I recently became the last person on the planet to read Sue Monk Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees, and fell in love with it in a way I haven’t fallen in love with a book in a long time. It was like discovering The Great Gatsby again for the first time, or To Kill a Mocking Bird, or A Prayer for Owen Meany. It instantly became one of my favorite books, even before I’d read the last page.
As a writer, these experiences of falling in love with a book are particularly overwhelming. Not only is there excitement, infatuation and enjoyment, but also aspiration. I want to write like this. I want to make readers feel this way.
In deconstructing what it was about Kidd’s writing that enchanted me so much, I kept coming back to two lines from the book. First,
- Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.
- Everyone needs a god who looks like them.
To me, it felt like the entire book was built around these two ideas. Because the second is so true, a story had to be told to illustrate it, and that is because the first is so true as well. It’s a beautiful thought, that everyone needs the right mentors, leaders, rulers and gods. It’s why we feel unrest in an increasingly diverse world ruled by white males. It’s why so many people are becoming disenchanted with religions who worship the same. It’s why each character in Kidd’s book does what she does and seeks what she seeks.
But I digress. What spoke to me so much as a writer about reading The Secret Life of Bees was to start my next book project with the idea in mind to craft a story around a single, powerful idea. I already have characters and scenes and plans in mind, but they have been floundering, ungrounded without that solid philosophy in which to take root and grow. It’s the this codifying idea that makes a book cohesive, that allows it to make sense and mean something. It’s what makes a book matter.
So that is my current challenge. This is where I am on the road to beginning my next book: boiling the main theme down to one true statement. Then I can pick up all of these pieces I have scattered around and start putting them into place around it.