have an ability to open your inner light. You can extend your light across the globe, and throughout the universe. Earth is a tricky playing field. Your choice to be here at this time makes it likely you arrived with at least one goal to serve others in our community effort to ascend to a higher level of understanding.

To serve others most effectively requires you to keep your energy vibrant and pure. As I mentioned, the contrary energies surrounding you, and overlapping into your experiences, can feel like an emotional battlefield. It is imperative for you to realign your connection with the Divine Love on a regular basis. 

The way to reconnect varies and what works best for one, might not be appealing to you. Regardless of how you rejuvenate and redirect your energies, it takes a deliberate effort to achieve the greatest results in your life, and in those around you. 

Why can’t you defragment without deliberate effort?

You are your greatest obstacle. Reflections of you, or mirroring of you is available in artistic forms, which can manifest into separate entities. We refer to this category of lower energy in many names, such as, the devil, evil, sometimes curses, and as personalities with names, such as the demon, Mara. 

While such reflections can take on a mind of their own and stir up enough energy to eventually agitate the atmosphere, they are derived from our egos in an unaltered present state. Such egos were once our inspiration for existing with a goal to have a great adventure during this life; however, now they serve as a motivation for us to ascend our spiritual intelligence. 

What happens if you remain fragmented?

If you continue without reuniting your energies, you will remain in this circle of life. Our existence appears to be a continuation of similar unpleasant or undesirable events as long as we choose to remain on the roundabout. Consider your ancestors. If you research the history of your lineage, you are likely to find similar experiences to yours, even if your predecessors relocated to escape unpleasant circumstances, or made other significant changes in their physical surrounds with a goal to improve their adventures. 

Imagine a world on Earth where you aren’t pulled into the chain of seemingly unintentional incidents, where you aren’t blindsided and living in the defensive mode of reactions. It is possible and powerful to take control of your circumstances, and to live a life without participating in unpleasant scenarios. Only in this way, can you break free and reach the highest kingdom above this life.

Next time you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to consider what will make you feel reconnected with the purest form of love. Keep in mind the four areas we have a sense of existence. The four areas are our spiritual connection with the unseen forces, our physical association to our material surroundings, our emotional relationship to ourselves and others based on our perceptions, and our mental health as it relates to our existence. 

Each of us identifies with one of these areas more than another. To heal one aspect of ourselves heals another. They overlap and work together. This is how our physical bodies can feel weak when we endure an emotional hardship. 

What’s Your First Step?

Consider which aspect of your energetic makeup you identify with most, and give yourself the gift of commitment. Taking time to realign your energy is the greatest gift you can provide. At times, we feel guilty if we take time out to reconnect. 

But in caring for yourself on an energetic level, you extend your improved existences to those around you. By uplifting your energy, you improve the lives of those around you. From this point forward, no matter where you are on your path, take time to spread the love by de-fragmenting.

Fast for Faster: Bring Your Prayers to Life

Do you have a reoccurring nightmare? The strongest impression for me began, like so many nightmares, when I was a child. I am walking down the steps leading to my home’s red, front door. Our red and white brick house sat on a hill on top of a hill, at the back of a cove where children from miles around gathered to play each afternoon. 

On a lantern, Blue Jays and Red Breasted Robins sang all day. As I walked along the steps in my velvet Mary Jane’s and smocked dress, frogs leaped out to greet me. My Siamese Chocolate Point stayed by my side and the family, overgrown Airedale joined as our bodyguard. No matter how many times my junior kindergarten teacher asked my mom to tame my hair, it stayed unruly because, according to my mom, I liked to drag it on the dirt and let bugs crawl in it.

I was the youngest child in my family, which meant I had the most freedom. No one noticed when I set out on an adventure and they never asked where I was going. If I weren’t home by dinnertime, I didn’t get to eat, but sometimes I wasn’t hungry.

In this dream that replayed time and again, I tripped and caught myself with my forearms on the pebble steps. When I sat up to look at my injury, my flesh was ripped open. I was horrified by what I discovered inside of me. 

Before the fall, I’d been awed by my blue veins, and was told they were full of blood that turned red when exposed to oxygen. I expected a rich fluid to run out of me. Instead, I was faced with the realization my skin was hiding metal tubing and panels. I was a machine. 

