Teachers have been instrumental to Oprah's Book Club 2.0 author Ayana Mathis. The "Twelve Tribes of Hattie" writer credits her mentor, Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson, with giving her three invaluable pieces of advice about writing. In this video, Ayana shares those top lessons with Oprah.
To shape her stories, Ayana has learned to take her characters seriously. "[I've learned] the primacy of character, the importance of truth telling -- to be absolutely as truthful as you can be in your writing at all moments," she says. "And another [lesson], which I always fail to do -- but which I keep in mind -- is, whenever you have a character do anything, you need to have five reasons. The most I can ever come up with are three."
Although Ayana calls that last bit of advice an "impossible standard," she says it has helped her stay true to her characters' intentions and made her grow as a writer. When Oprah presses her as to why it's so important to have five reasons, Ayana says that it's about remembering the characters' motivations.
"If I'm going to have a character fall down the stairs in a drunken stupor," she says, "there needs to be: 'Why is this person drunk, and why do they need to fall down the stairs? Does it have any dramatic weight? Does it do anything towards characterization? If it does do it, what does it do, why does it do it, how does it do it?' It's an impossible standard, which I'm sure Marilynne meets. But the rest of us mortals cannot."