by Linda Yezak
charisma or charism (kəˈrɪzmə, ˈkærɪzəm)
1. a special personal quality or power of an individual making him capable of influencing or inspiring large numbers of people
2. a quality inherent in a thing which inspires great enthusiasm and devotion
Even the World English Dictionary can’t provide a concrete definition of charisma–it’s a “quality” or “power.” It’s that thing that makes someone magnetic, alluring, “star-quality.” Finding an illustration for it was difficult this morning, because “charismatic” seems to be synonymous with “boisterous” in some sites. Doesn’t quite fit what I’m looking for.
The person who can fill a room with his presence doesn’t have to come across as Carrot Top. He doesn’t have to be the life of the party, doesn’t demand attention–yet still receives it. Pizzazz can be part, I suppose, but confidence is a must. Shoulders back, head up, eyes alert . . . smile optional. Hitler was considered charismatic, but, believe me, his example isn’t what I’m going for here. Work with me.
Though I’m undoubtedly not doing a good job describing charisma, you know what I’m talking about. You can probably picture someone right now who you consider to have “it”–charisma.
Why is it important to a writer?
Charisma comes out in your voice on the page. It provides a boldness to whatever you’re writing and draws the reader in like a magnetic. No matter what your genre, tone, plot, your charisma is apparent in your voice. And as I said, your “voice” is the magic “it” that keeps a reader flipping pages.
According to Adair Lara, in her Writer’s Digest article, “Make Your Tone Pitch-Perfect” (July/August, 2011), “it will be your voice, not the content, that draws them in. So you must sound like somebody.”
Resist the urge to come off as uncomplicated, reasonable or polite. If you’re expressing opinions, express them! . . . Look for opportunities to bring a human voice into your work. There’s more sense of someone behind the words “I had a breast cut off” (Molly Ivins) than “I had a mastectomy.”
Not all writers would consider themselves charismatic. They’re quiet, reserved, often shy. But leave them alone with the keyboard, and they’re Masters of the Universe. They allow themselves to stride into an entirely different world where they alone rule, they alone determine the fate of the populace they created. This personalty change is evident in their works.
Other quiet, reserved, shy authors can’t get beyond their own timidity even as they write, and that shows up in their work, too. Their writing seems almost apologetic, their characters weak, their stories often flaccid. They seem frightened of strong characters, so they simply don’t develop them. This can result in emasculated male characters and saccharine-sweet females. Their plots don’t take on the daring required to maintain a reader’s interest. In life, these authors are wonderful, lovable people, so this isn’t a character flaw. Let me repeat that: It doesn’t mean that there’s something “wrong” with them. But it does mean that they have to find a way to bolster themselves when they sit down to write.
And they can: They can develop an alter-ego.
I mentioned this once before while discussing public speaking. Believe me, developing a character for yourself doesn’t have to be restricted to the speaking platform, and certainly doesn’t have to see the light of day outside your own little work space unless you want it to.
In his A Writer’s Survival Guide to Getting Published, author/agent Terry Burns devotes the entire first chapter to “Overcoming Shyness.” His hope is to help authors gather the courage and confidence needed to present their works to an agent or editor in a conference, but his concept can be applied in a wide range of situations, including sitting alone and doing your work.
In his book, Terry discusses choosing a personality, developing a persona, and getting into character. I won’t rehash it here, but I strongly recommend his book for those who see themselves in this post (or for anyone going to a conference with a manuscript to pitch!).
Allowing yourself for a while to be someone you’re not gives you the opportunity to be outrageous on the page. If you’re writing thrillers, you can be dangerous. If you’re writing romance, you can dare to tiptoe along the sexy side. Things you wouldn’t dare do yourself, your alter-ego can do for you, and there’s no better place for this than in your first draft. Cut loose and write–a suggestion paraphrased from James Scott Bell. Anything goes! No boundaries! You’ll be amazed how forceful you can be when you let yourself go, when your alter-ego defies societal rules and boundaries.
But keep in mind, I said that the best place for this is in your first draft. For Christian authors especially, once you slide back into your own skin, you may want to temper what shows up on the page.
You’ll find it then, your voice, somewhere between your persona and yourself. With the boldness and charisma of one and the taming hand of the other, you’ll have “it”–the voice that keeps a reader turning pages.
Linda W. Yezak holds a BA in English, a graduate certificate in Paralegal Studies, and a bucket list as long as her arm. Among the things on the list is owning a stable full of horses, and since that’s not likely to happen any time soon, she includes horses in each of her novels, from her contemporary western romance Give the Lady a Ride (click on the title to purchase) and her current work, The Cat Lady’s Secret, to her work-in-progress, a contemporary western romance series tentatively called “Family First.” Until the day she can retire with her husband to their land in Central Texas and ride to her heart’s content, she’ll continue with her writing and freelance editing careers.