When we sleep, our psychic shield is disengaged. Our minds are confronted by the stimuli and experiences we ignored during wakeful hours. When conscious, we sift through situations and categorize them into those that assist and those to store until we have a chance to analyze how they play into our perceptions. 

We are given experiences to deepen our understanding of ourselves and how we fit in the universe. Some concepts take longer to digest. Any time we can’t decide how to organize the information, we reassess the stimuli, again and again, which can result in reoccurring nightmares. 

So then, why is my life-long nightmare about my realizing I am stuffed inside a machine? My dream related to 1 Corinthians 6:19, explaining that a human body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, who lives inside each of us. My body was merely a vehicle. If I didn’t take proper care, it could be damaged, which would impair my soul’s mobility. 

Identifying my body as a temple of God motivated me to be selective in what I ate. I was determined to take care of my body before I developed health problems. I gained a sense of helping the planet by consuming fewer resources and no longer flagrantly harming other life. When we consume flesh products, on a subconscious level we experience guilt. My decision to be a vegan shifted from health reasons to my desire to support living creatures. 

Equally concerned about my spiritual growth, I adopted a meditation program. My goal was to ascend to the highest level possible at my death, which sounds gruesome and I have no idea why I thought about these things at a young age. 

I was raised Presbyterian, and my community was a bit on the dry bones side of religious practices. There were no ornaments in church – just bare walls and burgundy cushions on hand-carved pews. No saints or angels or meditations, but our strength was in prayers and performing unconditional acts of kindness. 

Meanwhile in law school, I wanted to achieve the peak performance from my brain. I became a health nut, taking herbs and amino acids, and replacing meals with powders. I met folks who practiced Lent by giving up something they valued during the weeks before Easter. 

Also, I worked with a young woman who fasted to boost her prayers. Her enthusiasm convinced me to give it a try. Low and behold, my life changed for the better, faster, when I gave up something I valued and enjoyed as a personal sacrifice in my devotion. I refer to this method as, “fast for faster.” This does not require one to give up all foods and liquids, but merely to refrain from a category for however long or short of a period of time intended.

Fasting and meditating daily made me feel elevated. Literally, my psyche seemed to float at a higher level than when I didn’t abstain from chocolate. My thoughts were clearer. 

Living guilt-free moved my spiritual growth to fast forward. I viewed my body as a vehicle for transportation and performing tasks that served my spiritual purpose. My body wasn’t me but a community of utilitarian tools abiding to my plans. 

I start each day by thanking my health for remaining resilient. I thank my legs for getting me where I need to go without pain. I thank my digestion for processing the foods I eat without adverse effects. I don’t take it personally when my machine malfunctions. It’s merely an experience reminding me to respect my body, and care for it the same way I maintain a car or computer I plan to keep past the warranty. 

I intend to make my years as productive and enjoyable, as possible. By disconnecting my identity from my body, I respect its needs. Likewise, I increase my standard of living by decreasing the possibility of onset illnesses. 

My intention which is accompanied by an act leads to blessings and appreciation from the spiritual presence throughout the universe. I don’t know about you, but I can use all the powers available. Once I understood my nightmare was asking me to love my body, I healed my mind.

Random Acts of Kindness

If you are in a tumultuous relationship, whether with a coworker or friend, you can disassociate with him to end the conflict. But what happens when you stay? While ending a relationship guarantees the situation will turn out well, you gain from persevering through the difficult periods. 

The answer is hidden beyond the undesirable moments. An eye for an eye goes on for infinity, however, you can break the cycle. The times my siblings and I had a disagreement, my father would take each of us aside and say, “It takes two to make an argument.” This blanket statement never seemed logical to me because there were two of us, and we were arguing. 

The way to end an argument is by breaking the chain of disharmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone for longer than you want, stop reacting. Observe what effects follow.

You can resolve conflicts through random acts of kindness. You can end the warfare without actually feeling kind. It’s the act that makes the difference.

For example, if your nemesis is in a mint gum chewing phase, grab a pack when you are in a check out line and leave out for him to find. You don’t have to explain or give away your power. Simply let him choose how to interpret the act. 

