Pop quiz: Who wrote the following…
- “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
- “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.”
- “There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.”
- “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
- “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
- “What are men to rocks and mountains?”
Impressive stuff, right? How wonderful to run across such lines. We jot them on yellow sticky notes and slap them on the fridge, the repository of all that is precious, wise and edible. Such lines are profound.
Profound means penetrating, deep, not superficial, sweeping, and containing universal truth. Profound statements cause us to nod, see, grasp, and murmur in agreement. Yes! That! So true!
What if I told you that the lines above were written by a drunk, a lonely proofreader, a math whiz, the son of a cheesemaker who was dumped by a girl in favor of a movie star, a divorced secretary, and a spinster? Anyone can be profound. Everyone is, at times. Children. Crazies. You.
Profound statements are always true, meaning also always available. Let’s prove that. Grab a pen or open a document. Right now. Jot down something that you know to be always true about living or about people. What’s your life lesson? What principle guides you? How would you sum it all up?
Profound statements can be grounded in metaphor. What meaning have you seen in, or truth you have deduced from, investing money, or managing people, or building a home, or selecting paint, or hammering a nail, or watering the grass, or focusing a camera, or lighting a match, or home runs, or the directions of the wind?
Profound statements ring. They contain contradictions and work reversals. They pose puzzles and ask rhetorical questions. They sock us with strong nouns. They arrive in shapely sentences. They are pithy. They declare. They surprise us not because their truths are obscure, but because their truths arrive in unexpected ways.
Here, I’ll try one: “When our sails fill with wind we surge forward but also spill over, wanting to capsize.”
Ah. A sailboat metaphor. It’s dialectical. Poetic. That which gives us momentum can also tip us over. Flying high means that you have far to fall. We carry the seeds of our own destruction. And so on, blah-blah. The more common the expression of a truth, the less we feel the force of it.
Being profound doesn’t require genius. Suffering isn’t a prerequisite. Profound isn’t a quality reserved for those in Wikipedia articles. You don’t have to be dead. All you have to do it get right to the truth of things, the heart of matters, in just a few words. You can do that, right? Or course you can. You are a writer.
I mention all that because your current novel deserves to be profound. To achieve that, you have to give yourself permission to be profound. Or just make space for it. Take the truth you wrote down a minute ago…which character can say that? When? Will it occur in exposition, from a certain POV? Or will you use authorial POV?
Doesn’t matter how you use it. What matters is that you get to the truth of things, somewhere, somehow, at least once in your manuscript. Why not? Why not more than once? After all, a drunk, a proofreader, a math whiz, a dumped guy, a secretary, and spinster all did so in their manuscripts and today they all have Wikipedia entries.
Are they any different than you?
So, here’s the answer key: (1) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, (2) L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, (3) Bram Stroker, Dracula, (4) J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”, (5) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, (6) Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
What’s your profound observation today? Where is it going in your manuscript?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!