Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Experiences--Keep a Record for Your Fiction

"Should I use something quick like a knife, or slow and subtle, like poison?" My friend asked.

"Oh, definitely go with the poison," another friend answered.

The waiter paused in the middle of pouring fresh tea, his eyes darting from one customer to another as he undoubtedly wondered who was the intended victim.

Lunch conversation can be quite interesting when a group of mystery writers are plotting mayhem, especially to the unsuspecting wait staff.

We all know a writer doesn’t commit a murder in order to write about one, but you can use your struggles today to enrich your writing in ways that you would have never imagined otherwise. Authors draw on their experiences with anger, jealousy, and revenge (real or imagined) to create a character's emotions.

I was happily married when I wrote a scene with a widow visiting a cemetery, so I drew on my experience of going to see my unborn baby’s grave to write the scene. I just wanted to clean off the grave, lay some flowers, and say a prayer, but I couldn't find the marker. I was getting more upset by the minute, and I was almost hysterical by the time I located the site.

One Sunday afternoon, I sat at the computer in my bedroom and entered that magic writing zone when the scene was unfolding before me and I was merely a typist. I could see my poor heroine. She couldn't find her husband's grave. She was crying. I was crying. My family—did I mention that I have seven children?—kept interrupting me. I’d wipe the tears from my face, answer the question, then continue crying and writing. But the scene is wonderful, and one of my crit partners cries whenever she reads it because the emotion is real.

Last month, I was inconvenienced with a flat tire. Thankfully, it happened in my driveway and I wasn’t stranded somewhere with my two-year-old. As I struggled to install the car seat into the back of my son’s two-door Focus, I was pressured for time. My 11-year-old son was speaking on the Battle of Thermopylae to home schooled children before a re-enactment with super soakers. The kids would have wet fun, while I’d be chasing my fearless two-year-old around the park in the sticky heat. Not my ideal morning! But I knew if I could keep a good attitude, I’d find the morning’s mishaps useful the next time I needed to frustrate a character.

Today, something else happened that inconvenienced me, and I thought of how this could affect one of my characters, but—here’s the important part—I didn’t jot it down. Now, as I write this on blog, I can’t remember what it was. So keep a journal of your mishaps. You’ll be glad that you did.

~Roxanne Sherwood~

1 comment:

Scoti Springfield Domeij, Director, Springs Writers said...

Hilarious lunch time conversation! I agree keep a journal of your experiences. It's hard to recapture the emotions when you're looking back.