You don’t have to be engaging when he asks where it came from. A shrug will suffice because it’s the randomness of the act that gives it impact.

Tell him you like something he is wearing or a thing he owns, or anything at all about his family or work. Certainly, try to comment on what you do like because there must be something, but don’t struggle over whether he deserves to hear a nice word, or whether you like it enough to say something. 

The acts can remain minuscule but make a point to do one kind thing each day. No matter how angry or inconsiderate your nemesis is, the tiny gestures of positive energy will accumulate. A small dose of goodness has a higher frequency than a pound of bad. A little kindness carries the weight of several years’ worth of ill-will. 

Your good acts will modify your nemesis’ reactions. Perhaps the unpleasant gestures are out of habit. For him to realize you thought of him that day, you took a moment to do something helpful, changes the way the two of you relate to one another. You steer the chain of events off the circular path. 

You can increase the level of love you experience through your random acts of kindness. Consider it a gift for both of you.

Steve Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Winning Themes

Photo: Kurkjian at The Boston Globe Pulitzer Prize Winners by J. Wilder Bill

Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Master Thieves, Steve Kurkjian on Pulitzer Winning Themes—

While Stephen tirelessly researches and investigations, his recognition wouldn’t have reached such heights without his developing a powerful writing style. He authored a nonfiction book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, which creates such complex controversies regarding the theories behind the unsolved mystery, it is being made into a movie.

Purpose of the Theme

Kurkjian takes responsibility as a journalist by informing the public of what it lost as a result of the art theft. His objective in writing the book creates his theme and ties the subplots together. He shares a personal curiosity about the theft because his father was an artist. He identifies with the value of history being taken away due to his ancestors surviving the Armenian genocide. He dedicated his life to bringing awareness to the public for the purpose of demanding justice.

Which qualities in a writer do you consider most critical in creating a story with an impact?

Ernest Hemingway, who began his writing career as a reporter with the Toronto Star, said in an interview years later that working for a newspaper can make someone a better writer but they have to have “quit” in time. By that, I am thinking he meant that if the reporter wants to become a creative writer they must give up the standards/principles that journalism is based on and depend on a different set of tools in capturing the readers’ attention. 

Whereas Fairness and thoroughness are needed in journalism, imagination is the essential element – and determination the difference-maker between success and failure – of the creative writer. (I recall an interview with Bruce Springsteen in which Ted Koppel asked him now that he was successful and well-to-do, how would Bruce write those songs which were so vivid about the underclass and the downtrodden. Only a hint of his songs stemmed from real-life experience, Bruce responded, the rest was pure imagination and the gifts of language and song.) I like to tell the journalism students whom I teach that they should have no illusion they are artists – we’re craftsmen, and –women. Your siblings who are cooks, ballet dancers or woodworkers are the artists in your family.

Present one theory, relay the facts from every angle, and then present another theory.

Since the crime that I was writing about in Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, has not been solved I needed to present the facts of the case in the clearest way. That included showing why a select number of individuals had been considered suspects yet the doubt that involved each of them, which meant why they were never indicted, and why they never assisted with any recovery.

Deliver suspense.

I knew the material would turn tedious if the reader enters the chapter or segment knowing that the individual isn’t going to lead to a recovery. But I still present them in their most human terms – what brought them to the attention of the authorities, what shreds tied the to the case, etc. –  and in that way made the reader like a mini-investigator capturing the thrill of the hunt as well as the frustration of the final say.

Is your style of leaving no stone unturned a secret weapon for creating award winning stories? Can you tell us what makes a writer rise to the level of winning a Pulitzer?

Working with diligence and determination, and writing with honesty and clarity are the essential elements of great reporting. I often say that the most powerful sentence in the English language starts with these words: 

“I am (name of the reporter) from (the local newspaper) and I would like to know….” 

Inspired by free press.

