How an Award-Winning Writer (Jim Murphy) Tutored Writer Gabrielle Chana (Gail Chord Schuler)

In November 1993, I graduated from The Institute of Children’s Literature and received a diploma. I decided to further my writing skills so that I could be a novelist, and ordered books about writing from the Writer’s Digest Book Club and continued my subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. I started my novel Silver Skies.

Through my studies at The Institute of Children’s Literature, I learned that I had an instinctive sense of what constitutes great writing and that if I trusted my instincts and “guts” as I wrote, I could produce a great work of art. I figured this out, because often, after I sent off an assignment to my writing instructor (Jim Murphy) and then later read it, the same weaknesses I’d noticed during my readings would be exactly what my writing instructor would point out later (when I received his critiques).

I discovered I had an innate “gut” sense about what is right or wrong with my writing and relied on this as I worked on Silver Skies. As I worked on my writing, if something didn’t “sit right” with me, I’d go back and listen to my guts, and let my guts tell me what to do.

My “guts” became my replacement for Jim Murphy as I worked on Silver Skies. To give me feedback about how to fix what my “guts” told me was wrong with my writing, I bought more writing books and studied them. My “guts” were ruthless as I critiqued my own writing. If I didn’t love what I just wrote, I’d go back and work on it until my “guts” loved it.

Love scenes were especially difficult to get right. I think, before I decided to divorce my husband in December 1999, I had a lot of hang-ups about my love life that transferred to my writing and stilted me. Once I felt morally free to love who I really loved (December 1999), then it somehow freed me to write love scenes with resonance and truth. After lots of practice and a lot of love scenes that dribbled with sentimentality or gushiness, I found emotional courage. Around spring 2000, I became good at love scenes.

I studied love scenes from my favorite works to create my own style. For instance, I studied the first consummation scene between Ralph and Meggie in The Thornbirds, highlighted portions of it and took notes to see how Ms. McCullough organized her emotional presentation in the sex scene. I studied Jack Bickham’s advice about how to write the “sequel”, or emotional aftermath (emotion, thought, decision, action) to a previous scene disaster. I used this sequel format (emotion, thought, decision, action) to create most of my sequels for Silver Skies. A sequel is the point of view character’s emotional reaction to a previous scene disaster–see Scene and Structure by Writer’s Digest Books.

Consumed with how the inner lives of the characters were portrayed, I analyzed the works I admired. I liked how lovers were portrayed in works such as The Thornbirds, David Copperfield, War and Peace. In these works, the characters (lovers) had relationships that affected every part of their being, not just their genitals, but affected their purpose for living, their thoughts about life, their ability to face death, and their motivations, passions and dreams in all their endeavors. This is how I wanted my lovers presented. Agnes, in David Copperfieldwas my role model when I was in my twenties.

I wanted the love they had for each other to so transform them, that to read about their love would be a breath of fresh air, a stream of longings and passions, a fire of courage and dreams. I’d had enough of American love stories, with their shallow characters, their boring description of body parts and boring sex scenes. I wanted to create lovers in the style of Dickens or Tolstoy, to let the character’s longings and passions transform the readers, that these transformations would change history.

So I patterned myself after the writers who transformed me–after Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Colleen McCullough and the writers of the King James Bible. I wanted more than postcard pictures for my lovers, they must enter people’s hearts and remain in the soul. My characters must come alive in my writings, like the characters of Tolstoy, Dickens and Colleen McCullough came alive for me. I analyzed the works I admired and foraged those passages that towered above the pack, those passages where characters jumped off the page and into my heart.


Copyright © 2010 – 2018 Gail Chord Schuler. All Rights Reserved.