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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Stories Should Mean Something by Sarah J. McNeal

I think there is a general misconception that romance stories are just about the romance. People may believe the story is always the same: two people fall in love, they have some obstacles holding them back from the relationship, they resolve the differences, and then they live happily ever after. Although romance and love do play a huge roll in a romance story, we have more to say than just two human beings fell in love. There is something else underlying the romance. There is trouble and somebody better learn and change, or there is no story.

Sometimes the underlying story says something profound, something so meaningful to the writer, they are hell bent to get it out there to the reader. When the reader understands that deeper meaning, they often think about the story long after they’ve finished reading it. 

Louisa May Alcott

As a kid, I was a devoted Louisa May Alcott fan. I read everything she wrote—and I do mean everything. Of course, she wrote about young love and how all that worked out, but she wrote a great deal about society and what she thought ought to be changed. She even introduced the reader to other writers to read and think about, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

and Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau

Her characters talked about important things like women’s suffrage, matters of health such as getting those corsets off and exercising, and even alcoholism. I remember her character, Charlie, in Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom who was handsome and charming. Oh how I loved him. But Charlie gambled, acted wildly, and drank too much. When he died, I was devastated. I was young when I read it and didn’t see how Charlie was destined for self-destruction. As I read on, I saw the light through the quiet, intelligent Mac. Remember Mr. Baer in Little Women? He, too, was a very intelligent and quiet man. Both these male characters showed me there was more to choosing a mate than looks and fun. I learned something profound from romance stories.

Just recently, I contracted a new novel titled Home for the Heart about a social worker at the Hazard orphanage, a man still entrenched in the pain of betrayal, and a young, half Lakota boy from the orphanage with something good inside that no one saw because he only showed people anger. The heroine gets the hero to partner with her in helping the emotionally and physically impaired children find happiness and strength through the implementation of horse therapy. I wanted to present something with depth. I wanted the love story to really mean something—something I cared deeply about myself.

In the next story for which I’ve just finished the outline, (tentative title: It’s Only Make Believe), I present an alcoholic who is the heroine’s father. Naturally, he does some terrible things but I wanted to show a little of his inner battle with empathy, not hatred.

We all have something meaningful we want to say in our stories. Sometimes it takes courage to write your real truth. Hemingway is quoted as saying, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” He also said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” I think it takes insight to see that truth, and when you see it, it takes courage to write it.”

What story comes to mind for you that was both a torture and a pleasure to write because it was about your truth? 

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Now I'm going to have to look up Louisa's other books as I only read Little Women. I agree every book I write has a little story from my past or of an ancestor. Sometimes they can be better than what you dream up. Good post!

  2. Say it isn't so! Inda, you have missed some excellent reading. Little Women was good, but so were so many of her stories. Even as an adult, I think you'll love these great stories and Louisa's desire to improve society.
    I love that you include some of the stories of your ancestors in your work.
    Thank you so much for coming by and for your comment.

  3. Hi Sarah, oh, what a terrific post. Three of my all-time favorite writers. Visiting their homes and graves in Concord MA has been one of the highlights of my life. True--Alcott's books were not considered kid lit in her time! You so brought back my love of Eight Cousins today...I remember when Uncle Alec so disapproved of corsets, and gave Rose a pillow filled with lavender for peaceful sleep. I often spray our pillows with the scent!

    Jack and Jill is my go-to book when I need a shot of emotion. When their friend Ed does...Alcott is so heartbreakingly sweet and straightforward and perfect. My breath hitches just thinks by about the chapter...

    Best wishes with your books... You know I love them. 💗📚

    1. Tanya, you remembered Uncle Alec! Every girl should have an Uncle Alec. He was wise, down to Earth, and gave the best advice.
      I, too, loved Jack and Jill. My mother got a subscription for me with Junior Classics when I was about 10 years old. I love that she did that because I so enjoyed all those great books. Every kid should read the classics. I don't even know if they do any more.
      My father introduced me to Emerson. (Thanks Pop!). I was about 11 years old when my best friend and I had a fight. I was heartbroken. To help me deal with the situation, my father gave me Emerson's essay on Friendship. I read it and then I read every essay I could lay my hands on. Lots of wisdom to be had there. Louisa confirmed my love for Emerson and introduced me to Thoreau. I spent a great deal of my childhood wrapped up in books.
      I am so glad you visited my post and shared your thoughts, Tanya.

  4. A really lovely essay, Sarah. I was a great fan of Isak Dinesen, from 'Out of Africa' fame. I think we're sometimes as drawn to the stories as to the author. Great food for thought. And congrats on your latest sale!!

  5. Kristy, I never read Out of Africa, but I did see the movie--many times. It does have more than a love story to it. In fact, it says so much of what love ought to be.
    Thank you on the congrats. I am going to be very happy to get a new Wilding novel out. Home for the Heart has so much of me in it and the things that mean so much to me.
    I truly appreciate you coming over and commenting on my blog today.

  6. Sarah, I agree 100% with your belief. When we write we are putting pieces of ourselves and our ideals out there for people to see, if they choose to look. For myself, my stories tend to be about redemption and finding the course in life that fits you.Usually it's subtle, but there. I know that comes from years of dealing with troubled youth. On another note, the newest story sounds wonderful. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

    1. Yes, Doris, sometimes only we know what part of ourselves we insert into our stories, but it's always there.
      I hope some of the things I care about and put into my stories resonates with readers, so they'll care about them, too. I surely hope so anyway. I am an advocate for animals, the environment, and physically & emotionally impaired children. I don't want to come down like a hammer, but I do hope readers like my stories and the underlying message. I can't change the world, but maybe I can change a little something.
      Thank you so very much for dropping by and commenting.

  7. Sarah, what a wonderful post--something to really think about. I must confess...I need to go back and re-read Louisa Mae Alcott's works again. It has been a long time. I read Little Women and Eight Cousins and Little Men when I was a young girl, but I have not re-read any of them, and I know I would see things I missed if I sat down and re-read them now.

    These are really some good points to ponder. I'm not sure which of my stories would qualify as "my truth"-- I think all of my stories have, to some degree, a piece of myself and my truth in them and some of them have similar themes in them. Hmmm...kind of like listening to songs by certain artists. You can always pick out Jackson Browne, CSN, and James Taylor, among others...Now I'm wondering...LOL

    You've got me thinking this morning, Sarah! I'm so anxious to see what the Wildings have in store!

    1. Cheryl, your stories have a profound message about kids. Your manly heroes always show such empathy for children and treat them with kindness and respect. See. I got your message that you didn't actually say. Your heroes often are physically wounded, yet they carry on and, while they're doing that, they are also raising the spirits of those around them. The messages of responsibility, perseverance, courage, and faith are all presented in your stories. That's part of why everyone loves them so much.
      Jackson Browne and James Taylor have such wonderful lyrics. They speak to our hearts.
      I hope when you get to read Home for the Heart, that you love it.

    2. Sarah, I never realized that kids were so important to my heroes, but you're right--they ARE. I think it's hard for us to sometimes see what is so close to us. Everything you said is true. THANK YOU! I have much to think about now! LOL I know I will love HOME FOR THE HEART! I love all your Wilding stories!

    3. Right away I thought of young Will in your trilogy.
      Hey, thanks for that compliment. My Wildings are like my family.