The reason has nothing to do with the name of the individual or even the news organization they represent, but more important because of the First Amendment to the American Constitution which ensures the freedom of the press. We have an essential role in a functioning democracy and it’s the reason why Jefferson wrote that if he had to choose between a free press or government, he’s opt for the free press. And the reason is that he knew that the only way that divergent views on public policies – those expressed by the minority party – would never get the attention of the public unless there was an independent press showing where the majority party was failing to meet its obligations to the citizenry, where tyranny, corruption or force was taking place rather than adequate performance. The press/media has immense influence in what the public thinks about the performance of government and major institutions in America, but it also has immense responsibilities in carrying out those responsibilities.

Clean writing style.

I would like to say that my creative writing was responsible for any of my three Pulitzers but it wasn’t. Creative writers don’t usually come out of journalism. There a terrific Hemingway quote, which I used in my book that goes something like this: 

“Working for a newspaper can make you a better writer but you have to quit in time.” 

Having spent a 40-year career in newspapering I can say definitively that I never quit my craft.

Facts for journalism.

But in thinking about Hemingway’s statement, I have come to understand the reasons why it is such a truthful one. The newspaper account is primarily based on a strict adherence to facts. There is little left to the imagination, and the best pieces of fiction are based primarily on imagination. 

Imagination for fiction.

I remember vividly an interview that Bruce Springsteen gave decades ago and a reporter asked him now that he was famous and well-off how would he be able to capture those tales of the denied and downtrodden, whether in desperate cities or dried-out villages. Springsteen looked at him and said none of those stories had come out of any personal experience that Springsteen had – they all flowed from his imagination.

Unique perception for great story telling.

And it told me that the best of our writers are those with the most vivid imagination, who are willing to put in the hard work of hammering their stories into creative fiction. The story comes out of a single character or experience but then the writer, like the sculptor working at an anvil, has to hammer and hammer away until they have conveyed the essence of what their eyes saw in a moment’s notice or a chance conversation.

Faulkner said he gained the idea of Sound and Fury – perhaps the greatest work of fiction with the greatest title ever written – from a single scene: watching a little girl swinging high on a swing and exposing her britches while doing so. Now that’s an artist, that’s a creator!

***   

Thank you, Stephen Kurkjian, not just for sharing your five star writing techniques, but also for caring about your readers. Your devotion to writing transformed your family hardships and talents into a vehicle for protecting others. You’ve made a positive global impact that will continue for generations. 

Connect with Kurkjian at www.stephenkurkjian.com to learn more about the facts behind Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, and keep an eye out for the release of the movie.

For more thoughts on factual writing, please see, Stephen Kurkjian Mastermind: Plotting Style & Stephen Kurkjian Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships.

 

Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Plotting Style

Photo: The Boston Globe by J. Wilder Bill

Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Kurkjian brainstorms story structure and plotting.

In his non-fiction book, Master Thieves, Kurkjian begins with the suspect who has the most emotional connection to the crime scene and ends with the suspect who has the clearest motive. In between is a diverse cast of outrageous criminals who have complicated relationships with one another. He interviewed witnesses, investigators, and suspects for hundreds of hours. Then, compared their testimonies.

The evidence is layered with several theories that build on one-another. He holds back information, until he’s established his case to support a fresh theory. He concludes with documented proof.

What is your criteria in deciding the order you reveal the facts and introduction of characters?

With newspaper articles, the structure is almost always the same, and is built like an inverted triangle. The key element of the article is at the top of the story – and it is written as directly/powerfully as possible. These stories usually are written after months of reporting so there is a lot of material to wade through to figure out “what it all means,” “what do I have here,” and how do I convey this material so the most important element is at the top and potential lasting impact of the information is conveyed.

Pulitzer winner structure.

Remember in the movie SPOTLIGHT there was an internal debate on the team as to whether the original story that would be written would focus on one priest – Fr. John Geoghan – whom the Boston Archdiocese had moved from parish to parish despite a litany of complaints about his molesting boys at each past assignment or focus on that there were dozens of such priests within the Archdiocese who had such allegations against them. 

Strongest facts shape the lead and set up future stories.

In the end, the editor of The Globe decided the initial story would focus on Geoghan and that decision was primarily based on the fact that the Spotlight reporters had information on Geoghan which was more unassailably true than the conclusion that similar forgiving actions appeared to have been taken on other priests. Newspaper articles need to be accurate, especially investigative ones, and the fact that Geoghan was not a solitary figure within the Archdiocese, that there were so many other priests who had abused kids who had been treated with such forgiveness by the church, would be revealed with future coverage.

