I learned to write in a nontraditional way. I didn’t major in creative writing and honestly don’t think I ever took a class specifically meant to teach me to write. All of my education on the subject came from the theatre.
At first glance, it may seem that a theatre degree is completely unrelated to the field of writing, but somewhere along the way to writing my first novel, I discovered it’s the exact opposite. I learned to create characters in an unorthodox way—by stepping into their shoes and bringing them to life on the stage.
When you’re acting, you’re creating a character based on dialogue and the sparse stage directions the playwright gives you in the script. This means you have to dive into their backstory, often writing your own, giving them strong motivations for the things that they do. This means that as an actor, I learned how to become other people. To truly slip my feet into their shoes and walk a mile or two.
I learned to become an old, junk food–eating smoker with a thick New York accent and a bad limp. I learned to become a Ziegfeld girl, a diabetic daughter with the dream of having a baby, a young Victorian romantic with dreams of marrying a “wicked man,” and on and on. The theatre provided me with an incredible basis for creating characters.
And one thing I’ve learned is that reading provides us with that same opportunity. It’s an excellent way to step into someone else’s shoes. It’s tempting to only read about characters who are like us, who we instantly relate to, but reading outside of our norms gives us a chance to expand our empathy, to become more compassionate to the plight of someone going through something we may never have to endure.
Reading outside our own experiences is the single best way to understand lives we might never otherwise understand. It unites us in the ways we are similar and gives us compassion to understand the ways we are different. It’s the only way to create a shared experience, and if we do it with an open mind, it gives us the opportunity to make the world a little smaller, a little kinder, and a little better to be in.
Next time you’re looking for a book, why not consider one that takes you outside your comfort zone? Why not read it with an open mind, seeking first to understand someone who doesn’t look, act, talk or live like you? What if this is the key to loving our neighbor—doing our due diligence to understand our neighbor?
Reading is such a simple (enjoyable) connector of persons, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to escape into someone else’s shoes every time I open a book.
Courtney Walsh’s next contemporary romance book “What Matters Most” releases on April 5th, 2022.
About the Author
Courtney Walsh is the author of more than ten contemporary romance books. Her debut novel, “A Sweethaven Summer,” was a New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller and a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. In addition, she has written two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives with her husband and three children in Illinois, where she is also an artist, theater director, and playwright.
A Special Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and Courtney Walsh for the exclusive article and images.