Friday, April 16, 2010

My Roots Are Showing

Every once in a while I’ll be editing a scene and discover that my characters are experiencing things from my childhood. When I realize this, I generally end up rereading the scene numerous times, wondering if that’s really how it happened.

Of course, I’m writing fiction, so the scene can go however I want, but still. It makes me wonder. Ya know?

At that point, I have a few choices. I could ignore my curiosity and just write the scene the way I see it in my head, or I could dig into my memory and rewrite it fifteen or a hundred times trying to figure out which way it really happened, or…

I could call my mom and ask her how it happened. If she was there. And if she remembers. Which she probably doesn’t.

Why do I do this to myself? Honestly, I think all writers inadvertently use certain scenes from our lives—be it childhood or adulthood—in our writing. If we didn’t, we’d probably have nothing whatsoever to write about. Granted, we do hope to come up with original stories and characters, but on some level even those things come from a box of storage buried deep inside our brains. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not the most organized person. All my boxes are mixed up and muddled together.

Real life and fiction sometimes share the same box. And even though I know the difference, my characters don’t always get it. I guess I’m trying to say that the best way to be a good writer is to live life and experience lots of stuff. Let your characters borrow some of your roots and branches.

You can be sure that at some point, that helicopter ride over Lake Mead you took on a whim will come in handy for more than just the ability to say you did it. You’ll use it. I know I will.


lotusgirl said...

yep. I find I like writing about places I've been. I know the flavor of the place and can put that in my writing.

David J. West said...

Great post.
For me there is nothing inadvertant about it, I draw so much from what I have done to give truth to fiction. I still reimagine things and pepper it with completely new things that flow from the muse but I enjoy having a wide array of expiriences to draw from.

L.T. Elliot said...

I find that those "roots" help authenticate a scene. Because we're so near the surface of our own feelings, our characters seem to absorb that too and people identify with it--even if the scene isn't exactly the same in our memories.

Nichole Giles said...

You're right, LT. I've always been of the opinion that we can't write about emotions we haven't really experienced in one form or another.

David, on purpose or not, life experience is the seed of all our good writing, don't you think?

Lotus Girl, amen to that too. I love visiting new places, and I find myself keeping notes of my favorite parts so I can use those descriptions someday.

Keith Fisher said...

The wonder thing about your writing is you have been so many places and done so many things. Be careful that your real life doesn't get confused with fiction, though, I'd hate to see you think you could heal people with stones and such. :)

I remember my past experiences real well and if I ask my mother she remembers differently so I begin to wonder if I had a life at all. :)

Nichole Giles said...

True, Keith. That is a hazard of fiction, isn't it?

And for the record, my mother remembers things in my life differently as well. Funny how that works, huh?