Research is critical.

Investigative articles like this are meant to shock the reader, to capture their attention. Often though the material is complicated and perhaps suggestive of an abuse rather than convincing. The necessity is to present the reporting as accurately as possible – with on-the-record interviewing; documentation; and data collection. Data rebuts or clouds the revelation must also be included as well as an honest effort to convey “the other side,” that is the explanation of the individual, agency or institution whose performance is being questioned by the article.

Theme trumps motivation.

When it comes to motivation I pretty much subscribe to the explanation that Sidney Pollack gave to George Clooney who asked in the movie Michael Clayton why a colleague may have committed suicide: “Because people are fucking inscrutable, that’s why.” I can divine a host of reasons as to why a person might make an act that I would be writing about – greed, ambition, hatred, fear and even loyalty. But most often my readers aren’t interested in motivation – as an investigative reporter, my assignment is to come up with stories that they would not have otherwise known about had it not been for my reporting.

Facts boost story transitions.

The stories that I most often deal with are complicated matters, replete with data, anecdotal information, quotes and summary paragraphs which often serve as transitions. That’s a lot to pack in, and I like to organize the material before I actually sit down to write. The outline is what I call the spin of my story.

Sentence structure.

Being complicated, I try to write as directly as possible, and the more complicated the material, the shorter my sentences. I am wary of making the material tedious to weigh through so I arrange my paragraphs in such a way that every succeeding paragraph is going to address a question that might naturally flow out of the previous paragraph.

Establish the lead and summary.

Once I have finished stacking the material in as seamless a fashion as I can, I usually know what my lead will be, what my summary paragraph will be – at The Globe we use to call it the “who-ha” graph which basically translates into why the reader should be spending his valuable time in reading it, taken together what do the facts of the article say about the administration of justice or effectiveness of a particular agency that we are writing about.

Isolate shocking facts.

The outline will also isolate the major abuses that my reporting has found, and present them in a clear, hopefully powerful way, and include quantifiable data that shows the reader that the reporting is solid/accurate and substantive. 

Do you develop a story by plotting the arc of a hero’s journey before you investigate, or does the information you learn develop the pattern of the plot?

I spend an inordinate amount of time during and after completing my reporting in analyzing what I have found. That material – the proof that supports/proves – the lead is presented in summary form in the top third of the story. In addition, the top third contains the summary graph that presents how the abuse happened but also the underlying causes for it and what that abuse says about the overall integrity/effectiveness of the institution in question.

Show the how, why, and what in first third of story.

At the Globe, this paragraph is called “the who-ha” graph and is meant to convey the overall significance of what the article has revealed. Investigative reporters are in the end social scientists who have discovered something new and aberrant that has been taking place in our community and that this aberration is having a negative effect on the people within the community.

Selecting a hook.

During my career as an investigative reporter, I liked working on issues/articles that affected the largest number of people. Such stories usually involved me with public health, education, safety, transportation and the health of the local economy. These agencies that provide these essential services – schools, police and fire, economic development, public works, public hospitals, and courts – are paid for by the taxpayers’ dollars and it is an essential for newspapers and media organizations to be evaluating how effective they are doing their jobs. If the police are making fewer arrested for domestic abuse; if minorities are being stopped and frisked for minor traffic offenses; if the survival rate of cardiac patients is less (or more) at our local hospital; of some neighborhood streets get quicker snow plow services than others because politically-connected people live in the favored neighborhoods – then all of those possibilities deserve attention or at least awareness.

Standards for a journalist.

Reporters are trained in the essentials of journalism – fairness and thoroughness – in every course that they take. Such standards are maintained at every newspaper, regardless of their size, in the country and readers should be aware that such standards underlie every article that they read, and know that they can depend on the product of that reporting.

An example of objective and complete reporting.

Such an approach worked for me when I confronted a priest who several men had alleged had sexually abused them years before. This was during the height of The Globe’s coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and was shown vividly – with one major inaccuracy – in the movie SPOTLIGHT. 

Stephen Kurkjian continues brainstorming at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Quality Writing & at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships.