By now regular readers of this blog get that I believe nothing is ever wasted on a writer – good times and bad, frightening or uplifting – sooner or later they’ll surface in our characters. We won’t always use the details as they happened; in fact, it’s better not to lean too heavily on reality. Instead, take the essence of the experience and embed it in your fictional setting.
This is when fiction works at its best. Not every reader has lost someone close to them, but they all experience loss in some form. The saying that nobody gets out of life alive is true, much as we try to deny it. As long as we allow ourselves to love – a pet, a person, an ideal – we open ourselves to loss.
Staying too close to the reality of your experience can actually push readers away. When instead, you give the power of the emotion you went through to a character, your readers will think, “Yes, this is how it is. This is how loss feels to me.”
Your experiences may have been worlds apart, but the feeling, the intensity, is what you have in common.
In thinking how we can translate our experiences into universal connections for readers, I’m reminded of my mother’s saying, “Waste not, want not.” Like many of her generation, she meant literal waste of food, or resources. She was telling us that such waste might mean we’d go hungry or in need later. In our world of plenty it seems unlikely, but the phrase stays with me to this day.
Last week I had a vivid reminder of how nothing is wasted on a writer. For more than two decades the State Library of NSW has collected what they call my literary papers. Among them are some childhood writings including the first book I ever wrote in pencil in an exercise book, a scrapbook filled with cuttings from my favourite pop group, The Monkees, and what we now call fan fiction, my stories that continued The Monkees’ adventures after their TV show ended.
These were discovered last year by Dr Derham Groves while curating an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ tour of Australia. I was delighted to be part of this event and travelled to Melbourne for the launch by Marcie Jones whose group, The Cookies, toured with the Monkees.
Afterward I reflected how my teenage passion for the Monkees could be projected into a character, using current technology and devices. For example, my scrapbook would probably be finessed into a slide show album on a phone. Fanfic may well be posted on one of the many such sites online.
When faced with such a task, you need to go beyond what happened to how you felt and responded. Recreate as many aspects of your feelings as you can. Pay attention to how your body felt and what you did physically in response to the event. Fight or flight responses aren’t the only ways we deal with fear, anger, love and the like. How do you know you’re afraid? Some people run toward their fears, others hide or become angry. What do/did you do? Next time you’re in an emotional situation, stop and ask yourself what’s going on in your mind and body. You’ll have far more resources to use when you want to place a character in emotional turmoil. Waste not, want not.
Now it’s your turn. Are there words of wisdom you remember from childhood? How do you identify emotions you can pass on to your characters? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook
Join Valerie for her new workshop:
Romance Writing Rebooted
Canberra Writers Centre
Saturday 27 October 2018
You can also check out Valerie’s online course,
Free The Writer in You