Sunday, January 17, 2016

Writing from Reality

Pay sufficient attention to the rhythm of each day and we're assured of noticing moments worthy of preservation, memories worth capturing for periodic return visits. Those memories do not necessarily involve close friends or family or even people we know, though they well might. But, regardless, they find ways of carving their initials in our soul, making permanent marks that want to find their way onto the page. The "sufficient attention" becomes second nature to many writers; we're always on the prowl for moments that connect us to broader humanity, along with its triumphs and failures.

We watch for and passionately engage with instances that bridge the span between people or, conversely, splinter relationships. Consider these real-world experiences that, with warmth and sensitivity, can become interesting stories evocative of our own recollections: a reassuring embrace that becomes an awkward but welcome kiss; a chance encounter with strangers who laugh at the same salty comments; an unexpectedly happy interchange between enemies; the rapid disintegration of relationships that took decades to build; the dissolution of friendships that, on close examination, are in fact unhealthy co-dependent relationships.

We've all been witness to the ups and downs of life around us. The daily rhythm of our lives provides ample fodder for stories, happy and sad, we want and need to capture.

During the drive home from our recent writing retreat at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow, three of us chatted about writing from experience. In my view, we always write from experience. Even if we concoct fabulous stories of aliens in distant galaxies, the emotions and interactions we attribute to characters emerge from people and experiences familiar to us. One of the three of us passed on advice she had read about making characters real: Describe, in detail, every aspect of some of the people with whom you are closest and love or like very much; do the same for people you dislike, loathe, or downright hate. Mix and match attributes from those people to create living, breathing characters.

The same can be said for creating scenes, and even novel-length interactions between characters. Pay attention to the rhythm of life and record actual circumstances. Mix and match them, along with characters, to create a riveting story.

Every scene we write and every character we create is based on our experiences with the real world, in one form or another. The more attentive we are to the world around us, the more believable the worlds we create, or reflect about, will be.

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